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Archives Seminarians adapt to COVID-19 formation

May 20, 2020

By Deacon Kevin Mastellon
Contributing Writer

WATERTOWN – Seminaries teach candidates for the priesthood what a priest ought to know and make them what a priest ought to be. The Diocese of Ogdensburg is blessed to have 13 men in various stages of preparation for the priesthood. Two will be ordained priests for this Diocese in August by Bishop Terry R. LaValley. Two more will be ordained deacons at the same ceremony. They are expected to transition to the priesthood in a year.

Some of the candidates are still at the college level of their preparation. Others have moved into the major seminary portion of their formation. One definition of a seminary included this description: “A seminary is a school in which priests are trained. A priest is the representative of Christ among us: his mission is to carry on Christ's work for the salvation of souls; in Christ's name and by His power, he teaches us what we ought to believe and what we ought to do: he forgives sins, and offers in sacrifice the Body and Blood of Christ. He is another Christ (sacerdos alter Christus). His training, therefore, must be in harmony with this high office and consequently different in many ways from the preparation for secular professions. He must possess not only a liberal education, but also professional knowledge, and moreover, like an army or navy officer, he needs to acquire the manners and personal habits becoming his calling.”

It is that last part, acquiring personal habits becoming his calling, that has been most at risk during COVID-19. Missing from the preparation is the nearby, always open chapel. Gone are the required gathering of seminarians for prayer each morning, evening, during the day and at night. Meals are no longer taken with fellow seminarians dressed in cassocks.

Aaron Ackey from Plattsburgh is at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.

“Holy Apostles had emailed us while we were on our spring break that when we returned, we were going to stay in our rooms and do all on-line classes for the time being,” Akey said. “I went back on a Sunday night and by 9 the next morning, they said they were sending me home.”

The classroom part of distance learning has been fine for Ackey and other seminarians. Father Christopher C. Carrara, diocesan director of Seminarians, agrees.

“I find that they are coping very well with the situation they find themselves in,” Father Carrara said. “And the seminaries are working very hard to see that they have the support they need.”

“A big change for me,” said seminarian Matthew Conger, “has been the loss of the structure of the seminary, being with the guys on your hallway, having meals with them all, praying with them and attending liturgies with them. It’s nice being with my family but it is definitely different.”

Conger lives in Ogdensburg and attends Christ the King Seminary in Buffalo. He will be ordained a Transitional Deacon in August.

Leagon Carlin, also from Plattsburgh, is in his second year of major seminary at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He agrees with Conger that the structure is missed. All the seminarians agree the separation from the seminary environment has placed new challenges, and responsibilities, on each of them.

“Part of the reason we are there (in a seminary) to be formed is to develop that closeness and love of the Lord,” Carlin said.

The seminarians each commented on the personal requirement to maintain their prayer life, go to confession when possible and even attend Mass if their pastor allows.

“I didn’t want this to happen, but the experience has helped me learn and grow,” said Kevin McCullouch from Black River. “This has made me more accountable to my professors, my advisors, to myself.”

Mccullouch is completing his 3rd year at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.

Aside from the unique requirements absence from campus has forced on the students, there is a possible silver lining. Carlin thinks the experience has been a gift to this generation of seminarians.

“When we are ordained a priest, we are thrown out into the parish and for some it will be the first time on our own,” he said. “You have to learn how to schedule your life, your prayer life, and now we are getting a very small glimpse of that. I think in this case, it is a gift.

“This has made us own our prayer more,” Aaron Ackey said. “No one is responsible for keeping up my relationship with God but me. There is no one taking attendance. We have varying degrees of success. I can see the difference in myself when I say I wanted to spend that time with God, but I don’t. It makes you all the more resolved to cultivate that relationship.”

“I think the guys are doing well,” Father Carrara said. “I don’t have any particular concerns right now, but they do need the support and structure of seminary formation and their confreres.”

None of the seminarians disagreed.

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