Teenage seminarians explore theology, vocation
MANKATO, Minn. -- For 10 months a year, 11th-grader Ivan Ruiz doesn't watch TV, talk on a cell phone or listen to the radio. When asked why he gives up that -- and, of course, certain, um, relationships with girls -- the Catholic seminarian says ...
MANKATO, Minn. -- For 10 months a year, 11th-grader Ivan Ruiz doesn't watch TV, talk on a cell phone or listen to the radio.
When asked why he gives up that -- and, of course, certain, um, relationships with girls -- the Catholic seminarian says that's not how he looks at it.
"To the naked eye, it's Ivan denying himself stuff," said the Harrisburg, Pa., native.
But those accessories are mere distractions for building a relationship with God.
"You're giving so little, and getting so much," he said.
In some ways, Ivan Ruiz and the nine other young men living at the Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio Minor Seminary in Mankato are like their teenage counterparts on the outside.
They huddle around a Foosball table and gently mock each other. They go on outings to sporting events with families who attend SS. Peter and Paul's Catholic Church.
They use the Internet (with monitoring), go to shop class and put on school plays.
They recently performed an original play, "The Chronicles of Francis Xavier," about the father of the Jesuit order. The play is about a young man in despair at being poor, lonely and discouraged learns about the similar struggles of the 16th-century missionary.
But in other ways they, and their daily lives, are different than other teenagers.
Discouraged is one way to describe how Ruiz felt about the prospect of staying in high school, even Catholic high school, considering the environment was very "anti-priesthood."
All the boys -- some are young men, really -- who came to this seminary have found a safer place to explore their theology, and their vocation.
They live in individual rooms and attend classes taught by church members or Loyola teachers using a home-school curriculum for 7th- through 12th-graders. The seminary has a kitchen and a chapel and is basically a self-contained mini campus.
"Life in the seminary is very busy," said Father Mariano Varela.
They are all on a path toward their order's "major," or post-high school, seminary in Washington, D.C., and eventual priesthood. But they still have a choice. The process of choosing whether or not to be priests is called "discernment," and the high school seminary is very much a testing ground to see if the priesthood is right for them.
If Peter Nguyen, a mature 14-year-old from Santa Clara, Calif., has any doubts, he doesn't wear them on his sleeve.
"I've always wanted to be a priest, since I was 6," he said. He described that desire as "help(ing) people know God's love."
He missed his family at first, but says he's gotten used to it.
The students come from all over the United States, and one hails from the Dominican Republic. This school year, a Mankatoan, Dustin Shank, joined their ranks.
He knew soon after the seminary opened nearly two years ago that he wanted to join, but he has felt a calling to the priesthood for years.
When he was 3 or 4, Dustin and his family were in church when he started speaking the priest's lines. His mother said the parishioners had different words to say.
He said, "No, mommy, I have to learn these words."
"I wasn't surprised at all," said his mother, Beth, of his decision to join the seminary at such a young age.
"If that is where God is calling him, that's where he needs to be," she said.