More than one-third of all seminarians studying in the United States are now foreign-born. This shift in vocations is a positive attribute for the Catholic Church; however, it poses some difficulties in training men for the priesthood in a language that is not their native tongue.
Saint Vincent Seminary and Saint Vincent College have developed a new program, implemented in the fall of 2011, which combines English language studies with seminary formation.What makes this program unique, said Academic Dean Dr. Michel Therrien, is that priestly formation can be adapted to each individual participant’s developing facility with the English language.
There are currently two full-time seminarians in the program, one from Brazil and one from China, and six part-time seminarians who participate to varying degrees, depending on their level of English proficiency. The college also has a number of students participating, those who come to Saint Vincent from other countries to pursue both undergraduate and graduate degrees.
The three adjunct faculty members who teach in the program—Ms. Rae Lynne Balog, Sr. Hilary Hooks, C.D.P., and Dr. Robert Buffalini—are offering five courses in the fall cycle: “Reading,” “Note Taking & Discussion,” “Grammar,” “Speaking & Listening,” and “Writing.”
In the past, when a seminarian has come from another country to study at Saint Vincent, he would spend one to two years studying English at another institution. Now, Therrien said, “we can tailor their study of English so that when they get up to a higher level we can begin to fold in the study of theology. Additionally, while they are learning English, they can live and be present in a house of formation.”
Another aspect of the program is preparing the ESL students for the pressures and nuances of speaking in public in their second language, and providing them with professional assistance that will minimize potential discouragement after ordination. The focus will improve their preaching and communication skills.The partnership with the college is a great fit for the seminary, he added, because the pairing enables full-time assistance for those who require it, and ongoing support for those who only require part-time language study. The most difficult part is taking their language from conversational proficiency to academic proficiency needed for the academic study of theology.
“In the past we have offered support in the theologate,” Therrien said, “but nothing full time in English language studies.” The program is already successful, he added, naming one student who “has taken off like a rocket.”Future plans include expanding the program to assist clergy members who have come to the United States after ordination in their native countries, and are incardinated into an American diocese.“We will be able to work with those priests who are already here and who want to work on their English, or on their homiletics,” Therrien said. “This program will help current priests and our future priests to be more effective in their ministry.”