Though located in the Twin Cities, the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity is presently the site of a crash course on the Church in the countryside for 15 seminarians.
The seminarians, who are going into their third year of priestly formation, are participating in Catholic Rural Life’s Rural Ministry Practicum. The program aims to introduce the future priests, many of whom may be assigned to country parishes and small towns after ordination, to rural life.
The seminarians will make visits to small towns and functioning farms later this week, but for the past couple days they’ve been receiving classroom instruction on the various relevant dimensions of rural life. Dr. Christopher Thompson offered a theological overview of rural ministry, while Fr. Gregory Mastey, a parish priest in Central Minnesota, spoke about the joys and challenges of rural ministry. Executive Director Jim Ennis wrapped up the classroom instruction with a helpful articulation of current lay of the land in Rural America.
The young men who took part in the practicum were engaged throughout, offering peppering the speakers with insightful questions. But don’t take our word for it. Here are some of their initial reactions to the classroom portion of the Rural Ministry Practicum.
Name: Jeremy Bock
Hometown: Brainerd, Minnesota
Studying for: Diocese of Duluth
Previous rural connection: “I grew up on a rabbit farm for 10 years of my life.”
Big Takeaway : “Dr. Thompson helped to make the point that if we take the time to study and reflect upon the wilderness, we see that the beauty of creation makes us more aware of our own personal dignity. This is because natural beauty helps draw us out of ourselves, marveling at the dignity of God’s creation, which in turn leads us to reflect upon we are similarly created with dignity.”
Name: Derek Weichmann
Hometown: St. Rosa, Minnesota
Studying for: Diocese of St. Cloud
Previous rural connection: “I grew up on a dairy farm with my mom and dad and five siblings. We milk 125 cows. So I was involved in that growing up, and was also very involved in my faith. We’d go to Mass every Sunday and pray the rosary after chores.”
Big Takeaway: “I learned from Father Mastey that delegation to the lay people in a rural parish is important. It’s a relatively new idea, especially in the past 10 to 15 years when we’ve started to see big parish clusters. So it was good to see how he wanted to incorporate the laity more into leadership positions in passing on the faith and administration, so that he can focus on celebrating Mass, visiting people and being a spiritual father. That isn’t how it was when I was growing up, but that’s how the transformation is going in rural places.”
Name: Nick Froehle
Hometown: Littletown, Colorado
Studying for: Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis
Previous rural connection: “Practically nonexistent.”
Big Takeaway: “After hearing Jim Ennis speak about rural America, I’m thinking a lot more about things I didn’t consider before, from changing demographics to how we grow crops. For instance, he pointed out that there are a growing number of Latinos in rural areas, yet it’s pretty rare to find a rural parish with ministry oriented toward Spanish speakers. Also, a lot of the things we talked about, such as sustainability and the need to develop the laity, are principles that can also be applied to urban settings as well.”
Name: Brother Elijah, O. Carm.
Hometown: St. Paul, Minnesota
Studying for: Carmelite Hermitage of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lake Elmo, MN)
Previous rural connection: “Our monastery is in a rural setting, on 90 acres of land. I do a lot of work in the woods, splitting firewood.”
Big Takeaway: “The best part for me was when Dr. Thompson helped articulate how man can use Creation to return to God. It can be a vehicle of God expressing himself to us in manifest and sensible terms, and it’s also be a way for man to learn more about God by learning about the universe he created and ordered. It’s something I’d been thinking on at a cursory level, but it’s good to be able to hear it articulated in a deeper way.”
Name: Brandon Theisen
Hometown: Coon Rapids, Minnesota
Studying for: Archdiocese of Saint Paul/Minneapolis
Previous rural connection: “Not really much. It’s pretty new to me. I’ve been to a dairy farm and I appreciate how hard farmers work, but other than I don’t know much.”
Big Takeaway: “I was really edified by Father Mastey, who demonstrated the importance of being a loving father and shepherd as a rural pastor. Community is important, especially in a small town. He’s looked to as a model of faith, a model to live your life after. You get inspired by him and you can see how he encourages young people he works with to get serious about their faith and make it their own.”