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Passing the word: Twenty young men visit St. Mary’s Seminary to learn about priestly life

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For The Dialog

 

Ebube Chukwu Maduka-Ugwu doesn’t think God is calling him to the priesthood, at least “not at this point.”

Still, the student at St. Thomas More Academy in Magnolia was among 20 high school men who toured St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore on March 28 during “Pass the Word,” a Wilmington diocese vocations awareness day for men. Maduka-Ugwu said he is open to whatever God has in store for him. “It’s not just what I want but what God feels is best for me.”

That desire to discover God’s role for him underscored the purpose of the event organized by the Office of Priestly and Religious Vocations. Maduka-Ugwu also reflected the day’s intent even through his sense that “perhaps God might want me to bring his message to the world in a different way” than the priesthood.

“Each one of you will have a vocation,” said Bishop Malooly, a graduate of the seminary who now is on its board. That vocation may come through the priesthood, marriage, consecrated life, or even the single lifestyle.

“God will call each of you – keep your ears open.”

The high school students toured the seminary, talked with the diocese’s seminarians, had lunch with other seminary students, and attended a Mass. They heard Bishop Malooly and two seminarians, Lance Martin and Mark Patrick, summarize their vocation experiences.

Bishop Malooly speaks to diocesan high school students during the Pass the Word vocations awareness day program at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md. (The Dialog/Photo by Bill McAllen Photography)

Father Joseph McQuaide, associate director for high school vocations, said the day helps high school students understand the role of the seminary and the life of a seminarian. Half of the last six men ordained priests of the diocese, including him, and two of the diocese’s four seminarians attended previous Pass the Word days.

“It answered questions I wasn’t even aware of,” said Father McQuaide, associate pastor at Holy Cross in Dover. “What is a seminary? What goes on all day? It also showed me other young men who were interested in the priesthood.”

During his homily at Mass, Bishop Malooly, who confirmed most of those attending, recalled what he told them at confirmation: “It is essential to celebrate the Eucharist on a weekly basis.”

He also reiterated his request that every day they “pray, serve and smile,” living out their baptismal vows. Through prayer one stays in contact with God; through service one imitates the works of Jesus, and through smiles “we are showing there’s something good going on in our lives.” He also echoed Pope John Paul II’s request for Christians “to be the face of Christ for others.”

The results of Catholics living out their faith were shown in Martin’s and Patrick’s vocations stories. Both became Catholic as adults, but the seeds were planted by Catholics they knew years before.

Martin, now in a year of pastoral service at St. Ann in Wilmington, was raised a Brethren of God. The summer after fifth grade, a Little League teammate mentioned that his family was going on vacation and that they would go to church during it.

“Isn’t your church here?” Martin asked, since the teammate’s family was going away. His family did not attend church while on vacation. His teammate explained they were Catholic and how the Mass is the same all over the world.

“It made me see religion in a whole new way,” Martin said. He decided to learn more about Catholicism which eventually led him to the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.

Later, he felt called to the priesthood. He thought it was a new calling but eventually “realized God was calling me to the priesthood my whole life, but I was not listening.”

Patrick, a student at St. Andrew’s Hall College Seminary at Seton Hall University, was raised an Evangelical Protestant. He considered the Catholic faith to be a cult until a friend’s father died and he attended the Mass of Christian Burial at a Catholic church.

“I walked out knowing Jesus Christ was truly present in the Eucharist, and I wanted more,” said Patrick, a parishioner at Good Shepherd in Perryville, Md. He attended Pass the Word while still in RCIA.

Bishop Malooly felt a call during the fifth grade, influenced in part by an uncle who was a bishop and a parish priest who enjoyed his work, both in Bishop Malooly’s native Baltimore. But even though God called him to the priesthood, the result was far different than what he had envisioned.

“I always wanted to be a pastor, but I was never a pastor,” Bishop Malooly said. Rather he went into diocesan administrative work. “It’s been what God has called me to do.”

While his vocation turned out different from what he had anticipated, the bishop said he has had “no regrets” about becoming a priest.

Richard Jasper, who attends St. Mary’s and led a tour, called prayer life a vital part of a seminarian’s daily life, including daily Mass and liturgy of the hours in the afternoon. “When we come together as a community in prayer, we’re not just praying for ourselves but for the whole church,” including those who have no one to pray for them.

The seminary’s work is to “teach us not only to be the best priests we can be, but also be the best men we can be,” since some students will discern that God is calling them to a vocation other than the priesthood.

Those attending the seminary form a bond, Jasper said. “We really do feel like we are brothers.”

The day impressed Andrew Gordon, a parishioner at St. Polycarp in Smyrna who attends Aquinas Academy in Bear. “It’s always refreshing to see a lot of guys my age taking their faith seriously,” he said.

The music at Mass was especially impressive. “Hearing everybody sing, having it echo through the church at Mass – that was powerful for me,” he said.

But the icing came during a visit to the student lounge, which features a pool table, Ping-Pong table, and band stage with a set of drums. Seeing the drum set “told me they have a little spunk,” said Gordon, who sat down to play them. He plays drums at St. Polycarp.

Maduka-Ugwu said the visit gave him a new insight on seminary life.

“There’s a serious side to it, and also a fun side to it,” he said. “It was more loose [an atmosphere] than I thought it would be.”