August 23, 2013

‘In the presence of a saint’: Seminarians come close to holiness during annual pilgrimage

Seminarian Rafael Quintero, left, transitional Deacon Xavier Raj Yeusudason and seminarian Kyle Rodden walk together on Aug. 14 in the cemetery of the Sisters of Providence of Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Seminarian Rafael Quintero, left, transitional Deacon Xavier Raj Yeusudason and seminarian Kyle Rodden walk together on Aug. 14 in the cemetery of the Sisters of Providence of Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

ST. MARY-OF-THE-WOODS—History and holiness came alive for the seminarians of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis when they visited the motherhouse campus of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods on Aug. 14.

They saw the place where St. Theodora Guérin and her companions first set foot on the grounds that would become the home of their fledgling religious order.

They visited a replica of the chapel where Mother Theodore, after arriving in western Indiana in 1840, prayed before the Blessed Sacrament.

They toured the sisters’ cemetery where so many members of the Sisters of Providence have been buried over the past 173 years. (Related: See a photo gallery from this pilgrimage)

They also came to the current resting place of Mother Theodore, a shrine within the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the motherhouse’s main church.

Seminarians, sometimes by themselves, sometimes in groups of two or three, silently prayed before the mortal remains of Indiana’s first saint, sometimes kneeling before her casket, other times touching it with their hand.

“It was overwhelming,” said first-year seminarian Nickolas McKinley. “It felt wonderful to be in the presence of a saint. The sense of her life and prayerfulness came through.”

McKinley, a member of St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis, is a freshman at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary and Marian University, both in Indianapolis.

The pilgrimage capped off the annual three-day archdiocesan seminarian convocation in which men in formation for the priesthood for the Church in central and southern Indiana spend time together, before going off to their seminaries for the upcoming academic year.

Six years ago, transitional Deacon Daniel Bedel visited Saint Mary-of-the-Woods on a seminarian pilgrimage when he wasn’t too far ahead of where McKinley is at in his priestly formation.

Now he is just months away from being ordained a priest. As he drove a van of seminarians to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, he reflected on how this was his final seminarian pilgrimage.

“Knowing that it’s the last one just makes the ordination for the priesthood coming up that much more real,” said Deacon Bedel. “It’s coming. You’ve got to be ready for it.”

Part of that preparation for the priesthood is spending summers in archdiocesan parishes. Deacon Bedel, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Enochsburg, ministered for 10 weeks at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

“It was an incredible summer, one of the best summers I can ever remember having,” he said. “At the end of the summer, it didn’t feel that I had already been there for 10 weeks. It flew by. And so the thought that I had to leave the parish and go back to the seminary was hard. I really just wanted to stick around at the parish a lot longer.”

But spending time with his fellow seminarians at the convocation was also important for Deacon Bedel.

“It’s just a good chance to get to know the new guys and gives us a chance to kind of bond,” he said. “That fraternity is what we’re all about in seminary. And we know that, for those who make it to the priesthood, that fraternity is going to just get better as we’re priests.”

Spending time with his brother seminarians was important for first-year seminarian Jeff Dufresne, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis.

“You, of course, have mentors and people that pray with you and talk with you and discern with you and walk with you outside of the seminary,” said Dufresne. “But having brothers that you get to pray in community with and celebrate liturgy with—that fraternity has been the biggest part.”

Accompanying the seminarians on the pilgrimage was Father Eric Augenstein, who began his ministry as archdiocesan vocations director earlier this year.

He was excited to welcome eight new seminarians, six of whom will receive priestly formation at Bishop Bruté Seminary. The other two are enrolled at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

He also noted that nine of the archdiocese’s 11 deaneries are represented among the 27 seminarians.

“As far as I can tell, this is one of the most geographically diverse groups of seminarians that we’ve had in quite some time,” Father Augenstein said. “It’s a sign that there is a culture of vocations that has been built up, not just in one or two parishes or one or two deaneries, but in families, in schools and in parishes throughout the archdiocese. It gives us good hope for the future.”

No matter where the seminarians come from, Father Augenstein hopes that they all grow in holiness during their years of priestly formation.

During a Mass celebrated in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Father Augustein standing just a few feet away from the mortal remains of St. Theodora reflected on striving for that sanctity.

“Being able to drive an hour and a half from Indianapolis to a shrine of a canonized saint here at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods is a reminder that sanctity and holiness is possible for us here in Indiana,” Father Augenstein said during his homily. “We don’t have to go far away to find it.”

(For more photos from the seminarian pilgrimage, read this story online at For more information about a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, log on to

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