Pandemic forces diocesan seminarians to ‘shelter in place’ together

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | April 23, 2020

Eleven of 13 seminarians now studying, residing at formation house

ALLOUEZ — Opportunity sprung from a difficult situation for diocesan seminarians.

Five weeks ago, when seminary closings began due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an initial group of men returned to the diocese to reside at the Holy Name of Jesus House of Formation, located on the St. Matthew Parish property.

Fr. Adam Bradley, far right, assistant vocation director for the Diocese of Green Bay, sits at the dinner table with seminarians and transitional deacons awaiting priestly ordination. Among the seminarians now studying at the Holy Name of Jesus House of Formation in Allouez are Matthew Colle, Patrick Costello and Ben Pribbenow, who returned from their seminarian studies in Rome in April. (Fr. Mark Mleziva | Special To The Compass)

“As soon as they started sending guys home, we sought some semblance of prayer life and a means of receiving the sacraments,” said Fr. Adam Bradley, assistant vocation director for the diocese. “We talked to Bishop (David Ricken) about (the seminarians) living at the house. The guys are able to pray, live in community, take their classes (online) and grow in brotherhood.”

Eleven of the 13 current seminarians now reside at the house with Fr. Bradley and Fr. Mark Mleziva, vocation director. Brandon Lewandowski is assigned to Holy Spirit Parish, Kimberly/Darboy, for his pastoral year. Jace Scheffler, who remains in Colorado, is in his spirituality year through St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

“The spirituality year is not formal seminary,” explained Fr. Mleziva. “They are essentially quarantined through that program.”

Contact by the men at the Holy Name of Jesus House is kept to a minimum, said Fr. Mleziva. They do see family members.

The men each have their own space at the house, but there are still challenges, said Fr. Bradley.

“There are 11 guys who are used to having their entire seminary and being able to leave at will,” he said. “We are dealing with the (same) frustrations of the general public. Some guys go on bike rides and runs.”

The day begins early at the house.

“We have holy hour at 6 a.m., morning prayer and Mass,” said Fr. Mleziva. “Most of the guys keep to their normal (class) schedule. They log in and do their coursework. We gather at 5:30 p.m. for evening prayer. They have time to study, pray and exercise in between the bookends of sort for the day.”

Deacon Kevin Ripley lost his final weeks at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago. The suddenness of the situation was difficult, he said.

“It’s tough to not be able to say goodbye, the usual tradition,” he said. “I didn’t get to go to my parish in Chicago. Everyone had to go home and move out completely, pretty quickly. It took a lot of effort to get everyone out. I like being in Green Bay. That’s a good thing.”

Deacon Ripley and Deacon Ben Johnson, who was also at Mundelein, were scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood next month. The ordination is postponed at this time and will be reevaluated at a later date, said Fr. Mark Mleziva.

Even though they don’t know when they will celebrate their first Masses, Deacons Ripley and Johnson are in preparation.

“Last semester was confession. This semester was Mass practicum,” said Deacon Ripley. “Fortunately, we got through all the Mass by the time we had to leave. Deacon Ben and I, this week, have been making videos of us doing the practice Mass for our first Mass.”

Seminarians Matthew Colle, Patrick Costello and Ben Pribbenow study at the Pontifical North American College in Vatican City. The virus peaked in Italy prior to the United States.

“Italians were taking it day-by-day,” said Costello. “(The college) shut down quickly. We’ve had virtual classes since the beginning of March. In the seminary, we felt safe. They were dedicated to keeping the compound closed and have us stay in place for social distancing. We stayed until the end of March. That’s when the seminary told anyone who could return home should. The virus progressed and people would be better off locally.”

Upon their return to the U.S., the three men spent nearly two weeks in quarantine at St. Francis de Sales Seminary near Milwaukee. Three seminarians from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee also stayed at the seminary along with a priest. The Green Bay men left St. Francis on Saturday, April 11.

“I arrived (at the Holy Name of Jesus House) on Holy Saturday, got some things unpacked and started practicing for the vigil on Saturday night,” explained Costello.

Frs. Mleziva and Bradley assisted at parishes in the diocese during Holy Week, so Fr. Matthew Faucett, parochial vicar at St. Mary Parish, Ledgeview, and St. Francis Xavier Parish, De Pere, was the celebrant for the Triduum liturgies at the house.

“It was very beautiful with the Schola,” said Deacon Ripley. “We did all the readings for the Easter Vigil.”

“We even had a fire on the porch,” said Costello.

The seminarians prepared brunch on Easter Sunday. Household duties are shared. “The house has never been this clean,” said Fr. Bradley with a laugh.

Applications have been submitted by men interested in propaedeutic formation, a period that focuses on seeking God’s will and prepares men better for the major seminary through a deeper exploration of their vocation.

“We ordered all the beds for next year (propaedeutic year),” said Fr. Bradley. “It’s been a blessing. They’ve put all the beds together. The guys take the initiative to get things done.”

The year will include residence at the house, an academic component, and focus on prayer and discernment. The current residents continue their formation. Online classes from the Pontifical North American College are held at the discretion of the instructor.

“Most record them for the North Americans,” said Costello. “I have one that goes live at 9:30 a.m. Rome time, so it’s 3:30 a.m. (here). That’s only one class. You can watch most lectures on your own time.

“It’s a little different being back while still in class,” he added. “I was expecting to be back in the summer. It’s Green Bay, so there is that familiarity, which helps.”

Costello, who is scheduled to be ordained a deacon in Rome on Oct. 1, is hopeful to return to the Pontifical North American College on time in the fall. Deacon Ripley expects to be back at Mundelein with his class for a November Mass, an annual celebration. The benefit of the current situation is building relationships with the other seminarians, he said.

“Usually, we spend time together during our seminarian retreat in the summer and at our Christmas party,” said Deacon Ripley. “We get to know each other now and for the future.”

“The house has been a big blessing … a place that fosters holiness among our guys,” said Fr. Bradley.

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