What is the purpose of the Pastoral Year? It might be easier if I described what I did and then we can back track into the purpose for the year and its value in the formation process.
The St Paul Catholic Center is the Newman Center, that is, the Catholic Campus ministry for Indiana University. While St Paul’s is also a normal Sunday parish, the vast majority of my time was spent working with the students and the members of the Hispanic community.
My time with the students was spent in several ways: Many days I made myself available to students, talking with them about their lives, their passions, hopes/dreams, frustrations, worries and fears. I was available at St Paul’s but also spent several hours each week walking around the campus saying the rosary, as well as sitting out in the Student Union (Indiana Memorial Union). I also helped lead a men’s discipleship/student leader bible study, guided and mentored several young men in our men’s discipleship/leadership group.
I also attended the March for Life in Washington DC, went on a service trip to West Virginia and did a lot of praying. I in fact spent every Thursday morning praying in front of Planned Parenthood with a group of students, and then I led a radio broadcast of the rosary an hour later. It was a real privilege to bear witness to the Catholic faith and to the value of life.
I also had the great fortune of doing a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament every Monday-Friday. Three days a week this holy hour coincided with the time that confession was being offered. This was a special grace because if I could not think of anything in particular to pray for, I could always pray in thanksgiving for the souls that came that day seeking forgiveness and I could ask that they be strengthened in renewed to live their Christian life.
As far as my ministry with the Spanish language community, I regularly attended Mass with them and served as an acolyte. I also helped lead a Spanish language bible study in the Fall, and participated in the Novena for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Attending the novena and praying with members of the Latino community was a neat experience, and a tasty one as well! I never left the gatherings hungry!
In my time at St Paul’s, I quickly came to see the impact that I (and any minister lay or ordained) can have upon the lives of students and resident parishioners as well. It did not take long for people to start inviting me into their lives and their joys and sorrows. At times this could be difficult, especially when I came to find out about the struggles that students and other parishioners were going through, whether they were academic, personal, economic, health related or familial. One example of the impact I had upon one family, is that I was asked to be the godfather for their son. I was very touched and of course accepted!
In addition to the face-to-face ministry I was doing, I was also responsible for reflecting upon my experiences and what I was learning as part of the Pastoral Year course at Aquinas Institute. While I did not initially appreciate it, I eventually realized that these reflections helped me to “get more” out of the year. I both reflected on my own, through an assessment form for Aquinas Institute and in a group setting with a mixed group of students, resident parishioners and parishioners from the two “ethnic communities” (Hispanic and Korean).
The pastoral year has another crucial component to it: living in a Dominican community other than one of our houses of formation. I spent the year living and interacting with three Dominican brothers. We lived like a family together: all had responsibilities around the house, we ate together, prayed together, had fun together and most of all, worked in ministry together. I had a wonderful experience living in a “small community” and am grateful for the patience of the brothers that I lived with. From a formation standpoint, how I lived and interacted with the brothers was very important, as I will be doing that the rest of my life.
As quickly as the year began, it came to an end. There were for sure many tear-filled goodbyes, especially, when students and parishioners came to find out that I would not be returning in the fall. This sad farewell provoked and interesting question that I received several times, “Why are you only sent here for a year? It seems like we are always getting new student brothers…. they come, we get to know them, we grow attached, and then they leave!” The answer that I found myself giving frequently is that as student brothers, we need to get a taste for what ministry is like before we take our solemn vows, and the Order needs to see how we do in ministry before they offer us solemn vows. In order to accomplish this goal, we, student brothers, are sent to live and work in a community in the Central or Southern Province to be tested out. I then explain that we have only three more years of studies, so one can never know if we will return!