In the midst of hungering for Sacramental Communion, longing to return to the seminary, praying for the lives impacted by COVD-19 and navigating the challenges of remote learning, seminarian Richard Groff has come to understand that the struggles associated with the current pandemic are part of his formation.
Not being able to attend Mass and receive the Holy Eucharist “has been one of the biggest challenges for me as a seminarian,” he said in a Zoom interview from his home.
“You’re used to going to Mass every day, doing a daily Holy Hour, and receiving the Blessed Sacrament. So it has been something that I had to offer up as I went through this process,” said Groff, who just completed Theology 1 at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
There’s a lesson in that longing.
“As I spoke with my spiritual director, he said, ‘You’re really experiencing what all the parishioners are experiencing. You have a greater compassion for what a majority of Catholics are going through right now. It’s actually good for your formation in that sense that you can offer this up during this time period,’” Groff explained.
A native of Holy Trinity Parish in Columbia, his daily prayer routine has consisted of watching livestreams of Mass, and praying the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the Liturgy of the Hours.
“I’m at home by myself, so I can take the time to do Morning Prayer, Day Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer,” he said of his routine.
Studies continued too, with ample work for the seminarians to complete since being sent home on March 19.
The rigors of classes, lectures and exams did not end with the closing of the seminary doors. Formation of the men studying to be priests remained firm and steady, just as the seminarians’ commitment for service to the Diocese.
“My days have been prayer and study for the most part,” albeit from his home, Groff said. “It has been a very different experience, but it has continued. It’s things that we do need.”
“There have been a few challenges moving from the seminary to remote learning, especially for me, who is not all that computer savvy, just to get used to the Zoom sessions and all of the technology that is involved. But it’s been good,” Groff said. “The professors have been wonderful in recording lectures, sending us the main points of a lecture outline, or actual live class sessions in some cases. I’m sitting here at home taking notes, I’m doing my reading, I’m writing papers, taking exams. None of that has really changed; it’s just been a different format.”
Community and camaraderie is also an aspect of formation. Groff said he and his classmates have made a point to stay connected via phone calls, text messages and Zoom sessions. Father Jonathan Sawicki, Vocations Director for the Diocese, established a weekly virtual gathering of seminarians for Evening Prayer on Thursdays to help keep them connected.
“I can tell you that even in this difficult time, amidst scandal in the Church, there is a great sense of optimism and joy, because having been with these 150 men [at Mount St. Mary’s] the past three years, I see men who love Jesus Christ and his people,” Groff said. “I’m very impressed with my brother seminarians’ goodness and holiness. I see in these men a desire to serve God and the Church.”
Supporting Tomorrow’s Priests Today
There are 24 men currently studying as seminarians for the Diocese of Harrisburg. The cost to educate these men – who will become our future priests – is nearly $1 million.
The annual Pentecost Collection supports the seminarians’ education and formation, covering costs for books, tuition, retreats and summer programs.
The cost of tuition, room and board for one seminarian is $38,000 per year.
The Pentecost Collection will be taken up May 30 and 31. Donations support the increase in vocations in the Diocese and allow seminarians to focus completely on their formation as future priests.
“This is my third year that I’ve been blessed to study for the Diocese of Harrisburg, and that’s being made possible by the Pentecost Collection,” Groff said. “As someone who has benefitted from this generous support, I am thankful to be able to continue doing that same thing and hopefully someday to give back to our Diocese of Harrisburg.”
He said contributions to the collection today benefit the priests of tomorrow.
“The priest is the one who celebrates the Sacrifice of the Mass. The priest is the one who hears our Confessions and can absolve our sins and offer God’s forgiveness. It’s the priest who ministers to us in times of sickness. He is able to bury our dead. He is teaching the Catholic faith, preparing couples for marriage, baptizing children, and also just providing spiritual counsel in difficult times,” he said.
Groff, who will spend his summer assignment at St. Theresa Parish in New Cumberland, said he’s found an analogy between those who have donated to food banks during the pandemic and those who contribute to the Pentecost Collection.
“I hear all these wonderful stories locally of people giving to the local foodbanks, because we know there are so many people in need of food. People have been so generous giving to non-profits and providing food of a temporal nature. I’m looking at the Pentecost Collection and thinking, ‘This is another type of hunger, a sense of spiritual feeding,’” Groff remarked.
“People can give to the Pentecost Collection. Whether they can give a lot, given their circumstances, that’s great. But even if they can just give a little bit, they would be doing what everyone has been doing so generously during this pandemic to help one another. This is going to help build up the Body of Christ in a very significant way, by giving to the Pentecost Collection.”
“Here we are with an opportunity to help the formation of priests, who certainly will help with temporal needs of parishioners and do all the wonderful things they do with the Corporal Works of Mercy, but also men who will be able to provide for the spiritual needs – to celebrate the sacraments,” Groff said. “I just think it’s a wonderful opportunity for people to give to that cause.”
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness