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John's Journal

Perspectives on everyday life at Sacred Heart School of Theology

Presented by the students of the Vocations Task Force
Welcome to John’s Journal, an ongoing set of reflections from Sacred Heart School of Theology student John Gibbons. John writes this journal to provide a sense of what Sacred Heart life and the process of becoming a priest are like. Other members of the students’ Vocations Task Force may contribute from time to time. Contact John here.

John's Journal for September 17, 2009

Back to School after the Summer Break

Well, we are back in school after a short summer break. It may have been 2-3 months on the calendar; however, the time really flies by during the summer months. It is great to see most of my friends that returned to the seminary. I am a little sad because some of my best friends are not coming back because they were ordained to the priesthood during the summer. I feel great joy for them in their ordination, but they have left a little hole here at the seminary.

Hopefully, this is my last year at the seminary and along with my normal course load and serving at my local parish in Waukesha, WI, I am preparing to be ordained a deacon on October 10, 2009, in Johnstown, PA. This added event has given me a deeper appreciation for maintaining balance in my life. If I let my school work dictate my schedule, I will neglect the parish, the plans for my ordination as well, and my taking some time for myself.


The Incoming Class of Seminarians

This fall, we welcomed 23 men to the seminary to begin the formation process. It is the largest incoming class in quite a few years. I am confident our increased focus on vocations last spring, especially in prayer, helped to bring in this great number of seminarians. They come from as far east as Knoxville, TN, as far south as Lafayette, LA, as far west as Honolulu, HI, and as far north as the Winnipeg, Canada. We are so happy to have them join our community and look forward to helping them get adjusted to life at the seminary.


Prayer for Vocations

Lord Jesus, we pray to you for the Catholic priesthood. Give us more priests, but most especially we ask you to give us holy priests. Send us messengers of a truth that is all-encompassing and eternal, holy priests who know how to offer this truth to the people of their own time and place. Holy men for today, priests firmly rooted in the tradition, yet imbued with the spirit of this age. They have undertaken a mission in your name, Lord. May the reflection of your power in them always make it clear that they are your witnesses.

Grant that they may conform their lives to the paschal mystery that they celebrate each day in the Eucharist. May they sense in this mystery the anxious hunger of the world and of their own brothers and sisters for salvation.

May they know, despite this hunger, how to respect the spiritual freedom of others; for it is your word which has given the world a taste for this freedom. May they understand and speak the language of their own time. And may they be careful never to compromise, with opinions that come and go, the imperishable newness of your Gospel.

May they always keep through the dark wintry night of the soul an obstinate hope for the springtime to come. And when they meet those who persecute you, may they always remember the road to Damascus and the hidden ways of your providence.


John's Journal for August 12, 2009

How does a seminarian spend the summer?

There are many ways that a seminarian spends his summers, however, they can be summed up in two words, service and learning. The following are some examples:

Work at a Parish

Most seminarians are assigned to a parish in their sponsoring diocese. For instance, I am assigned to St. Andrew Parish and School in Johnstown, PA. There are about 550 families in the parish, and although school is not in session, there is still plenty of work to do. During a typical day, I serve at Mass, and give a brief theological reflection about the day's readings in lieu of our pastor, Father Angelo Patti giving a homily. This opportunity has given me a great deal of experience in reading and interpreting the scriptures, as well as, in public speaking.

At this point in my formation, I cannot get too much practice preaching the word of God. Also, the daily reception of the Eucharist allows me to be nourished as I go forward in my day in the parish. After Mass, Fr. Patti and I discuss what needs to be done at the parish. Some days I help him with communion calls to the shut in parishioners, other days, I visit people in the hospital. I also like to cook so I was asked to assist the volunteers making ethnic food for our parish festival. The people give so much of their time and talent to help support the parish, so it is easy for me to just help out a little in their efforts. It may not seem like a real ministry to stir cake battera, but they appreciate the help. Again, part of the assignment is to serve the parish in many different ways, not just sacramentaly.

Things that I have learned so far during my time at St. Andrew include parish finances, fund raising, hospitality and building the parish community. In my spare time, I like to play golf. Fr. Patti and several parishioners also play golf so it is great to get out and enjoy their company. Another important thing that I do during this time is to spend quiet time in prayer. Prayer keeps me grounded in my calling to the priesthood, allows me to pray for others, and most importantly, draws me closer to Jesus. I believe prayer habits need to be formed during this time so that when I become a priest, these habits can be brought forward into my ministry.

