September 9, 2022

Catechesis Supplement

Seminarians, parishes benefit when future priests help in catechesis programs

Then-transitional Deacon Matthew Perronie has fun on July 25, 2021, with Grant Dierking, second from left, Evan Campbell and Nathan Hyun during an outing at Blackiston Bowl in Clarksville for the youth group of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany. (Submitted photo)

Then-transitional Deacon Matthew Perronie has fun on July 25, 2021, with Grant Dierking, second from left, Evan Campbell and Nathan Hyun during an outing at Blackiston Bowl in Clarksville for the youth group of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Seminarian Samuel Hansen enjoyed the two years he spent at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis before graduating last spring.

“Prayer life in seminary is great,” he said. “It’s what sustains you. It’s the heart of your relationship with God.”

But in his last year at Bishop Bruté, Hansen was assigned to go forth from the seminary to serve on Sunday mornings as a catechist at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis.

He co-taught with a parish volunteer catechist a class of students preparing for their first confession and first Communion.

Last spring, after teaching them for several months, Hansen was with them at that special moment when they received their first Communion.

“We hope that everyone loves the Eucharist,” he said. “That’s the one prayer that every seminarian has for the people at the end of the day. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the faith.

“To hear [them] come back and say that it was a profound and peaceful moment gave me hope and clarity for my vocation. I really was doing the most important thing.”

Hansen and other seminarians in their last two years of formation at Bishop Bruté take part in parish ministry as part of their pastoral formation for the priesthood.

More parish ministry assignments await seminarians in formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

The experiences are integral for the formation of future parish priests for the archdiocese and a benefit for the parishes in which they serve.

‘You have the ability to guide them’

Father Andrew Syberg, vice-rector of Bishop Bruté, oversees the college seminary’s pastoral ministry program in which seminarians are sent to parishes in Indianapolis to assist in catechetical and other programs.

The early part of the COVID-19 pandemic put the effort on hold.

“COVID helped reveal why [the program is] so helpful,” Father Syberg said. “During COVID, [the seminarians] couldn’t do anything. Ministry was basically shut down. So, we were missing this big piece of formation.”

COVID restrictions were only fully removed at the start of the 2021-22 formation year. That’s when Hansen was assigned to St. Monica, which he said helped him “really keep in mind what day-to-day parish ministry would look like.”

Hansen said being a sacramental preparation catechist helped him gain skills in applying what he had learned in college to a classroom of grade school students.

It also gave him a perspective on some foundational aspects of the priesthood, such as how priests serve as spiritual fathers for the people they serve.

“That title ‘father’ is not just an empty title,” Hansen said. “It’s a dignity and duty.”

Preparing children for the sacrament of penance and for their first Communion gave Hansen concrete experiences of the formative role that priests can play in the lives of people of all ages.

“You have the ability to guide them,” he said. “You can influence them and have the power to lead them in faith in a way that I was led when I was young. That’s why I started discerning a priestly call in the first place. I wanted to give back the faith that I was given.”

Father Syberg noted that parish ministry assignments can also give seminarians personal experience of the challenges of serving in parishes and of how it is ultimately God that is guiding their ministry.

“Sometimes the fruits of ministry aren’t readily apparent,” he said. “Even after you grind your way through it, you might wonder if you’re really doing anything or getting through. But that’s part of ministry. It’s part of any vocation.

“Sometimes the pastoral ministry that we want to do isn’t what the Holy Spirit is asking us to do right now, even if what we want to do is a good, holy thing. But the Holy Spirit may want you to do something else.”

Many Bishop Bruté seminarians have had the chance to experience the ups and downs of parish catechetical ministry at St. Monica, which is not far from the college seminary. They began serving there in 2014, and last year there were 10 seminarians assigned to the parish.

Mary Jo Thomas Day, St. Monica’s longtime director of religious education, has been the seminarians’ ministry supervisor since they began.

“They have been a wonderful inspiration,” she said. “I always look for catechists that have a strong faith foundation and who understand the Catholic faith, and they’re role models of faith. They come in on Sundays with their books in their hands and ready to teach.”

Thomas Day also emphasized how the seminarians’ presence at St. Monica is a benefit for the parish.

“When I tell the parents that their children will be taught by a seminarian, they just light up,” she said. “They’re just such a good example for them. It’s also positive for our catechists to be with them and see their faith and their knowledge of the faith.”

Not ‘just a hoop to jump through’

Like St. Monica, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany has had many seminarians through the years assist in ministry there, especially in its catechetical programs.

They come to the New Albany Deanery faith community from Saint Meinrad and are usually approaching the end of their priestly formation.

In fact, the last seminarian to serve at Our Lady of Perpetual Help was Father Matthew Perronie, who was ordained a priest for the archdiocese on June 4. He now serves as parochial vicar of St. Monica Parish.

While still in seminary, Father Perronie served at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the summer of 2021 and then during the following fall, winter and spring.

COVID-19 had greatly limited Father Perronie’s pastoral formation opportunities while at Saint Meinrad. So, when he finally got to minister in person at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, he said he took advantage of every chance at ministry he found, often going beyond what Saint Meinrad’s pastoral ministry program required of him.

“On the weekends I was there, I looked for every opportunity that was there,” he said. “I’d often stay for confirmation preparation. If there was a youth group meeting in the evening, I’d stay for that.”

Early in the summer of 2021 at the parish when ministry programs weren’t active, Father Perronie, then a newly-ordained transitional deacon, offered to visit families to bless their homes.

“Longing to get to know people, I thought about ways to do that without flat out inviting myself over to their house,” said Father Perronie with a laugh.

“He inspired us as a staff and a parish to model his presence,” said Evonne Corrales, director of youth and childhood ministries at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. “He inspired me just in the way he evangelized. That’s what we need in our parishes. We need intentional conversations and the intentional presence he had here.”

Taking unexpected opportunities to evangelize and catechize was something that Father Perronie experienced and learned while serving at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Before the start of a class to help children prepare for their first confession and first Communion, Father Perronie needed some holy water. A student whom he knew was always eager to help was there with him.

“So, I said, ‘Come and follow me. We’re going to see how holy water is made,’ ” Father Perronie recalled. “It sparked his attention and got him excited. I ended up using it as a lesson for the whole class.

“And I kind of let the student take charge. I asked him about what we did, and he responded. It was a teaching opportunity for him.”

Father Joseph Feltz, Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s pastor and one of Father Perronie’s ministry supervisors, appreciated his now-brother priest’s presence in his faith community.

“Being a part of Saint Meinrad’s pastoral ministry program has been good,” he said. “But Father Matthew kind of took it up a level.

“A pastoral ministry assignment isn’t just a hoop to jump through. It’s truly part of formation. From his standpoint, he got so much out of it. But then he gave so much as well.”
 

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


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