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Seminarians joyfully embrace continued Serra Club support

 011422serraclub christmas massdinner

Hosted by the Serra Club of NWI, attending its annual Christmas Mass and Dinner at St. Bridget in Hobart on Dec. 30 are (front row from left) Father Terry Bennis, Father Jeff Burton, Father Dominic Bertino, Father Ben Ross and Father Nate Edquist, and seminarians (standing) Ethan Vinyard, Ryan Pierce, Zach Glick, Collin van Waardenburg, Robert Budzius, Nick Emsing, Robert Ross, Ivan Alatorre, Steve Caraher and Alex Kouris. Not pictured: Father Michael Surufka, OFM and seminarians Will O'Donnell and Ian Lukas. (Marlene A. Zloza photo)

 

BY MARLENE A. ZLOZA

Northwest Indiana Catholic

 

      HOBART – Diocese of Gary seminarians receive support throughout the year from the Serra Club of Northwest Indiana, manifested in festive fashion by the annual Christmas Mass and Dinner hosted at St. Bridget on Dec. 30.

      “We ask your continued blessings on these young men who have answered your call; to live in you is to spread your love not just by word,” but by actions and care, prayed Father Dominic Bertino, spiritual advisor for the club, as he offered grace before the meal. The senior priest went table to table greeting the 10 seminarians (two were absent due to COVID-19 quarantines) and their families, as did the Serra Club leaders.

      “My goal is to recruit at least one club member from each parish in our diocese and have them take our message back to their fellow parishioners, and the best way is through personal contact,” said Serra Club president Susan Gryfakis, who is trying to attract new and younger supporters to join aging club members. “I will be contacting pastors again in the new year to ask for at least one representative. Please pray for my wish to come to fruition.”

      Seminarian Robert Ross, who is scheduled to be ordained a transitional deacon this June as he continues his path toward ordination to the priesthood in 2023, said he recalls seminary visits from Serra Club members. “As a freshman seminarian in college, two men from the Serra Club came and took me to lunch and asked about my vocation story,” Ross said. “I guess they can’t do that anymore, but I still receive a greeting card on all major holidays and I know they are praying for all of us and supporting us financially, too.”

      Ross, whose home parish is St. Stephen, Martyr in Merrillville – where his uncle, Father Michael Maginot, is the pastor – explained that he recently completed his final seminary evaluation at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee, said his next assignment is a five-day canonical retreat (Jan. 9-14) with 13 classmates that will be conducted by the pastor at St. Charles parish in Hartland, Wisc., followed by his final semester of classes, including Homiletics and Canon Law.

      “My evaluation was pretty thorough, including a self-evaluation, a 15-page response to answer questions from my formator, Father Brad Krawczyk, which all the faculty read, and then a two-page final report,” said Ross. “Father Krawczyk (director of Worship and Liturgical Formation) said, ‘I would ordain you today,’ and that made me feel good.”

      At the other end of the seminary experience is Ethan Vinyard, of Valparaiso, who spent one year at Butler University before entering Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minn. last fall.

      “The biggest change in me is the awareness that I’m no longer in limbo,” he noted. “It has become very real that I represent the Catholic Church in all I do, and I feel that responsibility. I’ve had a glimpse of what is fully needed if and when I become a priest, and I’ve gained a little bit of maturity.”

      In just one semester, Vinyard has been surprised by “how great the brotherhood is” in the seminary. “It is something I’ve never experienced, and it is beautiful, so conducive to those discerning their vocation,” he said.

      While he has found challenges in the amount of “internal reflection that is needed; I hadn’t done that,” Vinyard said he has also learned “the beauty in realizing that this is not our priesthood, but the priesthood of Jesus.”

      He finds joy in late-night conversations with his fellow seminarians. “Whether the day has been good or bad, I always have my brothers to rely on,” he added.

      After some initial trepidation, Vinyard’s parents, parishioners at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Student Center, are also finding joy in his spiritual voyage.

      “I was nervous, but very open to Ethan’s journey,” said his father, Ted Vinyard. “I don’t know how he keeps up his (rigorous) schedule, but I’m excited for him because I see the joy in him as he opens his eyes to maybe see his path in life.”

      Mary Beth Vinyard admits she had “about 20 questions” when the family met with Vocation Director Father Chris Stanish when Ethan was applying to seminary. “He answered them all, and I left feeling more comfortable and able to be more prayerful” about her son’s discernment path.

      “I think he’s really grown, and I see a sense of joy and peacefulness. His life in high school was very stressful and fast-paced, but seminary has slowed him down to where he now sees God as his center,” she added.

      Terri Emsing has had 3-1/2 years to appreciate her son’s journey at Bishop Simon Brute Seminary in Indianapolis, and as Nick Emsing finishes his bachelor’s degree this spring and prepares to enter Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit next fall to pursue graduate studies in Theology, she is happy. “I am so proud of him; he has always been a wonderful child and young man,” she said. “When I visit, I don’t know how many other students tell me that he’s their best friend, or such a good friend. He is very kind and thoughtful, and that is good to hear.”

      If he had just one sentence to describe seminary to an outsider, Ethan Vinyard would explain it as, “a place where men go to conform to the image of Jesus Christ – intellectually, spiritually and pastorally – and that is one of the most beautiful things on this Earth.”

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