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE)

Another program that most seminarians participate in is CPE. It is an ecumenical program, with men and women from various faith traditions coming together in a learning stetting. This program allows a seminarian to learn more about themselves and to become more pastoral. Most are assigned to a hospital to do their CPE, but others are assigned to nursing homes, prisons, mental health facilities or other institutions where there can be a great deal of interaction with people in need of visits from an outside person. The seminarians are not expected to provide any technical assistance, but rather, to be present to the patients or inmates. They sit and listen to their stories and provide a little comfort and attention to them. When they are not visiting the people, they meet with other members of their CPE group, along with a supervisor to discuss how their visits have gone. They use various techniques to recreate their visit and review what took place during the visit. It is in these discussions that the seminarian learns so much about themselves and reviews how they can become more pastoral in future visits.

Language Emersion Program

In an effort to become more competent in a language, some seminarians spend part of their summer living in a foreign country such as Mexico or the Dominican Republic. During their time there, they are required to speak the native language. This way, they learn the language in a very short period of time. While in the country, they also serve at local churches or other places. It is a combination of learning and service. Also, by living in the country, they learn about the culture and the issues other people face in their lives compared to American culture. The relationships they form here may last a lifetime. For instance, once ordained, some priests revisit these countries and establish missionary relationships between their parishes in the United States and the parishes in these countries. It is a way of them giving back to the community that has helped them in their formation.

Summer Job and Leisure

Those in pre-theology may not be assigned to a local parish so they are free to find a summer job or do volunteer work,. Last summer, one seminarian worked as a counselor at a Boy Scout camp, another volunteered at a local hospital, and another worked at a monastery. Regardless of how these men spend their summers, they get a much deserved rest from the rigors of school work. Many of them have not been in a formal education program for many years and it takes quite a bit of time and effort to return to the classroom. Besides, don't most students get a summer vacation?

That is all for this month, may God bless you.

Here is another prayer for vocations:

God our Father, you will all men and women to be saved and come to the knowledge of your Truth. Send workers into your great harvest that the Gospel may be preached to every creature
and your people, gathered together by the word of life and strengthened by the power of the sacraments, may advance in the way of salvation and love. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


John’s Journal for May 27, 2009

I apologize for the delay in posting the latest edition of John’s Journal. It seems that the end of the semester studies and activities and a much needed vacation took priority. However, I am back at the seminary for a five week summer session. But before I talk about this experience, let me back up and discuss a little about the events at the end of the spring semester.

Rite of Sending and Ringing the Bell

One of the traditions here at Sacred Heart for graduating students and seminarians is the rite of sending. It is an informal prayer service where those graduating each give a short farewell speech to the students, faculty and staff at Sacred Heart. It is a very moving ceremony, and it gives them a chance to take time and thank those that have helped them along their journey. When the graduating seminarians leave the building and head home, they ring a bell signaling that they are leaving for good. Again, it gets pretty emotional to bid farewell to classmates, yet we all know when we come here that our goal is to graduate and be ordained.


As is the case for almost all seminaries, we held a graduation ceremony to celebrate the accomplishments of those students that successfully completed their academic requirements. It was a joyous occasion with 27 men and women getting their graduate degrees or certificates. Most will be ordained as priests shortly after graduation; however, some of our graduates are lay people who work in the local Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Final Exams

Before finishing the semester, we went through a long couple of weeks of final exams as well as papers to complete. At times the work can be a little overwhelming; however, the homilists at the daily masses kept reminding us that we are doing all this work in response to God’s call in our lives. We realize that to get through the many tasks takes trust in God. It also keeps things in perspective.

That is all for this edition. Please feel free to drop me a line if I can answer any questions or be of further assistance.

Here is another prayer for vocations to close:

O God, Father of all Mercies, Provider of a bountiful Harvest, send Your Graces upon those You have called to gather the fruits of Your labor; preserve and strengthen them in their lifelong service of you.

