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Area fifth graders visit 'alive and well' seminary

Second year pre-theology seminarian Kevin Leaver leads a tour for fifth-graders and their families at St. John's Seminary in Brighton on Oct. 28.

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BRIGHTON -- Father Chris O'Connor, vice rector of St. John's Seminary, welcomed a group of 120 guests, as fifth-grade students and their families braved the impending Hurricane Sandy, to encounter the world of the seminary first-hand in Brighton on Oct 28.

"We will keep everyone affected in any way by the storm in our prayers. But, we thank you for being brave in venturing out to join us in our lovely, beautiful seminary," he said.

He moved straight into educating the group on the seminary and those who have studied there over the years since it was built over the course of three years from 1881 through 1884, under Archbishop John J. Williams.

"This seminary most likely was the seminary in which your pastor or your priest was trained, where he learned how to be a priest. We are very grateful to our fifth-graders in particular for joining us. The reason we are inviting fifth-graders is in most religious education programs this is the year that you study the sacraments. We all know that one of those sacraments is what?" he asked.

"Holy Orders or the priesthood," he confirmed an answer from one student.

After the greeting, seminarians broke the guests into smaller groups for tours of the seminary and part of the grounds.

Before sending the groups off, Father O'Connor laid out an important ground rule. Fifth graders who knew the answers to questions asked by their "tour guides" got a piece of candy.

Kevin Leaver, 27, and Callan Davis, 24, both studying in the second year of pre-theology at St. John's Seminary, shared with the guests their experiences in the seminary and their hopes to serve the Archdiocese of Boston in different ways after anticipated ordination in 2017.

"Refectory comes from Latin. The word in Latin facere means to make, so refacere means to remake or restore. So in a refectory we are restored. We are remade, because we do what in here?" Leaver asked the parents and the students showing them where the seminarians eat.

One girl answered right away, earning candy.

"Food gives us strength to go back and do whatever we have to do," he said, in response.

Inside the refectory, Leaver asked the children to identify two of the three events depicted on the wall, one the infant Jesus in the manger another of the Lord on the cross. The third eluded the group, but one young boy had his hand raised, bent on keeping up with his sister who had already amassed two pieces of candy in the first minutes of the tour.

Leaver called on the boy, but the answer evaded him.

"The rosary we pray," the child's mother encouraged him.

"The Assumption," he said.

Leaver tossed him a piece of candy.

As the tour continued the group visited classrooms, statues and the chapel where seminarians start their day. They learned the significance of paintings, sculptures and inscriptions located throughout the seminary and its grounds.

After helping students identify the third archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Richard James Cushing, Leaver told the tour group that he currently studies Portuguese at the seminary. Hoping to serve as an archdiocesan priest after ordination, studying the language sets him up to help minister to the large population of Catholics from Brazil living in and around Boston.

Near the end of the tour Callan Davis, a former intelligence officer in the Air Force, spoke to the group in his fatigues.

"You may ask, 'Why is this guy wearing an Air Force uniform?' I was actually an intelligence officer for a year in the Air Force. And now I -- when I am ordained -- will go back in as a chaplain for the Air Force," Davis said.

His talk emphasized the diversity of ways to serve the Church as a priest, while highlighting the day-to-day life of seminarians. He said seminarians come from many walks of life -- Davis, from Texas, was originally Southern Baptist-- but all share a love for God that they show in daily prayer.

"We pray a lot. When we pray ourselves, we pray for you, and we pray for the world, every single day," he said.

Father O'Connor closed with a prayer service in the chapel, and then invited guests for refreshments at the refectory after closing witness talks from Davis and Leaver.

"Our big focus in doing this is to influence young people to think about vocations, but also to make our parishes here in the archdiocese well aware that St. John's Seminary is alive and well -- and doing very, very well -- and that we are grateful for their support and their presence here today," Father O'Connor said.

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