Parishioners often surprised, seminarians inspired by parish visits

Sacred Heart seminarians who make the parish visits include those in their four years of undergraduate studies as well as those in all but the final year of graduate studies.

Sacred Heart seminarians who make the parish visits include those in their four years of undergraduate studies as well as those in all but the final year of graduate studies.

Bill Blaul
Special to The Michigan Catholic

Detroit — The visits happen a few times each year and have become among the most uplifting ways of elevating the visibility of priestly vocations in the Detroit Archdiocese. Twice annually during Lent and on one other occasion, about 100 seminarians studying at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit make group visits to Metro Detroit parishes. The objective is to encourage more interaction between seminarians and the faithful in varied parish settings and to ensure parishioners know vocations to the priesthood are very much alive in Southeast Michigan.

Many seminarians studying at Sacred Heart teach catechism classes at several area parishes.

Many seminarians studying at Sacred Heart teach catechism classes at several area parishes.

The parish visits by Sacred Heart seminarians started in Lent 2006, initiated by the seminary’s 11th rector, Fr. Steven Boguslawski, who adapted the concept from the centuries-old Roman Station Liturgy. During Lent, the faithful in Rome make pilgrimages to churches throughout the city with the especially devout participating in Mass at a different parish on each of the 49 days of Lent. For the last eight years, dozens of seminarians from Sacred Heart have converged on parishes in Southeast Michigan, attending Sunday Mass and receptions with parishioners, often providing testimonies on priestly vocations to attendees.

Accompanied by Msgr. Todd Lajiness, Sacred Heart’s current rector, seminarian visits this past year included Ste. Anne de Detroit Parish in Detroit and St. Fabian Parish in Farmington Hills.

“Sacred Heart is where Fr. Craig Giera, our associate pastor, and I both studied for the priesthood,” said Fr. Jeff Day, pastor at St. Fabian. “We can recall what it was like to respond to God’s call to enter the seminary, and then spend several years in formation to nurture the call and receive the training needed to be ordained a priest.” The seminarians also try to visit an Eastern-rite parish in Metro Detroit. Visits for 2014 will be scheduled in the weeks ahead.

“Pastors tell me these visits, which typically involve 100 men studying for the priesthood, help parishioners to understand there are many men willing to follow Christ and respond to his call to be a priest,” said Fr. Robert Spezia, undergraduate spiritual director and director of liturgy at Sacred Heart. “The seminarians receive affirmation from the people in the pews and encouragement to persevere in what can be a demanding life.

Fr. Robert Spezia

Fr. Robert Spezia

“These interactions strengthen them for the trials of seminary life, and familiarize them with the faithful in a variety of settings – urban, suburban, and rural,” said Fr. Spezia, who coordinates all liturgical activities at Sacred Heart and ensures seminarians receive proper liturgical training. “It is profoundly powerful for families in a parish to see 100 young men stating through their presence that they want to be a priest. It’s our hope this also helps increase Detroit-area vocations to the priesthood.”

Timing and schedules usually allow only for only two weekend visits to parishes in Lent. During classes, seminarians at have one off-campus weekend to themselves per month. All other weekends have them busy supporting seminary events including weekend discernment gatherings, Masses with groups such as the Knights of Columbus and seminary benefactors, as well as other commitments.

The program will continue in 2014 and beyond, said Fr. Spezia. “Parishioners tend to be surprised, if not stunned when they come to Mass and see 100 seminarians full of the Spirit,” he said. “It makes a strong impression.”