Archdiocese Local Religious life

Annual seminarian pilgrimage wings it

The group of seminarians prayed the Stations of the Cross while climbing the steep hill to the Mother Cabrini Shrine.

by Joe Bollig

Surely, the scariest thing seminarian Cruz Gallegos did in Colorado was riding out Class IV rapids on a raft through Royal Gorge, right?


He did something even scarier: evangelization.

It has become an annual tradition for archdiocesan seminarians to close out their summer assignments and join Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann on a pilgrimage before returning to the seminary.

These are not vacations. In fact, the pilgrimages can be exhausting, but there are opportunities for bonding, spiritual experiences, service and even fun.

This year, 30 archdiocesan seminarians, co-directors of seminarians Father Scott Wallisch and Msgr. Michael Mullen, vocations office secretary Melanie Savner and Archbishop Naumann rode a bus Aug. 7 to 11 on a zigzag route across Kansas and the Front Range of Colorado.

Those five, glorious days were filled with activities — whitewater rafting being only one.

But for Gallegos, who attends Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, risking life and limb on the turbulent Arkansas River was not as scary as an exercise in street evangelization near the Cathedral of St. Mary in Colorado Springs.

“It’s funny,” said Gallegos. “All of us seminarians study every day, study the word of God, and how God interacts with us through the Scriptures.

“Yet, when it came time for us to follow the example of the disciples and go out to preach the word and just talk to people, that was probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.”

And he wasn’t the only one who was a bit uncomfortable with this new experience.

Nevertheless, they all survived and were better men for it, even if they occasionally met with hostility.

Their first stop on the pilgrimage was in the tiny, unincorporated community of Pilsen in the Diocese of Wichita. There they visited St. John Nepomucene Parish, founded by Czech immigrants.

In addition to being a charming country church, it is the former home of the martyr Father Emil Kapaun, “servant of God.”

Father Kapaun, a U.S. Army chaplain who died during the Korean War and is being considered for sainthood, was an inspiration to seminarian Carter Zielinski, who is studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

“Any time I can visit the stomping grounds of a [potential saint, it] puts flesh on their stories,” said Zielinski. “This [visit] put flesh on his humble beginnings and his heroic priesthood, and it was very encouraging as I discern my own vocation. It helped me believe I am called to be a saint and to be holy, and to give of myself.”

Brian Jacobson, who is co-sponsored by the archdiocese and the Archdiocese for the Military Services, saw Father Kapaun as a “great example of great service to one’s country and faith.”

“It really gave me perspective of something I could go through as a chaplain,” said Jacobson, a reservist in the U. S. Air Force. “We don’t know where we’ll be in the next few years.”

Next, they went to St. Fidelis Parish in Victoria — the “Cathedral of the Plains” — in the Diocese of Salina. And after an overnight stay in Hays, they went to Golden, Colorado, and the Mother Cabrini Shrine.

From there, they went to St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver (formerly St. Thomas Seminary), much to the delight of Msgr. Michael Mullen, who was a student there in the 1960s. They even found his class picture.

“Msgr. Mullen had an absolute blast,” said Melanie Savner. “I didn’t know if we’d be able to get him back on the bus to leave.”

In Colorado Springs, the seminarians went to Catholic Charities to assist at its soup kitchen, weed the lawn, and sort food and clothing donations. Archbishop Naumann pitched in and — as he did all through the pilgrimage — did whatever the seminarians did (minus the whitewater rafting).

The seminarians were very encouraged that some of the people they met during street evangelization accepted their invitation to go back to the cathedral for a Holy Hour and Mass.

But street evangelization was “old hat” to one seminarian.

“I was a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionary for three years,” said Geoffrey Calvert, who attends St. John Vianney Seminary. “I used to do it for FOCUS, so it was very familiar to me.

“Doing it in pairs obviously helped. I think some of the guys were apprehensive, but the majority found it to be a positive experience. The consistent thing was that people just wanted to be listened to.”

While in Colorado Springs, they also toured the U.S. Air Force Academy, where protocol dictated that Archbishop Naumann be treated like a two-star general.

On the way back home, Archbishop Naumann spent some eight hours talking to each seminarian about the pilgrimage, their summer, their studies — anything.

In fact, bonding with the other seminarians and with the archbishop was one of the best parts of the journey.

“It’s always cool to hang out with the archbishop,” said Calvert. “You can tell he really enjoys being around us.

“He’s got a really good sense of humor . . . and we saw his playful nature. He really wants to know us not only as seminarians he’s in charge of, but guys who will be his brother priests.”

Father Scott Wallisch, archdiocesan vocations director, said this pilgrimage was a great experience in all aspects.

“It’s great to see the seminarians get to know each other better,” he said. “Community is one of the most important aspects of their formation, developing friendships with the men they’ll be serving with for the rest of their lives. It’s good to see those relationships grow on the pilgrimage.”

“The archbishop felt it was one of the best pilgrimages we have done,” added Father Wallisch.

Which was music to the ears of one person, in particular.

“I’m very grateful,” concluded Father Wallisch, “to Melanie for all her hard work in putting the pilgrimage in place.”

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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