Second-Year Novices Continue Discernment
After two years of praying, studying, eating and even playing together, Glenmary novices Crispine Adongo, Craig Digmann and Aaron Wessman parted ways in July to serve in three different missions as they pursue the second year of their novitiate.
The one-year mission immersion is designed to give the second-year novices practical experience of living and working in a mission county.
Crispine, studying for priesthood, is living in Idabel, Okla.; Craig, studying for brotherhood, is in Waldron, Ark.; Aaron, studying for priesthood, is in West Liberty, Ky. Each mission hosting a novice is served by a Glenmary priest who also acts as a mentor and companion to the novice.
"In this second year I'm able to further discern if this life is for me," says Craig. "I think the two-year novitiate is great; the immersion lets us see if this is what we're truly called to."
As a first-year novice, Craig found himself drawn to working with the retired Ursuline sisters who were in residence at Maple Mount, Ky., the location of the Glenmary novitiate house. In Waldron, his service to the elderly continues as he visits the residents of two nursing homes and takes communion to shut-in members of the local Glenmary mission, St. Jude.
Craig says he is learning a lot living and working with Father Neil Pezzulo. Although their personalities are as different as day and night Craig says "Father Neil has gifts that I wish I had, but I have to go with the gifts that God gave me!"
Aaron uses his gifts as a teacher in several ways in West Liberty. In addition to teaching confirmation and CCD classes at Prince of Peace Church, he recently began tutoring math students at Morgan County High School.
Aaron found the first year of novitiate, which focuses on prayer and contemplation, difficult because of the lack of activity. Now that he has the freedom to be more active, he has encountered obstacles such as a lukewarm response or outright rejection of his offers to serve in the community. "And these things force me back into prayer," Aaron says. "It's amazing how the cycle works!"
Aaron accompanies Father Jerry Dorn, pastor of the Glenmary mission in Morgan County, Ky., to visit prisons twice a week where Father Jerry teaches an interfaith Scripture class which includes some young Muslims, "who are open to learning about other faiths," says Aaron.
These visits are "the climax of my week," Aaron says. "And it's hard to part sometimes. Together we all share an intimate experience like the Mass. Then when Father Jerry and I leave and the gate shuts behind us, it becomes clear that it's us and them."
When Crispine arrived for his year of service in Idabel on July 20, he was asked to jump in feet first. "I found myself feeding lunch to 250 children!" he recalls. The churches in Idabel, he learned, provide lunches during the summer for low-income children in the community. "The first week I came, it was our turn to serve," Crispine says. "It was a good opportunity to learn about the people and the area."
After his week of food service, Crispine turned his attention to another good way to meet the people of Idabel: running a thrift store on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. "Any profits from the store are recycled back into the community to help the poor," says Idabel pastor Father Chet Artysiewicz.
Crispine also volunteers as a guide at the Museum of the Red River, a natural history museum in Idabel and visits a local nursing home twice a week. He feels supported by the people in Idabel, and many of them have asked him why he has come to their small southwestern town.
"I tell them I like small towns," says Crispine who lived in rural areas of Kenya as a boy. "My parish in Africa was started by a missionary and I feel a responsibility to give back."
Crispine, in Oklahoma, and Craig, in Arkansas, work in the same Glenmary "cluster," (a group of Glenmary missions in a certain geographic area) so they are able to see each other once a month or more. "We've been together for two years, so we know each other well," Crispine says. "We encourage and support each other."
Although Aaron is several hundred miles away in Kentucky, he keeps in touch via email and cell phone. Aaron appreciates the contact with his fellow novices because there are few people his age in the West Liberty mission.
"That was isolating at first, but it's part of the challenge," Aaron says. "Father Jerry is a great friend, and a huge support, but sometimes you need people your own age. I think that's part of the poverty that young people experience here."
The novices have made it a point to meet and serve many people of all faith traditions in their communities. "It's unusual and a new experience for people to be around someone who's studying to be a priest," Aaron says. "This has been a strong reality check-we've really seen what it means to be a missionary in the United States."
This article first appeared in the January 2008 issue of the Boost-a-Month Newsletter.