On Summer Assignment: Spanish Studies

An Afternoon Soccer Game during my Immersion Weekend

For the duration of the months of June and July this summer, I am in Pittsburg, Kansas studying Spanish, by attending Spanish Summer courses, attending Spanish liturgies, and recently, taking part in a Spanish Immersion weekend. This summer assignment, though it can be difficult, is something that I know is heavily needed for future ministry in my home diocese. Within the diocese, we have many Hispanic immigrants, and a majority of them are Catholic. This is both a difficulty and a privilege for the clergy and those of us aspiring to be a part of the clergy in the future, because it creates, not only a larger group that needs ministry, but a group that needs ministry in a new language, at least for most seminarians, including myself. This means that, since my curriculum is very busy during the school year, it is advantageous for me to take time during the summer to learn both language and culture in an environment that puts me in the midst of those who will need me to have a good foundation in Spanish to tend to their sacramental and spiritual needs in the future.

During my Immersion weekend, it impacted me in a profound way just how important it is that I work diligently in learning and practicing Spanish into the future. In my immersion weekend, I was placed with a Hispanic family in Carthage, Missouri, which spoke almost exclusively Spanish. I don’t have a very large vocabulary in Spanish just yet, so it became a struggle to communicate at times. However, even in the midst of this confusion, there were three things that particularly struck me.

First, these people are very diligent about their faith. In each home I visited, there was some sort of devotional altar which was prominently displayed in the entry of each home. Some are ornate, and some are a bit more simple- but each one was special to that family. Many practice prayer at multiple points throughout the day, and are most certainly regular participants at Mass.

St. Ann’s Parish in Carthage Missouri

Second, life is difficult for them in the U.S., but it is more difficult for them where they came from. Even though many Hispanics find themselves in a place where they have to point at photos to order at McDonalds, because no one else understands them, they still feel that they are in a much more privileged place than where they were before. They have more than what they had, and even in the midst of a culture and language that may not understand their own very well, they are very happy and overjoyed to be here.

Finally, they are excited that their future priests are working hard to learn the Spanish language. Even though I felt the family I stayed with for a weekend had every right to be frustrated with my finite amount of Spanish education, they were not frustrated, and were actually excited that I was there, both trying to piece together what I could in the Spanish language and also learning about their culture.

This summer is a little over halfway over, and I feel that I have learned a tremendous amount- both in what I will need to focus on in the future, and in the tools that I will need to have to be a Father to all of God’s children. To that end, my studies continue!

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Summer Activities at Trinity Hills

The James River (Photo Credit: Catherine Lund-Molfese)

The James River (Photo Credit: Catherine Lund-Molfese)

A seminarian’s summer, in my years of experience, certainly cannot be called a boring venture. I have done a variety of things from holding a job at a feed store, serving in different capacities at Steubenville Mid-America, working on the family farm on different home improvement projects, or even putting away hay for the coming winter. This summer certainly has been no exception to the rule, and I have had one of the busiest summers on record thus far, especially with priesthood ordinations, deaconate ordinations, a bishop’s installation, and a brief stint at a site in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau called Trinity Hills, which I want to share a bit about. Trinity Hills is a Catholic Worker House, and functioning farm, which works to serve the homeless and hungry of southern Missouri, and they do this through housing, a variety of livestock and their resulting products, and even something as simple as manual labor (To see more about what they do, please visit their website here). There is an extremely dedicated family that lives and works there full time managing the operation, but I had the privilege of joining them for a couple of weeks to help out. Through my time there, I learned several things, which were not limited strictly to performing various tasks on the farm, but even concerning the homeless and their lives.

During my time at Trinity Hills, a majority of my time was spent helping out with various tasks around the farm, including shoveling out barns, clearing out trees and brush by the St. James river, performing health checks on the sheep and goats, weedeating, and many other tasks. Even in the midst of this manual labor, there were other spiritual and corporal works that took place as well, including a couple of funerals, and even attending the ordinations of Deacon Joseph Stoverink and Deacon Colby Elbert throughout those weeks. It was a very busy time- but it is amazing how apparent it was to me that, as I worked harder, I needed to pray with that same intensity with which I was working. Rarely did I go inside without a shirt completely soaked in sweat from physical labor! I cannot say that I always sweat and get the same sunburns while I am praying, but hopefully the same intensity is there!

It was also a privilege to work alongside the homeless in a couple of ways. The first was when one of the residents at Trinity Hills came and helped clean out one of the sheds for a couple days, and this too had a lesson to teach me. Not only are they children of God, created with the same dignity that I have, but they also have the same needs as well- including the desire to be loved and wanted, which are two elements that are so often lacking in their lives. The resident I worked with was extremely gratified to be working cleaning out the barns and helping- because he was needed and valued.  A second way that I worked alongside the homeless was at a gathering, called the Gathering Tree, in Springfield for an evening. This is a service offered by a group of extremely generous and dedicated people who provide the homeless with a place to go several evenings of the week, all year round.

This was not a soup kitchen, but a “drop-in” center, where the homeless simply came to get out of the heat, build relationships with others, have access to the internet, and even take showers. Here again, the homeless were recognized as the children of God they are- and they were truly grateful for that. This environment seemed to foster the care and attention that they each need and deserve. In reality, it is a shame that so many are homeless, as it is often due to circumstances out of their control. Maybe it is, at times, joblessness, but that is not always the case. Many times it has been due to addiction, substance abuse, or even some sort of mental illness for which they have not been able to get help. Most do not choose this, and it is truly unfortunate that they have to live in conditions the way they do. It does, however, give us a chance as brother and sister to do what we can for them where we can!

So, though my time there for the summer is over, I know that I have gained experience serving the poor and homeless that will serve me well in the future. Ultimately, what this lesson boils down to is that the poor and homeless, though they may lack material goods, still have something that is far more valuable, and deserves the utmost respect and care. They have their human dignity, and that is something that the Church, especially through her ministry at places such as Trinity Hills, works to recognize and treasure.