Tales from the Diaspora

This served as a powerful lesson as to how a priest should devote himself to his duty, despite the limitations that affect his parish.
– Mr. Joseph Duffy, FSSP

When Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary closed a few weeks ago out of caution regarding the coronavirus, the seminarians were sent either home or to various apostolates to finish their semester via online classes and to assist at the apostolates. While none of them was expecting the Spring 2020 semester to conclude in such unique fashion, and while none would consider it an ideal circumstance, the seminarians’ testimony of their experiences bears witness to the surprise graces and unlooked-for lessons that have featured strongly in their life in diaspora. We’ve gathered some of their stories, and they tell the tale that we’ve found to be the main thread of this coronavirus business – when trials abound, grace abounds all the more.

St. Joan of Arc Parish, Post Falls, ID

Mr. Loftus at his diaconate ordination

Two of this year’s priestly ordinandi, Deacon Joseph Loftus and Deacon Javier Ruiz Velasco Aguilar, headed to Deacon Loftus’ home territory of Post Falls, Idaho for their final weeks of seminary. They assisted at St. Joan of Arc’s pre-1955 Holy Week liturgies (Loftus as deacon), and continue to serve at daily Mass and assist with perpetual Adoration. They also have been helping at the nearby Carmel convent so that the sisters can have Solemn Masses on Sundays and special occasions, such as the recent entrance of a young lady into the convent.

One positive opportunity the scattered seminarians have received is the chance to learn about the priesthood firsthand from experienced pastors. Post Falls pastor Fr. Dennis Gordon has been teaching Deacons Loftus and Aguilar an informal “pastoral theology class” each week, sharing wisdom gained from his twelve years in ministry and offering advice for transitioning into life as a parish priest.

“Obviously, priestly formation outside of the seminary setting is not ideal, especially academically. Nevertheless, these unprecedented times and events do not fall outside of God’s good and loving providence and both Javier and I can see how He is providing and caring for us during this unusual last semester of seminary formation.” – Deacon Joseph Loftus

Mater Dei Parish, Irving, TX

Click the image to see the video of Dallas’ Easter Vigil

It only made sense for two North Texans, Mr. Kyle Boor and Mr. Sam Florance, to be stationed in North Texas. Mr. Boor (5th year) hails from Mater Dei and Mr. Florance (3rd year) from St. Benedict Parish 4o min due west in Fort Worth. Among other things they helped out during the Holy Week liturgies at Mater Dei – here they are assisting at the Easter Vigil. Click the image to watch the video on Mater Dei’s Facebook page.

St. Stephen the First Martyr Parish, Sacramento, CA

Mr. Kasak (on right in trio of chanters) assists on Good Friday

3rd year seminarian Mr. Jacob Kasak, FSSP, found that the unique scheduling challenges posed by the coronavirus restrictions were a good opportunity to practice the elusive virtue of flexibility. St. Stephen’s is able to keep its church open for private prayer and Confession, and though Mr. Kasak can attend the private Masses of the priests, they are at varying times so as to avoid more than 10 people in the church. He also had the chance to assist at adult baptism, which again had to occur with a limited number of people in the church and occurred individually on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week rather than at the Easter Vigil as is normally done. He finds that he has to be creative in order to adapt to all these singular circumstances while attending class and fitting in time for prayer, study and exercise.

“My time at this apostolate has contributed greatly thus far to my formation on a spiritual, academic, and material level…I’ve been building skills these past few weeks for surviving the most hectic days of being a priest.”
– Mr. Jacob Kasak, FSSP

St. Mary’s Church on Broadway, Providence, RI

Mr. Duffy serving as subdeacon on Easter Sunday

Commitment and character shine their brightest when tested by adversity, and Mr. Joseph Duffy, FSSP, has been edified by the example of the priests with whom he has served during the past several weeks. The 3rd-year assisted with the pre-1955 Holy Week at FSSP Providence, which were livestreamed on the parish’s Youtube channel (we encourage you to visit the channel and check out the high quality DSLR recordings of these beautiful ceremonies). A sermon accompanied each liturgy, “in order,” as Mr. Duffy said, “to offer a little hope and spiritual encouragement during these hard times.” The priests offered Holy Communion and Confession as much as protocols allowed.

“In short, the priests worked just as hard, if not harder, to look after the spiritual well-being of their flock. This served as a powerful lesson as to how a priest should devote himself to his duty, despite the limitations that affect his parish.”

– Mr. Joseph Duffy, FSSP

At the moment Mr. Duffy and his fellow seminarian Anthony Fill, FSSP, are assisting at the private Low Masses celebrated at St. Stanislaus Parish, our apostolate in Nashua, NH.

St. Stanislaus Parish, Nashua, NH

When personnel is reduced to a minimum, one often gets the chance to take on more responsibility and practice new skills. That’s what Mr. Anthony Fill, FSSP, discovered during his time serving the Holy Week liturgies at FSSP Nashua. With only 5 servers and 1 or 2 sacristans able to assist, Mr. Fill carried out many of the tasks involved with preparing for and serving the ceremonies, which he was experiencing in their pre-1955 form for the first time. And he had to do a great deal of the singing, including readings from Tenebrae, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, which, he says, was good practice in working outside the “protective shell” of a schola or choir.

“I was either singing by myself or with one other person. I never would have been able to do that two years ago, maybe even last year, but the amount of training with singing that we receive at the seminary is definitely making a difference.”

– Mr. Anthony Fill, FSSP

We can’t conclude without mentioning the marathons. Several seminarians had planned on participating in the Lincoln Marathon and Half-Marathon as a way to raise money for their studies, but the events were cancelled when the coronavirus hit. The organizers gave would-be participants the option to run the marathons on their own and submit their times, so some of the seminarians are doing just that, including Mr. Fill and first-year Patrick Shea. While supporters contributed online, Mr. Shea ran a 2.6 mile circuit around St. Mary’s Church in Providence ten times to complete the distance, the parish livestreaming pieces of it over Facebook. Temperatures in the 40s and high winds provided an extra dimension of penitence to the endeavor, but it could have been worse. Back at the seminary, 3rd year Stephen Wetzel ran his marathon in the snow! Altogether, 6 seminarians have run the marathon, with 4 more planning to do so, and at least 4 have run the half-marathon.

We ask you to please pray for our seminarians as they strive to finish the semester’s studies, accomplish their duties at their assigned apostolates and strive to absorb all the many graces available during this unusual time of diaspora. +

May 13, 2020