Students gain understanding of mission life during supervised ministry assignments
By Dale Hanson
Glenmary currently has 17 men in formation who are on journeys toward becoming priests and brothers. And each one of those journeys includes eye-opening assignments at Glenmary missions.
To supplement a student's academic studies, he's required to spend time serving in a variety of Glenmary mission settings. He can also request extra field experience as needed.
According to two Glenmary formation directors, Father Vic Subb and Father Tom Kirkendoll, the mission stays are essential for the men to gain a clear understanding of the realities of mission life and to see if it's a good fit for them.
"The practical experience helps them find out whether God is calling them to live and work with the folks in the rural and small-town areas where Glenmary ministers," says Father Vic.
And Father Tom adds, "It helps the students look at and strengthen their skills and talents. They also have to challenge themselves to develop new skills for the needs they encounter."
Once a student heads off for mission work, his formation director keeps in touch with him, encouraging him, periodically asking him to write theological reflections on his experiences—and possibly visiting him. But the student's mentor at the mission is his daily adviser and model.
Clive Otieno and Jason Muhlenkamp have both been on one-year assignments at Glenmary's Windsor, N.C., mission in Bertie County since June 2010. Clive is a second-year novice pursuing priesthood, and Jason is a candidate pursuing brotherhood.
Mission pastor Father Chet Artysiewicz emphasizes that they are gaining invaluable "in-the-trenches" experience as they further discern their Glenmary vocation. "They're living through a complete year's cycle in a mission," he says.
Since becoming pastor in August 2010 Father Chet has mentored Clive, while Jason's mentor is Brother Curt Kedley. The two students meet regularly with their mentors to discuss their activities and progress. (Father Tom is Clive's formation director; Father Vic and Brother Joe Steen are Jason's directors.)
"Clive and Jason have been able to observe their mentors in action and ask them a lot of questions," Father Tom says. "These mentors are high-energy guys and inspirational examples for the students."
Both students' ministries include visiting at a senior center, nursing homes and a prison; delivering Meals on Wheels; and working at the ecumenical food pantry. In addition, since a fall 2010 flood in the county, both have pitched in on clean-up and recovery efforts.
Jason also visits an adult day care center and coaches a YMCA boys' basketball team, and Clive ministers to hospice patients.
Clive says he tends to have a reserved personality but has learned to reach out more while in Windsor. "Father Chet has encouraged me to do things when he knows I have the capability," he says.
A native of Kenya, Clive has also had to adapt to a new culture. He's found that area residents "are warm and open. I just needed to take time to know and be open to them." He also works to improve ecumenical relations in the county by visiting other churches, worshiping with the people and, in the process, making new friends.
"Being in Bertie County has strengthened my Glenmary vocation and ability to interact with people," says Clive. Father Chet believes one of Clive's main strengths is "his quiet, nonthreatening presence that makes people feel at ease and respond to him."
Jason, from Maria Stein, Ohio, says he has learned a great deal from Brother Curt and Brother Jack Henn, both of whom minister in Bertie County. "They are very good models for ministry," he says. "I just have to find my own strengths and style."
He adds he has also learned a lot about himself while in North Carolina. His favorite work there has been visiting a nearby prison: "It gives me great joy to help bring people closer to Christ, give them hope, and maybe change their lives."
According to Brother Curt, Jason is "fearless in what he says yes to, faithful to his commitments and very generous. He has radar for finding and helping people in need."
In spring 2011, as Clive and Jason's time in Windsor nears an end, the mentors and formation directors will write evaluations of the two students for Glenmary's Executive Council. And the students will have to decide whether to petition the Council to go on to the next stage of formation.
Father Tom says "one of the most important questions I ask in evaluating a student is ‘Has your experience been life-giving for you?'—meaning does mission work make him feel great and energize him, and does he feel the Spirit working in him?"
Clive believes he's on the right track with his vocation. "I want to be part of Glenmary," he says. He'll complete his novitiate in May. And he plans on petitioning to make First Oath in May before continuing his theology studies for priesthood.
Jason says his experiences have confirmed his desire to be a Glenmary brother. Later this year he will petition to start the now one-year novitiate program, which will lead to professing First Oath in 2012.
Both Clive and Jason say their Glenmary mission experiences are an indispensable part of discerning God's call-and preparing for their future home mission ministries.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2011 Glenmary Challenge.