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Life As a Summer Seminarian at SMG

Life As a Summer Seminarian at SMG

By Mark Foley, SMG Summer Seminarian

I breathed a sigh of relief as the car pulled into the hospital parking ramp. I opened the car door, fell to my knees, and in the silence of my heart I thanked God for keeping me safe. For the second time that week, I had survived being a passenger in the car of Fr. Tony, a very good and holy priest but one who sees no value or purpose in stop signs, speed limits, driving lanes, or red lights. Once my heart rate returned to normal, I got up from my knees and proceeded to follow Fr. Tony into the hospital.

This was my first week of Clinical Pastoral Experience, which is a program required by the seminary to give seminarians experience ministering in a hospital setting. Usually, this is done through St. Mary’s hospital, but due to COVID, they were not willing to host me this year. Fortunately, Fr. Scott was kind enough to create a program for me here at St. Maria Goretti Parish.

Upon arriving at SMG, I was placed under the care of Fr. Tony and was asked to shadow him as he visited the sick and suffering. He is quite the shadow to follow as he has shared with me so many amazing stories from his life as a priest.

While shadowing Fr. Tony during these weekly hospital visits, I have come to see the importance of hope. Hospitals can be a very intimidating place. You are faced with sickness and death and some of life’s most difficult questions. It is in these situations that I begin to feel my own inadequacy, fears, and brokenness. But I have learned that there are moments when holding the hand of a sick or dying person can mean more to them than a theological explanation of the meaning of suffering. That touch is a touch of hope for someone who is afraid to die. I have been deeply moved by both Fr. Tony and Fr. Scott as I watch them comfort those who are in their final hours of life.

Although not all my time was spent in the hospital. I have been spoiled this summer by living with three priests who are all fantastic cooks and I have benefited greatly from their culinary skills. Fr. Scott also entrusted me with the responsibility of caring for his beloved garden while he was on vacation. Unbeknownst to me, I was unaware of a deadly plot by the local rabbit community to plunder and destroy these beds of luscious green vegetation. These little fuzzy insurrectionists wasted no time in carrying out their deadly plans and, despite all my efforts, I was outnumbered and could do nothing to save the lettuce, beans, or the peas.

If that was the low point of my time here, then my high point came when I was invited to participate in a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. Rachel’s Vineyard is a ministry that seeks to bring healing to post abortive men and women. I was profoundly touched by the vulnerability and honesty of these amazing women. I had no idea of the amount of shame and pain that so many women secretly carry in their hearts and it was so beautiful to see the tenderness of God’s mercy. This experience did more to shape the priestly heart within me than all my seminary formation so far and I’m deeply grateful that I was invited to participate in that.

I’ve also been deeply blessed to meet a lot of wonderful people here and I’m so grateful for the prayers and encouragement that I have received. This is a wonderful parish, and I will treasure my time at SMG.

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