What is a normal spring semester in seminary like for you and how did Covid-19 change the semester?

Joseph Fiorentino: A normal Spring semester at St. Joseph’s Seminary is normally pretty busy for me with a lot of singing practices for the Holy Week liturgies.  Furthermore, we have Come and See in the Spring, Abbey Youth Fest, a 5k, and a soccer game against Notre Dame Seminary.  I actually shattered my collarbone last year during practice for the game.  Finally, this year I was looking forward to graduation; however, there was an unexpected guest this year-Covid. When the Covid Pandemic erupted, every one of the above events was canceled, our school closed, and I finished the semester online at home.  It was sort of a return to normality for me.  I was once again homeschooled, only this was the first time doing online video classes.    

Eric Baylot: The spring semester at Notre Dame is a mix of classes, fundraisers, and many delicious crawfish boils. Being in New Orleans, we also get to enjoy the festivities surrounding Mardi Gras. Due to COVID-19, many of our spring activities were cancelled, but we were able to remain at the seminary and celebrate Holy Week and Easter together. Many of our classes had to be held virtually either through recorded lectures or by Google Hangouts. It was a very interesting first year of seminary.

Carlos Lopez: The spring semester at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary, which is the American Holy Land, looks spectacular as we admire the sunshine of South Florida. Every day consists of attending classes, praying together, tasting delicious food, and some great events like the Joe Paddy feast, and the inter-seminary soccer tournament. During the COVID-19 outbreak, we stayed at the seminary, and big events were cancelled. We were safe, having mass every day, in which we intensified the prayer for those who could not attend. It was beautiful during Holy Week and Easter at the seminary to contemplate as a community the greatest mysteries of our faith in the midst of such an uncertain world situation.

Pete Coppola: Spring semester in seminary is characterized by the liturgical seasons of Lent and Easter. Our celebration of these seasons is integrated into daily life, and provides a spiritual context in which we can each grow more fully into the person God wants us to be. Despite the pandemic and the unusual situations we now find ourselves in, this reality still remains at the forefront of my experience: Lent still leads into Easter, and Christ remains triumphant over death and sin. This remains constant, and all the more visible now.

Ben Thomsen: As Atlanta seminarians we spend a year in a parish in order to, among other things, get a perspective of parish life.  During my pastoral year I taught a philosophy class.  Often in contemporary society we confuse our fidelity to God with how we emotionally express ourselves and feel.  While emotions play an important role in life, it is important to understand that we are the faith of the Logos (Christ) incarnate, not the Pathos incarnate. The teaching of philosophy, the love of following reason, helps equip us to understand what we believe and bring all under the rational order of Christ.

What have been some graces you are grateful for?

Joseph Fiorentino:  I am very grateful for being able to be with my family again.  I have been able to spend two and a half months with them, which has been really good.  I am really grateful for the perspective I have been given.  Like many others, I was unable to attend Mass during the shelter in place orders.  This made me really look at the Sacraments in a new way and to have a deeper appreciation for them.   

Eric Baylot: I am grateful that I was able to continue receiving the sacraments at seminary during this pandemic. Since returning to Atlanta, I was able to spend a lot of time with my parents and grandmother, which has been a blessing during these difficult times. I am also grateful to be beginning my first ever summer parish assignment. 

Carlos Lopez: It was beautiful the way we as a seminary community had to learn how to adapt to hard times, I discovered the greatness of the Sacraments and how necessary they are to save our world. Even though I struggled with anxiety and stress during the lockdown, I had the chance to focus more in my personal prayer, and to offer little sacrifices for our brothers around the world. I marveled at the beautiful words of St. Teresa:

Let nothing trouble you;
let nothing frighten you;
everything changes,
but God does not.
Through patience, you will obtain everything;
whoever has God is lacking nothing:
only God is enough.

Pete Coppola: I am grateful for the hope I have seen manifested in the face of adversity. In all the struggles we face, it is never a certainty we will be able to triumph over them. But that does not mean we have to despair! We can approach life with faith that no matter what else happens, God will never abandon us. We may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can control what we do, even if it means having to endure difficult situations. We can still live as followers of Christ no matter what hardships we are going through, and I am grateful for being able to witness the presence of God made clear in this way.

Ben Thomsen: The rise of Covid-19 and political instability in the U.S. has led me to be thankful for the many blessings God has bestowed upon our nation.  Such events act as a splash of cold water in the morning, they remind you where you are today; they wake you up.  We can easily coast along life without gratitude for the circumstances we are in, and such lack of gratitude, as we learn from the history of Israel, can be catastrophic. These moments call for us to reflect on the many blessings we have compared to the rest of the world and even our own history.

Joseph Fiorentino just finished college seminary at St. Joseph College Seminary in Covington, LA. He is high energy and fun to be around. He goes by “Gius” (sounds like “juice”) and is a pun master. Read more about Joseph Fiorentino.

Eric Baylot just finished his first year of Pre-Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. He enjoys all the food New Orleans has to offer and has loved his first year at seminary. He highly recommends both!

Carlos Lopez just finished his second year of Theology at St. Vince de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, FL. His smile is actually almost as big as his heart. Read more about Carlos Lopez.

Pete Coppola just finished his second year of Theology at the North American College in Rome, Italy. Pete wonders why if realism is so great, why do we have a name for it? Read more about Pete Coppola.

Ben Thomsen has been on pastoral year at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Marietta, GA. Ben, a former lawyer with an undefeated record, now channels his energies to philosophy, bench pressing, and the priesthood. Read more about Ben Thomsen.