Seminarians adjust to life during pandemic

Friday, May. 15, 2020
Seminarians adjust to life during pandemic + Enlarge
Anthony Shumway (left), shown with Bryan Valdivieso serving during the Good Friday celebration at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, is one of the 10 men studying to be priests for the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — Like most other people, the lives of the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s 10 seminarians have changed dramatically in the last two months. Each has found ways to re-center himself and to find peace during the pandemic.
Oscar Marquina was studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome when COVID-19 hit Italy. After consulting with Bishop Oscar A. Solis, in early March he returned to Utah. Because his parents are older and considered in the high-risk category, Marquina immediately quarantined himself in a Salt Lake City apartment for 14 days before returning to his family in Logan, where he spent five weeks. To sustain himself spiritually, he has grown closer to the Liturgy of the Hours, he said. In Logan, he watched livestreamed Masses and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the rosary with his mother.
The change has been difficult, he said. “Being away from the sacraments and the structure of the seminary was like someone pulled a rug from under my feet. It was a big, drastic change; it’s not ideal for a seminarian to be away from that environment.”
“What’s helped me through has been being involved in the community to whatever extent possible,” he said. “Just having a community lifestyle is beneficial; maintaining a daily routine, having a discipline to repeat throughout the day.”
Since April 30, Marquina has been living at the rectory at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, where he has been assigned to work during his summer break. He is finishing his studies online, and plans to return to Rome in the fall if restrictions are lifted. In the meantime, he is helping the cathedral staff in his free time. He serves at Sunday Masses, helps livestream weekday morning Masses and translates documents and forms from English to Spanish.
“It’s great news,” he said of Governor Gary Herbert’s lessening of restrictions last week that allow a limited number of people to gather in a church for Mass. “This will bring joy and peace to a lot of parishioners and Catholics all over Utah. I will hopefully meet and interact a bit more with the people.”
When the COVID-19 restrictions hit, Andre Sicard was living at the Theological College in Washington, D.C., on spring break from the Catholic University of America. When the university shut down, Sicard returned to the seminary at the request of the seminary’s administration officials, who initially hoped seminarians could stay there and take online classes, Sicard said. However, as the situation deteriorated, officials decided to close the seminary, so Sicard returned home to Utah.
“It’s been a little hard not being at school and at seminary and finishing out the semester with everybody, but overall, I think the transition was pretty easy,” he said.
Like other Catholics, Sicard has been unable to attend Mass or participate in public prayer. To keep a prayer schedule going, he has been saying the rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet, and participating in Masses online. He has also tried to fit in more spiritual reading, he said. 
“Even though I don’t have access to the sacraments regularly, I’ve been able to keep a strong prayer life,” he said. 
Sicard was able to serve at Masses during the Triduum at his home parish of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Midvale. He has also been helping the parish with its social media during this time.
While the pandemic has slowed down life for many, Sicard has observed that some people have held on to a busyness, he said.
“Stop that busyness and let yourself just be present, especially in prayer, just being in the presence of God and seeing where that will take you; lean into those emotions, offer it up and ask Christ to help you,” he advised. “Don’t ignore those emotions; take them to prayer especially silent prayer. Be present to Christ and see how Christ is appearing to you in different ways that you might not have expected.”
Despite the shutdown, Sicard still plans to take an intensive online course this summer, and hopes to return to Theological College in Washington, D.C. in the fall.  
He commended the diocese, the Intermountain Catholic and the parishes for their efforts in ministering to the people of the Church during this difficult time.
“With how fast it all happened, this is an indicator of how much pastoral care and love goes into the work that people sometimes forget about and take for granted,” he said. “That speaks volumes to how much the priests, the diocese, the Intermountain Catholic are really ministering to Catholics in Utah.”
Seminarian Tristan Dillon, who is in the middle of his pastoral year, has been assisting Father Javier Virgen at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in West Jordan. Since the pandemic hit, much of his time has been spent providing comfort over the phone to anxious parishioners. 
“It has been sad and hard,” Dillon said. “My favorite part of this year has been working with people. Now [I’m] working while they’re not there.”
Along with helping the parish’s  rosary group livestream over Facebook, he and Fr. Virgen have been brainstorming other things they could be doing to serve parishioners.
This week, Dillon transferred to St. John the Baptist Parish in Draper. He hopes that, with the lessening of restrictions, he will be able to serve parishioners there more personally than he has been able to at St. Joseph the Worker the past two months. 
Looking at history and seeing this isn’t the first time the Church has endured a plague has helped Dillon to keep the coronavirus in perspective, he said. 
“Seeing that we have 2,000 years of history – we made it through the Black Plague — this is nothing compared to that,” he said. “There can still be good. Yes, we get the hard time, but there is good that can come out of this. If things seem hard, if we are worried about what the Church is going to look like coming out of this, Christ is with us. Christ died and saved us and he’s not going to abandon us.” 
Seminarian Sergio Chavez is also in his pastoral year. The remaining seminarians are students at Mt. Angel Seminary in Saint Benedict, Ore. Anthony Shumway, Alberto Carrillo, Jaime Zuazo and José Luis Gomez returned to Utah and are completing their year-end exams here, while Michael Thomas chose to stay at Mt. Angel to finish the semester. 
Deacon Dominic Sternhagen, who is scheduled to be ordained a priest in August, is finishing his studies at Mt. Angel remotely while staying with a friend in Idaho. 
The summer assignments for the other seminarians are uncertain, said Fr. Joseph Delka, director of the diocesan vocations office. 
“A large part of the original plan was to have most of the seminarians going around the diocese to visit the parishes, meet the people who so generously support their education, and encourage other young men to consider the call to the priesthood,” Fr. Delka said. “That isn’t going to work for the time being. I’m speaking with a few pastors and working on some other ways to get the seminarians involved in ministry.”  
Fr. Delka asked parishioners to pray for the seminarians. “This situation with the pandemic has been difficult and strange for them, just as it has been for all of us,” he said. “Yet, they are still working and praying to be formed more and more after the Sacred Heart of Jesus. They are still eager to serve.”

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