Open the hearts of Your children that they may discern Your Holy Will; inspire in them a love and desire to surrender themselves to serving others in the name of Your son, Jesus Christ. Teach all Your faithful to follow their respective paths in life guided by Your Divine Word and Truth. Through the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, all the Angels, and Saints, humbly hear our prayers and grant Your Church's needs, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

John’s Journal for April 13, 2009

9 Seminarians Instituted as Lector/Readers

On March 25, 2009, on the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, nine seminarians from Sacred Heart were instituted as readers of the Word of the Lord. Archbishop V. James Weisgerber, D.D., from the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, Canada presided. The following is a list of those instituted and some brief information about them:

  • Robert Cook, of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual. Robert is a former lawyer and grew up in the Boston area.
  • Mark Eden Filips, Archdiocese of Winnipeg. Before entering the seminary, Mark was a funeral director. Mark is also the youngest in the group, being in his mid-30s.
  • Steven Gallagher, Diocese of Juneau Alaska. Before entering the seminary, Steven was a police officer.
  • Christopher Kemp, Diocese of Superior, Wis. Christopher was a carpenter before coming to the seminary. Wasn’t Jesus a carpenter as well?
  • Sangmoon Thomas Kim, Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla. Thomas was a Trading Manager at Hyundai Corporation and Law Scholar before attending Sacred Heart.
  • Michael E. Gerard Moloney, Diocese of Fort Worth., Texas. Michael was born in Ireland and adds some Irish humor to our lives. He was a family doctor in Houston before answering God’s call.
  • Louis Michael Nelen, Diocese of Jefferson City, Mo. Louis was a chemist before starting the formation process for the priesthood.
  • Johnnie B. Smith, Diocese of Memphis, Tenn. Johnnie was a controller of a large, international paper company. He is a devoted father with three children and eight grandchildren.
  • Gerald P. Wetovick, Diocese of Grand Island, Nebraska. Jerry was a dentist before coming to the seminary. He is the patriarch of the seminary, being in his early 70s. He has five children and 14 grandchildren.

As you can see, it was a very diverse group that was instituted that evening. One of the great things about this seminary is that we all came from different walks of life. Yet, we felt called in our unique way. In his homily, Archbishop Weisgerber stressed the importance of this ministry as part of our formation process. Although most of those instituted were already lectors at their home parishes, he stressed the importance of not only proclaiming the Word in the Liturgies, but also how they are called to pray the Scriptures. They were urged to use the Scriptures as a guideline to their lives, both now and in the future as priests. It is only in letting the Word become part of our lives that we become more like Jesus. The evening concluded with a wonderful banquet.

David Stanfill, from the Diocese of Richmond, Va. Ordained as a Deacon.
What makes David so different? Just ask his children and grandchildren!

One of the highlights of any semester is the ordination of one of our own to the Deaconate. This spring is no exception in the ordination of David Stanfill from the Diocese of Richmond, Va. With his six children and three grandchildren in attendance, he was ordained by Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo on March 14th. The ordination took place at the Church of the Transfiguration in Fincastle, Va. David had actually started on the path to the priesthood after high school but felt this was not the time in his life to become a priest, so he married Jamie and started a family. After she passed away in 2004, he decided the best way for him to spend the rest of his life would be to become priest. His family and friends all agreed, so he entered the seminary almost three years ago. According to his one son, once Jamie passed away, he knew his dad was going to do something big. They are all very proud of his decision, and so are we.

March Madness is alive and well at Sacred Heart

March Madness gave us all a little break from our studies. Most of our time at the seminary is spent studying and praying; yet there are times when we take time to relax and enjoy a little college basketball. Although not many of us did our undergraduate studies at the universities that made it to the final four, we each had our favorite team to cheer on during the tournament. The author will send a special gift to anyone that e-mails me with the winner of the NIT tournament. Just click on the link to my email and let me know your answer.

Day of Recollection is a day of quiet reflection on our call to the priesthood

Bishop Kevin W. Vann, D.D. from the Diocese of Ft Worth, Texas came to Sacred Heart on April 1 to preside over our day of recollection. The day of recollection started the evening before with benediction and three hours of Eucharistic adoration. The quiet time was welcome by many of the seminarians. The peace and silence that pervaded the seminary continued the following day. After presiding at the morning Liturgy, Bishop Vann gave two heartfelt talks. The focus of his talks was on how the writings of St. Paul can be a source of reflection during our formation process. He started his discussion with the story of St. Paul’s conversion and related it to his own conversion, first from a lay person to a priest and then from a priest to a bishop. He reminded us that there were several people in our lives and several events that all came together in our answering God’s call to the priesthood. He challenged us to reflect on who in our lives helped us to make that leap of faith to answer God’s call. Who has been talking to you about your vocation? What events are occurring in your life that may be pointing you to a life of religious service?

