June 11, 2021

‘These were their brothers’: Seminarians serve each other, learn lessons for ministry during pandemic

With seminarians gathered around him, Benedictine Father Justin DuVall, center, blesses candles on Feb. 2 at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis. The archdiocesan-operated college seminary experienced challenges during the past year as it sought to form men for the priesthood during the coronavirus pandemic. (Submitted photo)

With seminarians gathered around him, Benedictine Father Justin DuVall, center, blesses candles on Feb. 2 at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis. The archdiocesan-operated college seminary experienced challenges during the past year as it sought to form men for the priesthood during the coronavirus pandemic. (Submitted photo)

Second of a two-part series (Part One)

By Sean Gallagher

Bishop Bruté Seminary in Indianapolis and Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad both recently completed their 2020-21 formation year for the seminarians enrolled there.

Despite the challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic that the seminarians and those who oversee their formation faced during the year, they were glad that they were able to complete it together.

In March 2020, in-person formation at both seminaries came to a quick end at the start of the pandemic.

Administrators at both seminaries soon started months of preparation to welcome seminarians back safely in August.

Even though determined efforts were made by the seminarians and formation staff at Bishop Bruté and Saint Meinrad to protect their communities from the virus, outbreaks occurred in both institutions during the 2020-21 formation year.

How the seminarians responded to these challenges showed how the priestly formation they’ve received has shaped them to give of themselves in selfless service to others.

Benedictine Father Denis Robinson was pleased as he witnessed seminarians at Saint Meinrad serving the physical and spiritual needs of those in quarantine there.

“It filled a father’s heart with joy,” said the president-rector of Saint Meinrad.

Seminarians and formation staff members from both seminaries spoke with The Criterion during the formation year that just ended about the challenges they faced and the lessons this unique situation taught them.

‘Our guys were real troopers’

From the time of the suspension of in-person priestly formation at both seminaries in March 2020, administrators at both worked hard to prepare to welcome seminarians back in August for the 2020-21 formation year.

“I think all of us, if we knew then [in March 2020] what we know now, probably would not have suspended activities,” Father Denis said. “But every college, university and school did because of the unknown.”

Among the changes made and protocols put in place at both seminaries were the continued suspension of off-campus pastoral ministry, seminarians wearing masks indoors when outside their rooms and, at Saint Meinrad, having for different periods during the year two chapels to make social distancing possible in worship.

“Our guys here were real troopers in terms of the way they’ve followed these protocols,” Father Denis said.

Seminarians at both seminaries were also asked to spend more time on their respective campuses, a change in practice from the past when they were free to go shopping, eat out or visit friends and family.

Father Joseph Moriarty, Bishop Bruté’s rector, was pleased at how well the seminarians there got along, even when they had to spend much more time together than they were used to doing.

“I’ve never had a year where the group has been so cohesively patient with one another,” he said. “They were really anticipating one another’s needs, knowing that we were in a vulnerable space. They bore with each other lovingly. It’s been very beautiful to see that in the interactions of community life.”

‘These were their brothers’

Community life at Bishop Bruté and Saint Meinrad was put to the test early in the spring semester when several seminarians at both schools tested positive for the coronavirus and were placed in quarantine.

Seminarian Samuel Rosko, a member of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis, was one of several seminarians at Saint Meinrad who volunteered to help those in quarantine. He was part of a group that brought them Communion when they could not attend Mass.

“It was humbling to be able to be the one to bring Christ to them,” said Rosko. “I was a bit worried to come in direct contact with guys who had tested positive, but I trusted in the Lord and in the protective equipment I was given to use.”

Seminarian Aaron Noll, a member of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus, did similar ministry to those who were in quarantine at Bishop Bruté.

“It felt good to be at the service of my brother seminarians who couldn’t get things they needed themselves,” said Noll. “Stopping by and saying, ‘Hi’ was all that I could do at times, but I think it has brought us closer together as a community since their release [from quarantine].”

Rosko echoed Noll’s experience, saying that serving those in quarantine at Saint Meinrad added to his formation for ordained ministry.

“It’s given me a new perspective and compassion for those who are sick and shut-in,” he said. “Obviously, two weeks is not a long time in the long run, but being alone all day for that long can really have an effect on people.

“A lot of the guys I visited to bring holy Communion were very grateful for a small chance to have personal contact with someone and talk to another person, since they spent the rest of the day isolated in their rooms.”

Father Moriarty was edified by the way the college seminarians at Bishop Bruté served those in need with whom they lived.

“It was really beautiful to watch them care for each other,” he said. “It was a realization of the Scripture verse, ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me’ [Mt 25:40]. There was a tremendous acknowledgement that these were their brothers.”

‘The Church is old and resilient’

Leading men in priestly formation during the past year in the archdiocese posed unforeseen challenges that have been significant and ongoing. But coming through a year of formation in the midst of a pandemic has given confidence to Father Denis.

“The Church is old, and it is resilient,” he said. “It has faced greater challenges than these in the past, but these are our challenges and those of us who have risen to the occasion during this time of crisis are making a stronger Church and a more authentic Church for the future.

“I am so grateful to all of our faculty, staff and students who have gone the extra 10 miles to realize the mission of Saint Meinrad in hard times.”

Father Eric Augenstein, archdiocesan director of seminarians, likewise sees the past year as a special opportunity to prepare the future priests for the Church in central and southern Indiana to face unexpected obstacles in ordained ministry.

“Every priest and parish will face challenges or crises of some kind,” said Father Augenstein. “Sometimes, you just have to learn as you’re going through it.

“With this time, having been able to witness pastors and parishes move through the difficulties of the pandemic, hopefully we’ll give our seminarians the opportunity to prepare and reflect on how they might do ministry in difficult times.”

Father Moriarty looks back on the past year of priestly formation and sees many crosses that have been carried—but also a bright future in faith.

“People of faith, when challenged, don’t run from the cross,” Father Moriarty said. “We embrace it. As a result of that, we answer the paschal mystery and, pray God, we emerge a new creation, raised up in Christ.”

(For more information on a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit www.HearGodsCall.com.)

Local site Links: