MOSAIC Spring 2017 | Page 16

Field education gets students out of the “ sanctuary ” and into the “ drama of the human condition .”


Stepping Out in Faith

Field education gets students out of the “ sanctuary ” and into the “ drama of the human condition .”

There is a common perception that life at a seminary is like living at a cloistered monastery . Think of the idyllic image of robed monks with head bowed in silent prayer , with Gregorian chant echoing through the halls .

Of course , seminarians spend considerable time each day in liturgical and personal prayer . But Sacred Heart is a place of engagement and activity : the men participate in sporting competitions , stage theatrical performances , march in prolife demonstrations , make overseas pilgrimages , not to mention enjoy the lively give-and-take that goes on daily in the classroom .
There are many opportunities for “ pastoral ” engagement , as well — learning to reach out with compassion and Christian hope to the greater community . One opportunity is through a new lineup of field instruction courses , designed to develop the pastoral dimension of a seminarian ’ s priestly character .
Theory into Practice
Two years ago , Sacred Heart ’ s formation team , led by then-vice rector Bishop Gerard Battersby , revised the second year of the graduate-level Field Education curriculum by adding a course in the “ New Evangelization .” The first-year program , in turn , became “ Clinical ” Field Education . The focus of the courses is practical : seminarians gain experience ministering in real-life settings , such as at a hospital , youth detention center , or college campus . The goal is to better
Daniel Gallio
prepare seminarians to be effective leaders of their flocks and brave witnesses of Christ ’ s saving grace to the secular culture .
“ Part of the reason we want to train our men through courses such as Field Education ,” explains new Vice Rector Fr . Stephen Burr , “ is that we have in our culture those who do not know God or only have a peripheral knowledge of God , those who are unchurched , those with no faith in Jesus . There needed to be an opportunity for seminarians to learn how to speak to all types of people .”
“ Students at Sacred Heart receive a lot of theoretical instruction about the Church ’ s teaching on the new evangelization ,” says Fr . John Vandenakker , CC , who oversees the Field Education curriculum . “ However , the goal of the field education course is to give students practical experience .”
Where Catholics “ Are At ” They certainly get significant practical experience through the revised Field Education courses . During the fall term , for example , the men of Theology 1 are required to attend an Alpha parish renewal program ( alphausa . org ) held at a local parish .
“ The men attend in cognito ,” Father Vandenakker says . That way , he explains , the seminarians do not become the center of attention or perceived as representing “ the Church ,” which might suppress small-group discussion . Alpha ’ s fifteen weekly sessions present the essential gospel message to attendees so they may experience Christ in a deeper way . Parish members are encouraged to invite friends and family members who are distant from the practice of religion .
“ The benefits of seminarians attending an Alpha course are many ,” Father Vandenakker says . “ It allows them to see , as future pastors , what a parish-wide program of evangelization would look like .” Attendance at Alpha “ puts a finger on the pulse of where Catholics ‘ are at ’ with the faith ,” he explains . As such , seminarians begin to develop “ pastoral wisdom .”
“ They see real conversions happening . Everyone who goes through Alpha is blessed in a tangible way ,” Father Vandenakker says . That includes Matthew Wagner , a secondyear theologian for the Diocese of Winona .
“ I found myself edified , watching those who had little or no faith reach a point in which they could profess belief in God , even going so far as to join RCIA to become fully Catholic ,” Matthew notes . “ It truly was an incredible experience .”
“ What Could I Possibly Offer ?”
Two seminarians are chosen , as an alternative to attending Alpha , to do weekly ministry at Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility in Detroit . This work of mercy is performed in conjunction with the Office of Youth Ministry of the Archdiocese of Detroit .
“ It is a work of evangelization in a different way ,” Father Vandenakker says . The seminarians perform a simple listening ministry to help the male and female detainees , ages thirteen through eighteen , deal with fear , brokenness , and emotional pain .
“ Being at the juvenile detention facility was difficult for me . It really challenged me to move beyond the boundaries of my carefully cultivated comfort-zone ,” says Alex Colautti , a third-year theologian with the Companions of Christ religious community . “ It felt so foreign in that place , and I wondered what I could possibly offer these kids who had struggled so much .
14 Sacred Heart Major Seminary | Mosaic | Spring 2017