October 27, 2015 // Local

Life in the seminary brings excitement, beauty of the faith

Seminarian Dennis Di Benedetto, right, is shown in Guatemala with his Spanish teacher, Yolanda Najera de Perez, left. A volcano can be seen in background.

By Tim Johnson

Life for four diocesan seminarians is filled with excitement as they journey, God-willing, to their vocation to be ordained to the holy Priesthood.

Two seminarians, Dennis Di Benedetto and Eric Burgener spent their summer in a Spanish immersion program in Guatemala. Both seminarians are studying third theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and looking forward to their diaconate ordination in 2016.

“The trip to Guatemala was incredibly insightful,” said Eric Burgener. “Dennis and I studied for six hours a day and everything else was in Spanish.”

He said it offered an opportunity to grow in his understanding of the language but also the Church atmosphere there.

“The first weekend there was a five-hour long Eucharistic procession,” Bergener noted. “Everyone came out into the street to welcome Jesus. Also, many of the women would weep in front of the Sacrament. I was reminded of St. Peter’s words: ‘Cast all your anxieties upon Him for He care for you.’”

Dennis Di Benedetto told Today’s Catholic, “I learned so much! In addition to getting much better at Spanish I learned a lot about the Guatemalan people. They have been through many hardships, including a very long civil war. Nevertheless they remain friendly and cheerful, making the best of their situation.”

He added, “I also learned what it feels like to be a foreigner who misses his home country. Attending daily Mass in Spanish was difficult. I realized my soul prays in English. This is why it is so important for us to be able to offer Mass and the sacraments in Spanish for those who have had to leave their homes to find a better life in the United States.”

Spenser St. Louis is shown in this photo taken from the roof of the North American College with St. Peter’s in the background.

Father Andrew Curry, pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in North Manchester, also took part in the summer program. The three men lived in the home of the Perez-Vega family.

Di Benedetto explained, “When Mexico became unsafe, many seminaries started doing immersion programs in Guatemala. The city of Antigua, where we lived, has about 30 different language schools. Our school, called Probigua, is a nonprofit started by a former seminarian named Rigoberto Zamura-Charuc. It uses the tuition paid by students learning Spanish to construct schools and libraries in the mountain villages where the indigenous Maya people live.”

Burgener noted a benefit was growing “in friendship with Dennis, Father Drew Curry and other seminarians from the U.S.”

He added, “I will always remember the love everyone had for the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary, as well as a constant reminder of the poverty in which most live yet still having a joyful heart.”

Seminarian Spenser St. Louis is living and studying in Rome at Pontifical North American College with more than 250 American, Australian and Canadian seminarians. For classes, however, he attends the Pontifical Gregorian University, founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

St. Louis said, “The transition from philosophical studies to theological studies has been fantastic. It is really rewarding to see how these past four years of studying philosophy is coming to fruition studying our Catholic faith, namely in growing into a deeper relationship with our Lord, Jesus Christ. It has been amazing to see how many correlations can be made between the study of philosophy and the study of theology.”

Seminarian Daniel Niezer, studying at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, has also made the transition from college to theology studies.

“In college, I primarily studied philosophy. College studies in philosophy were to prepare me and lay the foundation for my current theological studies,” Niezer said. “Now that I am studying theology, I am beginning to see the fruit of the long hours spent studying philosophy. The transition is beautiful, as I am now immersed in Scripture, moral theology and Church history, all of which are directly tied to the mission of Jesus Christ and my knowledge in Him.”

In describing Mount St. Mary’s, Niezer said, “As you may notice by the name of our school, we are located right in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Just close your eyes and imagine praying in mountains, which overlook fields, farms and valleys while the sun is setting, and you’ve come pretty close to envisioning ‘the Mount’ as we like to call it.”

“In my first year here,” Niezer said, “I have encountered such a strong fraternity amongst the many seminarians. This fraternity has really helped me adjust in a major way to the new environment, and I look forward to my growth in faith due to this new fraternity.”

Back in The Eternal City, St. Louis said, “I am most looking forward to all of the opportunities that studying in Rome has to offer. From being close to the Holy Father and being able to hear him often, to seeing the Church universal, to growing in my personal faith and relationship with the Lord enriched by the bountiful history, and specifically Catholic history, of Rome.”

He said his experience in Rome has truly been a gift from God.

“I have had the great opportunity to attend Mass with Pope Francis a number of times, to live and study where so many saints have studied before me, and to grow in a greater appreciation of the Church universal,” he noted. “The new cultural experience has challenged me, but the fruits of studying in Rome greatly outweigh any difficulty. It is a great blessing to be able to live in the heart of the Church.”

Both St. Louis and Niezer said the best support the faithful can offer is prayers.

“I ask of your prayers for the grace to listen to God at every moment of my life,” Niezer said.

St. Louis added, “Please pray for the strength in discernment for myself and my brother seminarians, as well as for our perseverance in our studies.”


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