LAKELAND, La. — On a hot Friday afternoon in July, the grounds outside of Immaculate Conception Church in Lakeland were quiet and vacant of cars and people.
It was a serene setting but in less than 24 hours, the church would be busy with the hustle and bustle of a vibrant parish life.
In the air-conditioned church office, located across the street from Immaculate Conception, seminarian Taylor Sanford, a second-year theology student at Notre Dame Seminary of New Orleans, was wrapping up his final days of his eight-week summer placement program through the vocations office of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
“I’m kind of like an intern, so anything they don’t want to waste their time doing, I’ll do that,” said Sanford with a chuckle. “It’s kind of a mentorship program, so I’m living with Father Todd (Lloyd) at the rectory and I come in to the office and go to Mass when he celebrates Mass, and so I’m getting a feel for the rhythm of a parish priest’s life, the day-to-day stuff, which helps with discernment and I get a taste of what’s in store for the future.”
The summer assignments for seminary students can range from church parishes to hospital ministry to further educational studies. Father Matt Lorrain, Baton Rouge’s diocesan director of seminarians, said the goal is to use the students’ down time, when they are not busy with classes and studying, to educate them in real-world ways.
“Each summer, it could be something similar or something different, depending on (the students’) studies,” Father Lorrain told The Catholic Commentator, Baton Rouge’s diocesan newspaper.
“Between being assigned to a parish or working in a hospital or going up to the summer institute or doing Spanish immersion,” he said. “All of that comes together to complement their classroom study and helps them apply some of the knowledge they’ve gained and also start applying some of their spiritual formation, the insights they’ve gained in their prayer life and all.”
Of the 14 seminarian students in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, one has been studying at the Institute for Priestly Formation on the campus of Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska; two were assigned to hospitals, one in Houston and one in Pensacola, Florida; one is at the Madonna House Apostolate in Canada; and, the rest were assigned to church parishes throughout the diocese.
Father Lloyd has sponsored seminarians for four summers and said it’s the only way for the students to learn what takes place in a priest’s life, from living in the rectory to “living and being amongst your parishioners and their lives.” And, he points out other job requirements that fall outside of pastoral duties.
“There are administrative issues, putting blinds up, fixing things,” said Father Lloyd. “I think the only way you can experience all of that, like every aspect of the life of a parish, is by living in it. It’s important; it’s good. I don’t know how else a seminarian could do it.”
Father Lloyd was in his first assignment as a priest at Christ the King Church in Baton Rouge, when he became Sanford’s spiritual director while Sanford was a student at Louisiana State University. Priest and student were reunited again in Lakeland, but with the student watching more closely and carefully.
Sanford said there were plenty of lessons he learned along the way during his assignment, including seeing how Father Lloyd “loves his people and lives out his priesthood;” time management; and, creating a life as a priest that works for him.
For example, Father Lloyd spends his morning in prayer, while Sanford said he loves to run in the morning.
“There’s a certain level of freedom that I have come to in realizing that I’m my own person and as a priest, I can live out my priesthood differently,” said Sanford. “While it’s still good, and can still be a wholly, fruitful priesthood, it doesn’t have to be like a cookie-cutter type of model and so, that’s a good take away from living with Father Todd (Lloyd).”
Sanford also has been by Father Lloyd’s side when visiting the sick, either at home or in the hospital; attending every Mass; and getting to know the faithful of Immaculate Conception.
“(Going to) different people’s houses for dinner, which is a ministry itself,” said Sanford said with a smile. “Just being with the people, they’re opening their homes to you … it’s a mutual blessing there. It was a good summer.”
Sanford’s watershed moment came when he had to conduct a Communion service at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola by himself. Every Thursday, Father Lloyd travels to the prison to hold three Masses in different camps. One Thursday, he was too sick to go and sent the young seminarian in his place for one of the services.
With a prepared reflection for the service, Sanford headed to Angola, but, when he got there, the 20 men gathered had their missalettes ready for the Sunday Mass readings, not the weekday readings.
“I had to go off the cuff, so it worked, like the Lord was there,” Sanford recalled. “It was great for my discernment. Like in the moment, I was like, ‘Wow! I’m not celebrating Mass right now but this is kind of a taste of what I can look forward to in the future.’ It felt right. It felt natural leading them in prayer, and so, it was really good. It was a good feeling.”