Justice and Peace Committee encourages us all to fight abortion

On each first Friday of the month, the Peace and Justice Committee focuses on a specific topic. The topic for April was the right to life for the unborn. During the evening prayer service the evening before, one of our MA students, Beth Papazoglakis, a mother of three, gave a very thought provoking talk on the challenges and fears that all mothers experience when they are pregnant, even in the best of circumstances. She challenged us to think about those mothers that are pregnant in situations where they do not have the love and support of their spouse and family to carry the pregnancy to term. There are several programs available to these ladies here in Milwaukee that we learned about during the luncheon on Friday. We also took up a collection during Friday’s mass to support these very worthy programs.

Operation Rice Bowl comes to a close

Another effort to help the poor that the seminary had undertaken is Operation Rice Bowl. The Rice Bowls were blessed and distributed at the beginning of Lent and will be collected on April 15th. The money raised will go towards the poorest of the poor in the world. It is one small way that we try to help others in need.

Easter is finally here! We all celebrate the joy of Christ’s Resurrection

Last weekend, we celebrated the Triduum. There are many different cultural events held throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Each seminarian was encouraged to participate in as many of these as possible. For instance, I participated in El Via Crucis Viviente, the living stations of the cross on the south side of Milwaukee. The stations started at St. Vincent de Paul parish and concluded at the Basilica of St. Josaphat Basilica, a walk of just over three miles. Bishop Callahan assisted by reading the prayers at the twelfth station, the death of Jesus Christ. It was a very moving experience for the crowd of over 1,500 that participated. Other seminarians went to Holy Thursday and Good Friday services at the local parishes. My parish, St. Joseph in Waukesha, celebrated Holy Thursday with the traditional washing of the feet. All the parishioners were asked to come forward to have their feet washed. Regardless of which service they attended, all the seminarians agreed that Milwaukee offered a variety of choices and places to go to celebrate this most holy time of the year.

Well, this is enough for this week. If there are other topics you would like to see in this journal, please drop me a line, and I will try to incorporate them into John’s Journal in the future.

Let us close with another prayer for vocations:

O Father, you desire all of us to be happy. Stir up the grace of a religious vocation in the hearts of many men and women. Grant to them the willingness and generosity to give of themselves, their lives, their time and their talents to the service of Jesus Christ, Your Son, Our Lord and Savior, and to His Holy Church. May more men and women go forth as priests, deacons, brothers and sisters to bring the truths of our Catholic faith to all others so that soon they, too, may know You better and love You more...and serving You, be truly happy. Amen.

March 23, 2009

Spring break offers seminarians their choice of work or rest

To date, we have just finished the first half of the “spring” semester. We say spring with a little reservation and optimism because spring seems so far off during the snow and cold of January and February. Fortunately, this March, the weather has warmed up quite a bit and hopefully, the snow has melted for the year. Some of the seminarians really like the snow and the cold weather, but they are in the minority. Most are very happy to see the birds returning and buds forming on the trees.

Last week, we just returned from our spring break, so getting back into the swing of things was a little more difficult than a normal week. As a seminary that specializes in forming men of mature faith, Sacred Heart gives us the freedom to decide how we want to spend our spring break. Some went on a retreat; others stayed and got caught up with their school work and their sleep, while others traveled home or to other exciting destinations. The point is that we are treated like the adults we are and can determine what we need most during our time off.

To help us get jump started for the second half of the semester, we had a number of exciting events last week.

Milwaukee’s much loved Archbishop Timothy Dolan is honored with farewell liturgy

We celebrated a farewell liturgy with Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee before he heads off to become the Archbishop of New York. He is a very gregarious and prayerful man and will be missed greatly by all of us. In his homily, Archbishop Dolan talked about how he told about his appointment to the Archdiocese of New York. He recollected how the call came to him notifying him that he was appointed to be the Archbishop of New York. He compared this appointment to New York with his “invitation to consider going to Milwaukee”. He expressed his joy about the freedom he felt in being commanded to take the post in New York to continue to do God’s work in a different area of the country. His main point was that in the invitation to go to Milwaukee, he felt he had some say in the matter whether to go to Milwaukee or not. (Of course he knew that he did not have much say in the matter.) In being appointed, he could be obedient to the Pope and the Vatican and not have any questions about his assignment. He was confident they knew far more about the situation than he ever would and trusted their judgment and in the power of the Holy Spirit guiding them. As seminarians, it would be so much easier if we would not have any doubts about our calling and were ordered to appear in front of our bishop for our ordination. That is what he was trying to convey to us. In obedience, there is freedom, not restriction or constraints.

