Pastoral Formation during a Pandemic - Saint John's Seminary
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Pastoral Formation during a Pandemic

April 13, 2021

In Pastores Dabo Vobis, St. Pope John Paul II described the principal foundations for priestly formation as human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. Each area, while distinct in itself, is naturally linked to the others. Seminary formation, much like other educational institutions, was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. A year ago, as Covid restriction slowly became a way of life, our seminarians were beginning their Summer Pastoral Assignments. “When many of our seminarians were headed to their parish assignments for a ‘normal’ eight to ten week pastoral assignment, it was anything but ‘normal’”, said Fr. Ed Riley, Director of Pastoral Formation.

Pastoral Formation puts the other three pillar of formation together into a well-integrated whole. The goal of priestly formation in the seminary is to form and prepare men for the work of ministry, especially parish ministry. Fr. Ed continued, “Covid-19 truly upended every aspect of human life including Church life but in a very unexpected way our seminarians jumped right in and began to pull out the technology they have grown up with and began to help their pastors do everything from live-stream Masses to post short video ‘highlights’ and set up outdoor confessionals, all with the desire of helping their pastors stay connected to their parishioners… With parish life coming to a standstill in all the ways we usually ‘meet the LORD,’ and when parishioners were not able to come to Mass and staff could not come to the rectory offices, parishes found new ways to carry on the great work of the Church, bringing Jesus Christ to the world. In many ways, our seminarians exercised their intuitive nature to utilize social media to reach out, evangelize, connect and keep people as close to their faith as possible”.

Our seminarians usually have a particular interest, skill, characteristic, or quality that somehow confirms or motivates their desire for ministry in the Church. The formation program at the seminary helps the seminarian cultivate those skills that are necessary for ordained ministry and are external and practical expressions of Christian discipleship. Saint John’s Seminary strives to form men who are adequately prepared for the challenges faced in ministry at a parish. This preparedness for ministry in the modern world is fostered by the pastoral formation experiences of seminarians. Pastoral placements are tailored to the formation needs of each seminarian. Ministry supervisors and faculty members are all experienced parish priests who understand the challenges of parish life and ministry.

As coronavirus cases surged in Boston, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley designated a task force of 21 priests to be trained to safely anoint Covid-19 patients. These priests were featured in a New York Times article, The Last Anointing. Several members of our faculty: Fr. Tom Macdonald, Fr. Ryan Connors, and Fr. David Barnes, were part of this group. They have been able to share their account and experience of what it was like to be one of the “covid priests” during regularly scheduled formation workshops with our seminarians. Fr. Ryan Connors has also recently presented an academic paper titled Holy Anointing for Holy Suffering at Ave Maria University in Florida during a conference exploring contemporary questions related to suffering, death, and hope for eternal life.

In a sense, all priests have had to be “covid priests” during the last year. To be a “covid priest” is the new normal. Our seminarians were able to witness, through their own experiences at their pastoral assignments last summer, and through the example of our faculty, the great dedication and adaptability a priest must have in his ministry. Although Covid restrictions are still in place and may limit what our seminarians can do at a pastoral assignment, they are hungry to get out there and do what they can. Fr. Ed reflected that, “one could say their pastoral experiences last summer were a blessing in that they received a quick introduction to the ‘new’ normal', which very likely, will be their future pastoral life when they become ordained to serve the people of God.”

Please continue to keep our seminarians in your prayers.

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