Three Cardinal Glennon College seminarians were looking forward to a summer serving at Ste. Genevieve Parish in Ste. Genevieve, but then the coronavirus outbreak changed everyone’s lives.
So, Ste. Genevieve pastor Father Edward Nemeth did what any good pastor would do — he offered to take them in early. The parish’s associate pastor was reassigned in
January, and there was plenty of room in the rectory. At the same time, officials at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary looked to disperse 137 seminarians to parishes in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines and help mitigate the spread of the virus.
Freshman Jonah Darian and sophomores Jack McCoy and Jonathan Struckhoff arrived at Ste. Genevieve in mid-March. Of the three, only Struckhoff had been in a parish assignment before. They’re replicating the seminary routine as best they can, with their studies continuing via online learning, plus spiritual direction by phone. They also have morning and evening prayer, as well as daily Mass and afternoon Holy Hour with Father Nemeth.
Seminary formation is centered on four primary tenets of formation — intellectual, spiritual, human and pastoral. Being outside of the walls of the seminary has given them the opportunity to grow into their formation in new ways.
“The seminary is all about becoming a man of Christ,” Darian said. “God willing we become priests one day — we need to know how to keep those pillars intact by ourselves. Living here, we’re still in a community that holds you accountable, but at the same time you’re making choices yourself to do things and get things done.”
With the cancellation of public Masses and other events and activities at the parish, the seminarians have not
yet experienced the fullness of parish life. But they are getting involved in other ways, such as helping distribute boxes of food from the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul pantry.
McCoy said parishioners have been generous in occasionally dropping off food and other goodies at the rectory and interacting with them online. “It’s cool, even after the Facebook Masses to look at the comments and they’re always assuring of their prayers for us,” he said. “You can tell they’re excited to meet us. It’s a great community here.”
In addition to Masses, Father Nemeth has livestreamed adoration and evening prayer on occasion. He’s also shared some lighter moments on the parish’s Facebook page, such as the guys cooking breakfast while Struckhoff mixes tunes on a mixing board.
“My goal with social media is to let the people know that the Church hasn’t forgotten about them,” Father Nemeth said. “We can’t minister and serve them as we normally would right now. But it’s amazing the number of people we have reached on social media. And then there’s the fun stuff behind the scenes — people like to see the human side of their priests and seminarians. They are so excited there’s life in the rectory. And they get a chuckle — I’m an only child and have lived alone the past couple of months, and now all of a sudden I’m a father of three college students.”
Having dinner together also has been an important part of rectory life, Father Nemeth said. Through that, he hopes the men will experience a sense of fraternity that he witnessed when he was a seminarian years
ago at St. Gabriel Parish in St. Louis, under the tutelage of the late Father Charles Burgoon.
“He built such a community life within the rectory,” Father Nemeth said. “The seminarians never felt like they were kids. We were treated like any of the other priests in the house. And the big thing was dinner together. That was a very formative moment for me, watching how Father Burgoon was a father and pastor to younger priests and seminarians. I wanted to take the lessons I learned from a very good and holy priest and pass them on.”
On a spiritual level, Struckhoff said it’s strange to be at Mass and look out to see an empty church, but he sees how he can be a vessel for others who are unable to receive the Eucharist right now. “It’s opened the Mass in a whole different way that I’m very grateful for,” he said. “I pray for the parishioners, even though I don’t know them all by name, and for all those watching and to receive for them.”