By Father Jordan Samson
The year 2020 has already been filled with so many twists and turns, graces and trials; as vocations director, I’m happy to offer a quick update in what has become a year like no other.
First, let us recall the joyful celebration of Bishop Donald DeGrood’s ordination as the ninth bishop of Sioux Falls on February 13. What a gift it was to welcome our new bishop with multiple celebrations, dinners and a packed cathedral for the ordination Mass.
All the seminarians were called home from their respective seminaries to partake in the festivities and to serve the Mass. Many throughout the diocese joined us by watching the ordination online, back when live streamed Masses were offered because the Church was too full.
We had two visits to the seminary planned this winter and both were canceled. Our first was canceled because it landed on the same weekend as the Bishop’s ordination in February. Our second visit to the seminary was supposed to take place March 14-16, which coincided with the beginning of the virus arriving in South Dakota and the subsequent cascade of cancelations.
The pandemic is obviously on everyone’s mind and no one is unaffected. Here in the vocations office, we have welcomed back nine of our 14 seminarians as their seminaries released their men back to their home dioceses to finish courses online. Two seminarians from St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul, two seminarians from Kenrick Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, three seminarians from Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona and two seminarians from the North American College in Rome, Italy, all came home between March 16 and 26. We have found rectories throughout the diocese for them to have a place of prayer, study and continued formation.
St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul was in a unique situation to remain in their building and continue classes. Five of our Sioux Falls seminarians will remain there until the end of the semester while observing strict quarantine within the grounds of their campus for safety.
This pandemic has shaken so many of our certainties. Our desire to control the circumstances around us, to plan for every eventuality, and to feel prepared has all taken a great hit. I never planned to coordinate housing and formation plans for nine seminarians or become proficient in video conferencing.
Things change by the hour as “normal” life grinds to a halt and we are forced to adjust. Though shaken, something, or rather someone, must steady and sustain us. I’ve offered a few articles for the seminarians to read during this time. High on my recommendations is Pope Francis’ message from Friday, March 27, 2020. On a rainy evening in front of an empty St. Peter’s square he prayed for the world in this time of crisis. These words from his homily stuck out for me:
“The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities… Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars.”
The enemy in front of us is not only the virus, but also the threat of being overwhelmed by anxiety and fear. Though so much has been taken from us, there is a grace here. As the Holy Father points out, the resulting vulnerability we experience when everything is shaken can be a grace. “Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation.”
The neediness we feel, this neediness we so often shy away from or even hate, is actually the beginning of faith, not an obstacle. That’s a perspective I need to hear over and over in these days when I want to grasp at control of my circumstances rather than embrace the reality in front of me.
As we struggle to accompany one another in these unique times may we have love for our neighbors, gentleness with ourselves, and a deepening faith in God because we feel deeply our need for Him.
Know that the seminarians are in good spirits. Continue to pray for more vocations to the priesthood for our diocese.