The Seminary’s new director of Pre-Theology Formation, Dr. Lawrence Sutton, has been working with individuals with special needs for many years. As a deacon for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, he developed a program to incorporate children with autism and other special needs into parish life, from the perspective of a licensed psychologist, the other hat he wears.
That program developed into a unique religious education program for these individuals, and subsequently turned into a book, How to Welcome, Include, and Catechize Children with Autism and Other Special Needs. It was published by Loyola Press, and in his “spare time” he presents talks on the topic throughout the world.
Given his background, since his arrival at Saint Vincent in 2013, Sutton has been helping the Seminary to incorporate this type of training into the priesthood formation program. Since his role in Latrobe is director of pre-theology formation, he has developed a program for pre-theologians (men in their first two years of study) that includes a very unique opportunity—volunteering for a week at nearby Antiochian Village, an Orthodox Christian camp, during the Special Olympics the camp hosts each August. The event is sponsored by the North American Council of Teen SOYO, and is the second longest running program of Special Olympics in Pennsylvania. This year there were nearly 200 campers, and nearly as many aides and coaches.
This year five pre-theologians took part: Austin Keith of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown; Jeremy Andreski of the Diocese of Steubenville; Brother Matthew Hershey, O.S.B., Brother Ignatius Camello, O.S.B., and Brother Mark Liatti, O.S.B., of Saint Vincent Archabbey. Only Hershey, who taught special education before entering the monastery, had ever experienced working with such individuals.
“I’ve been doing Special Olympics through the Knights of Columbus at our parish since we were kids,” Hershey said.
Keith, who spent the day going between various track and field events, called his experience “awesome. It was a lot of fun.” He not only spent time with the athletes, he said, but he got to know them as individuals. “One athlete I met has been coming here for 30 of the 33 years it has been held.”
Andreski spent most of his day with some of the field events, such as javelin and shot put, as well as the 50 and 100 meter races. Camello, of the Philippines, was busy with soccer and basketball, and at one point even put some of his nursing skills to work, all with a positive outcome.
For Liatti, he spent a day working the chains at a flag football game, and experienced the event for the first time. All of the men said they hope to return to volunteer next year. By then, they and the athletes will be long-time friends.
The new formation program, Sutton notes, will:
• Give seminarians an opportunity to put this call into action by ministering to those in need as an initial step into the particular pastoral ministry that every priest is called to live.
• Sensitize seminarians to the need for the compassionate and empathetic giving and stretching of one’s self in Christ-like service to one’s brothers and sisters.
• Emphasize the connection between prayer and service.
With that accomplished, Sutton said, “this pastoral experience will be an initial immersion for the pre-theologian into ministering, in imitation of Christ, to the real needs of teens and adults with developmental disabilities, some of the neediest of God’s peoples. This will serve as a springboard for ongoing discernment and reflection upon ministry in the Church and will give the pre-theologian a first-hand experience of actual ministry. Included will be the opportunity to pray and worship together and to engage in interactive sessions to gain the most from this experience for the discernment of one’s future priestly ministry.”