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St. John's seminarians take part in national summer formation program

St. John's seminarians Thomas Murphy, Bobby LeBlanc, Nathaniel Whipple, Joseph Hubbard, Marcos Enrique and Paul Wargovich take part in the Institute for Priestly Formation's Summer Program in Omaha, Neb. Not pictured but also participating in the program is seminarian Corey Rouse. Pilot photo/courtesy Bobby LeBlanc

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BRAINTREE -- The summer is typically viewed as a time for beaches, vacations, and relaxation, but for seven seminarians from St. John's Seminary in Brighton, this year's summer has been a time for prayer and learning.

The seminarians are currently attending the Institute for Priestly Formation's Summer Program for Diocesan Seminarians, a yearly program held in Creighton University's campus in Omaha, Neb. that strives to bring seminarians from across the U.S. and Canada together and help prepare them for the priesthood.

This year's program runs from May 29 to July 30, and seminarians are able to live on Creighton University's campus throughout their time there.

"The program has everything I've desired in a spiritual life for a long time," said seminarian Bobby LeBlanc, who is currently attending the program.

"The priests out here are fantastic; they really care about forming seminarians. It's just been a really great experience so far," he said.

Seminarians from St. John's are required to attend the summer program, and generally do so after their pre-theology studies are complete and they are about to enter First Theology. The program is meant to complement what the seminarians learn in the seminary and help them on their journey towards the priesthood.

The program is "not taking the place of seminary formation at all, but just kind of enhancing it," said Joseph Hubbard, another seminarian attending this year's program.

"It's important we have a great understanding before we get ordained," he continued.

During their time there, the seminarians participate in four different classes and an eight day silent retreat. Hubbard said the first class is to help prepare the seminarians for the retreat, which requires that they pray for four hours a day and regularly consult their spiritual directors.

For Hubbard, the retreat proved to be his favorite part of the program so far.

"I had a great encounter with God and his love" during the retreat, he said.

"It really was a wonderful experience for me, a very formative experience," he continued.

The other three classes consist of a class on understanding the implications of celibacy, a class on prayer and priestly identity, and a class on liturgy, which will take place during the last few weeks of the program.

In between their classes, the seminarians participate in daily Mass, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, weekly eucharistic adoration, and an hour of personal prayer each day. They are also able to explore Omaha and the surrounding area, something that LeBlanc said he has been taking advantage of.

So far, he said, he has visited family and friends in the area, gone to a College World Series game with other seminarians from the program, and is planning on watching the Olympic swim trials, which are taking place nearby.

Still, he said, his time in Nebraska is "all about growing closer in relationship with Jesus Christ, so I don't want to step away from the program too much."

Both Hubbard and LeBlanc have also been busy meeting some of the other 170 or so seminarians attending the program, and they both have said they are building strong lasting connections.

By connecting with fellow seminarians from across the U.S. and Canada, "they recognize the priesthood is a lot bigger than simply New England," said Father Chris O'Connor, vice rector of St. John's Seminary.

Father O'Connor is planning to visit the seminarians at the program in July, and said St. John's typically sends around five to eight seminarians there every year, and has been doing so for about 10 years now.

The Institute for Priestly Formation itself has been operating for over 20 years, having been founded in 1994. Its first summer program was formed a year later, and was influenced by the 1990 World Synod of Bishop's call for a more focused period of formation for seminarians.

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