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Seminarians spend more than a month at a formation program in Nebraska

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Prayer is central to the religious life and eight seminarians from the Diocese of Arlington had the opportunity to focus on prayer during an intense summer formation program in Omaha, Neb., May 27-July 28. Sponsored by the Institute for Priestly Formation on the campus of Creighton University, the seminarians focused on developing their prayer life.

The institute was founded in 1994 by Jesuit Fathers George A. Aschenbrenner and John P. Horn, Father Richard J. Gabuzda, and Kathleen A. Kanavy. Its mission is to assist bishops in the spiritual formation of diocesan seminarians and priests.   

Seminarians start with an eight-day silent retreat. They attend daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours and weekly Eucharistic adoration, are required to have one hour of private prayer per day, attend weekly spiritual direction and have two hours of classes each day. Seminarians also do apostolic ministry with children, the sick and the poor.

Seminarian Joey Connor, in his first year of theology studies, said one of the greatest fruits of the experience was the focus on prayer life and devoting time outside of class to prayer.  “During the summer you have an opportunity to go to retirement homes and minister to the residents,” he said. “Ministering to them with other seminarians reaffirms your vocation, and through the experience of apostolic service, focus on prayer and being with other guys who are in the same boat.”

Seminarian Ian Radel, in his first year of theology studies, served at the Omaha Nursing and Rehabilitation Center where he met patients and learned the importance of listening. “It opens up space for a deeper conversation by acknowledging their presence as opposed to trying to fill the gaps of what appears to be an awkward silence with words,” Radel said. 

The eight-day retreat is one of the central moments of the summer, according to seminarian David Witherow, in his first year of theology studies. “As a whole, the summer is designed to encourage and foster a more constant and infinite union with God,” he said. “The retreat is a powerful experience.”

One of the goals of the institute is to deepen the seminarians’ prayer life in relation to the Holy Trinity. Witherow said he came to understand his relationship with the Holy Trinity in a more direct and human way. He also recognizes the impact of the experience.

“Not only has it taught me so many things about my relationship with God and priesthood I'm pursuing, but it gave me some incredible witnesses of the teachers and spiritual directors,” he said. “They are an incredible witness to the priesthood and great examples of what God is calling us seminarians to.”

Attending the institute was exactly what Radel said he needed. “It allowed me to develop my prayer life in a way that I never thought it could be developed,” he said. “It allows you to see discernment as something that engages with the humanity of our approach to God.”

Radel said everything is hinged on prayer, including academics, which become fruitless without it.

“Most people don’t want a preacher,” he said. “They want a priest and a priest is a man of prayer ultimately.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018