A seminarian’s summer

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There is no slowing down this summer for Arlington seminarians who return home from months of studying. As soon as their respective schools close their doors, a different type of learning begins with either work or a parish assignment.

Last year, seminarian John Paul Heisler, who attends St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington, worked for his father's business in Front Royal installing hardwood floors. This year, he is excited about the opportunity to serve and learn from priests in a parish setting.

"Getting to learn from them is very beneficial because we did not join the seminary to be seminarians," said Heisler, who is assigned to Church of the Nativity in Burke. "It is really the parish life that we fell in love with. It rekindles the flame."

On a hot summer morning last week, Heisler spent a full day jumping from one parish event to the next. He assisted with daily 7:30 a.m. Mass, distributing Communion to the early risers. Just an hour later, he traded vestments for a bright tie-dyed shirt and was "dunked" into a pool by a group of children during Vacation Bible School.

Heisler thinks the experience is teaching him how to be helpful around a parish. He hopes to take what he learns during his summer assignment with him after ordination.

"When a guy is first ordained, the big job of the parochial vicar is to take as many of the responsibilities he can off the pastor's shoulders," he said. There is a big ministry of presence I have been noticing this summer. It's very important to have clergy at these kinds of events."

Sundays are another opportunity for Heisler to meet with the community. He assists at all five Masses on Sunday and two Saturday evening Masses. He goes on Communion calls in between.

"Not everyone works in the parish or has a kid in Vacation Bible School, but everyone is going to be walking out of church on Sunday," said Heisler. "A big highlight of the week is being able to meet everyone after Mass."

All over the diocese, more than a dozen seminarians like Heisler are on summer assignments. Ten of them are at World Youth Day in Poland, while two others are in Guatemala studying Spanish.

Seminarian Joseph Jacobeen, who attends St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., is also in his first summer assignment at St. James Church in Falls Church.

"I didn't know what to expect. In addition to serving Mass, I take Communion to the sick and to nursing homes. It is really cool to be able to say 'the Body of Christ,'"said Jacobeen. "It is the greatest gift I could give them."

On one of these visits, Jacobeen had just finished bringing Communion to a woman when her son approached him. The son started tearing up, thanking Jacobeen repeatedly for bringing his mother Communion - an encounter that was encouraging to the seminarian.

In addition to Jacobeen's duties around the parish, which involve writing in the weekly bulletin, he also has a personal summer to-do list.

"My goal is to grow in my prayer life and work it into the schedule," said Jacobeen. "Everything I do as a seminarian comes from prayer and goes out from there. I notice the difference when I don't (pray)."

Jacobeen will accompany a group of youths to Washington for the Kraków in the Capital event. He also looks forward to leading a group from St. James on a sailing trip in Annapolis, which will include a tour of the Naval Academy July 23.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016