Sacred Heart seminarians reflect worldwide diversity

Sacred Heart is a multi-national seminary with seminarians from Canada, the United States, Jamaica, Mexico, Columbia, and other South American Countries. As a result, we frequently have bishops from around the world visit the seminary to check on the progress of their seminarians. Last week was no exception. The first was Bishop Ronald Gainer, D.D., from the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky. He came to visit his four seminarians and presided at mass on Tuesday morning. In his homily, Bishop Gainer talked about how in the Gospel passage, Jesus’ generation looking for a sign and that Jesus was said that no sign would be coming. Well, how many of us are looking for a sign in our lives and we fail to see one? Bishop Gainer asked us to quiet ourselves down and to listen to the voice of God. This may come in the form of some of our friends or family. God is always talking to us, our challenge in this age of information overload is: Are we listening?

Bishop Charles Dufour, D.D., of the Diocese of Montego Bay, Jamaica also visited his seminarian. We found it a little odd that he decided to leave the warm tropics of Jamaica in March to come to Milwaukee, but he stated that we all have to make sacrifices in our lives to help our seminarians in their formation process. Fortunately, he was able to celebrate the Liturgy for the Feast of St. Joseph. It was a beautiful service, and he gave a moving homily comparing the humility and obedience of St. Joseph to that of the rich young man who did not want to sell all his possessions and follow Jesus. As Jesus’ step-father, he imparted these traits to Jesus as he helped to raise Jesus. He trusted in God and we should look to St. Joseph as a model when we are in our discernment about entering the seminary. It takes a leap of faith and trust in God to leave our existing jobs and present lifestyle and enter the seminary. The seminarians here at Sacred Heart, as well as other seminaries, have trusted in God. We believe that we were called by God, and it was the right decision to trust in God and to take the leap of faith.

Mother Teresa’s memory is kept alive at Sacred Heart

On Wednesday evening, we were treated to a talk by Fr. Michael van der Peet, SCJ., a full time spiritual director here at Sacred Heart. Before coming to Sacred Heart, he was a spiritual director for Mother Teresa for several years. He also conducted several retreats for her and her community. After she died, he went to Rome for three months to work on the beatification commission. Recently, a book entitled Come, Be My Light was published. It dealt with the spiritual life of Mother Teresa and how she had very dark periods of her prayer life. This begs the question that if such a saintly person as Blessed Mother Teresa can have dark periods of prayer in her life, what are sinners like you and I supposed to do in our prayer life? Fr. Michael discussed how Blessed Mother Teresa linked her dark times of prayer to the dark times of prayer that Jesus experienced in the Garden of Eden and the abandonment he felt on the cross when he was crucified. It was in her feeling of not being heard or being abandoned that she felt closet to Jesus. There are too many other great stories about Mother Teresa to chronicle here. We suggest you visit the SCJ website and get a copy of the DVD on this very special relationship.

Excited seminarians take their first step toward ordination

Next week, there will be the celebration of the installation of lector/reader on Wednesday. This is the first of five steps a seminarian takes on his journey to the priesthood. The next steps are acolyte, candidacy, the deaconate, and then the ordination to the priesthood. To the candidates, it may seem like a long way to the priesthood from lector/reader, but the time really flies by as you take each step.

Well, that is all for this week. May the Holy Spirit fill you with wisdom and understanding in discerning God’s will for you. God bless all of you.

Prayer for vocations

(From the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston)

O loving and gracious God, Father of all, you bless your people in every time and season and provide for their needs through your providential care. Your Church is continually in need of priests, sisters and brothers to offer themselves in the service of the gospel by lives of dedicated love. Open the hearts of your sons and daughters to listen to your call in their lives. Give them the gift of understanding to discern your invitation to serve you and your Church. Give them the gift of courage to follow your call. May they have the spirit of young Samuel who found fulfillment in his life when he said to you, "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening." We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer.