Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 11, 2002
Immigrants helping to fill Canada's seminaries
Rectors try to ensure new seminarians are enculturated
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
The trend to multicultural seminaries mirrors Canada's growing ethnic communities.
And over the past 10 years, countries in Africa, Asia and Europe are seeing the priesthood become an accepted vocation. Many of these priests leave their homelands to minister to Canadians.
Given this growing phenomena, the question of culture shock arises. How do these seminarians adjust to a totally different culture? How do the seminaries help them make the transition? Does this mean that in several years, most parish priests will come from elsewhere?
To find the answers to these questions, the WCR talked to rectors and formation teams of four English speaking seminaries in the country - Christ the King Seminary in Mission, B.C., St. Augustine Seminary in Scarborough, Ont., St. Joseph's Seminary in Edmonton and St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ont.
Being competent in spoken and written English is a key area seminaries tackle with their immigrant seminarians.
Like other colleges and universities, all four seminaries have adopted ESL programs. Christ the King and St. Joseph hire ESL instructors to help their seminarians.
"It depends on what level of English they are (at)," said Benedictine Father Nicholas Ruh, rector of Christ the King. Sometimes they require a seminarian to take ESL, other times, the seminary helps them on a one-on-one basis.
St. Augustine works with community college programs for recent immigrants. Some newly arrived seminarians are advised to enroll in one of these programs, which combines ESL, issues dealing with cultural differences, plus an introduction to Canadian history and culture.
St. Peter's year-long program is more structured. Students take the ESL skills and Canadian history they learn out of the classroom into their new community. They participate in cultural events, learning first-hand, various aspects of Canadian life.
The seminary started this program a year ago. "We found it very successful," Rector Father Bill McGrattan said.
Even before a seminarian is accepted at St. Augustine, the applicant must have resided in the diocese where he is studying for at least six months, preferably a year.
Father Duaine Devereaux, vice-rector of St. Augustine, explained, "This is to get a bit of a feel of what the place is about and even the climate. We think it is important to expose them to how Canadian families live, how children speak to their parents and allow them to be familiarized with the cultural mores."
Father Lionel Gendron agrees. "I think before getting involved with seminary formation, it would be important (for a candidate) to have certain knowledge and love for the (diocese) he is studying for."
St. Joseph has taken some immigrant seminarians directly from their homeland.
"We're not sure that this is the best way," Gendron said. He believes one doesn't have to belong to a culture as a condition to be ordained and do ministry. But the person must be welcomed into the culture and must adapt.
"But we cannot require somebody to be French-Canadian, English-Canadian, Irish-Canadian or whatever," he cautioned.
Still, enculturation is an ongoing concern, and the formation team at St. Joseph will consult with bishops and vocation directors in western Canada to try to find a better process, said Gendron.
"Summer break is an important opportunity for enculturation," Devereaux said.
What placements or positions will they occupy in the parish? Different dioceses have different plans. The seminary cannot mandate what their seminarians would do, but they can make recommendations.
"We try to tailor it to the individual and what would benefit that person most," Devereaux said.
Some dioceses send seminarians to a parish. Others may have them take extra language studies or participate in clinical pastoral education. Other dioceses want their seminarians to work.
The focus is to help seminarians with their pastoral skills and let them learn the pastoral way of doing things in a different culture. That is why the seminary team would sometimes recommend seminarians get a job, mix with Canadian people and experience Canadian life.
Enculturation should work both ways, Devereaux said.
"It is impossible for people of different cultures to live together without some kind of cross-cultural (exchange). We have to be open to the influences that other cultures are going to bring here and what we can learn from them."
So Canadians must also change. For example, having rice at suppertime is a fairly small adjustment, said Devereaux. "But it can be important to somebody."
Foreign priests are a growing reality at St. Augustine's, although the number of immigrant seminarians is only 24 per cent.
Immigrant seminarians at St. Joseph are 32 per-cent, 16 per cent at St. Peter and 33 per cent at Christ the King.
"What's interesting too, is that we're seeing a number of people who are from the immigrant community, or sort of second generation," Devereaux said.
This reality is also true in Christ the King, which serves Vancouver, which, like Toronto, is a multicultural centre.
St. Peter's rector reported dioceses in Ontario have travelled to other countries, met seminarians in places such as Poland and the Philippines and invited them to consider joining their dioceses.
"With those overtures, we're finding that the (foreign seminarians) number has increased in the last three or four years," McGrattan said.
McGrattan says importing seminarians is more fruitful than choosing already ordained priests. "Bringing a candidate and continuing seminary formation here provides structured community support."
The seminarian can also adapt and learn without the burden of responsibilities in ministry, said McGrattan. The foreign-born seminarians' English skills are greatly improved because they continue in an academic setting. So it becomes easier for them to proclaim the word of God and preach.
Sometimes the homogeneity of the seminary community heightens differences of culture and language, said McGrattan.
"It can have a potential negative effect on other candidates. (But) I think it's still positive because that is going to be the reality they are going to encounter when they are ordained and doing ministry in the parish."
St. Joseph's Gendron believes that receiving seminarians from other nations is natural to the character of the Church.
"Canadians have been missionaries in other countries," Gendron said.