|3/22/2012 9:01:00 AM|
Mr. V to Father V
|This is part of The Evangelist's ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their studies, work and development. To read previous installments, search for "seminarian diary" at www.evangelist.org. If you have any questions on studies for the priesthood you'd like answered in a future column, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.|
BY SCOTT VANDERVEERSince the 1970s, the Albany Diocese has not had a local seminary, so part of a seminarian's formation experience involves living away from home for four to six years while preparing for the priesthood.
For the past several years, Albany seminarians have studied either in Baltimore (at St. Mary's Seminary), Chicago (at Mundelein Seminary) or Boston (at Blessed John XIII Seminary). The relationships you form and the influences you experience all flow from the life-changing decision about where you are sent.
When Bishop Howard J. Hubbard assigned me to study for four years in Boston, I wondered what plans God had in mind for me. By coincidence, I had lived in Boston for six years earlier in my life and taught at a Catholic high school there.
Although my life would be very different as a seminarian in Boston than it had been as "Mr. V" the religion teacher, going back provided the chance for an unexpected homecoming.
When word reached my former students, now in college, that I was back in town, some of them got in touch with me. As a result, I got to experience one of the best rewards of teaching: seeing a young person successfully transition into the first stages of adulthood.
For instance, one of my students, Matt, had himself become a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Boston at age 18. Now in his senior year at Providence College, Matt lives at a local college seminary. Next year, he'll transfer to St. John's, Boston's other seminary; God willing, he will be ordained a priest around 2016.
In high school, Matt was a good kid and a great public speaker. He had deep faith, but he was no angel. A clown at heart, Matt loved to entertain his fellow students while I was trying to teach. He earned a fair share of detentions from me.
But I could see that he had a sharp mind and a good heart. I genuinely liked him and appreciated his humor.
I remember once directly asking Matt about his future. He told me he had thought about religious life when he was younger, but had decided that it wasn't for him. Matt, like a lot of kids in his class, was disillusioned by the clergy scandal that had rocked Boston during those years. Sadly, the thought of becoming a priest no longer appealed to him.
That began to shift during his junior year. He began to talk about priesthood more frequently. By the time he graduated, he had already been accepted by Cardinal Sean O'Malley as a Boston seminarian.
Matt still slips up and calls me "Mr. V" from time to time, but that's about the only vestige of our teacher-student relationship. Now that we are seminarians, on equal footing in this phase of life, it's a new day. We go out to lunch once a semester and text or talk on the phone occasionally.
Each time we do, I praise God for causing the growth that has made Matt such a generous, healthy, compassionate person. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to have taught him and other outstanding young people in his generation. They give me tremendous hope in the future and confidence that God hasn't given up on this world of ours yet.
My friendship with Matt also gives me pause to think about my own future ministry. I will soon enter a new phase of my life during which every relationship I've ever had will shift. (My own mother might start calling me, "Father!") Before now, I had never thought much about that complicated dynamic in a priest's life.
I will have a responsibility to provide spiritual leadership for people in our Church. I will need to embrace the identity and role of "Father." At the same time, who I am will not change. Scott, "Mr. V," "Father V" will all be the same person.
Allowing myself to be "Father" while still remaining who I am will take some adjustment. Going from Matt's teacher to his brother seminarian has been a fascinating first step.
Matt is still a clown and has a knack for keeping me grounded. I try to remind him that, as his former religion teacher, I deserve at least some of the credit for his vocation. I point out that his life would be completely different were it not for my inspiration.
"You'd like to think that, wouldn't you?" he'll say, reminding me that he was accepted as a seminarian a few months before I was.
"Don't get it mixed up, Mr. V," he'll add, as mischievously as ever. "I'm the reason that you're becoming a priest."
(Scott VanDerveer is studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass. He formerly taught religion at St. Pius X School in Loudonville.)
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