Pilgrims’ progress

Pilgrimage serves to deepen seminarians’ faith

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — To a lot of people, a pilgrimage to Green Bay can only mean one thing.

That would be to tread the “Frozen Tundra” of Lambeau Field and reverently remember the 1967 NFL championship “Ice Bowl” game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers.

But why settle for a distant second- best, anyway?

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, two priests and 33 seminarians took a far better pilgrimage from Aug. 7 to 10, visiting two cathedrals, the beautiful Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in La Crosse, and the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Hope near Green Bay — the only approved Marian apparition site in the United States.

This was the fifth time that Archbishop Naumann has taken archdiocesan seminarians on a pilgrimage. Father Scott Wallisch, the archdiocesan vocations director, went on the first in 2009 when he was a transitional deacon and was on this pilgrimage, too.

The tenor of road trips for most college-age men is more raucous than reverent, but in this case the agenda was good times, good friends and good spirituality.

“As with any pilgrimage, [the purpose] was to deepen everyone’s faith,” said Father Wallisch, “and to build fraternity among the seminarians.”

That’s important, because not only do archdiocesan seminarians differ in age, but they also go to four different seminaries — Conception in northwest Missouri, Kenrick-Glennon in St. Louis, the Pontifical North American College in Rome, and the University of St. Mary of the Lake-Mundelein Seminary near Chicago.

Someday, most of these men will be ministering together in the same archdiocese, so it’s important that they aren’t strangers.

“Archbishop Naumann said he wanted to have a large block of time set aside to make a pilgrimage with our seminarians,” said Father Mitchel Zimmerman, archdiocesan co-director of seminarians and pastor of Christ the King Parish in Topeka, who also was on the pilgrimage.

“[The archbishop] wanted this to be a time of formation with him, “ Father Zimmerman continued, “where he had a chance to get to know them personally and talk about the priesthood and his goals for them, so they know his mind and heart a little bit better.”

There was plenty of time during the nine-hour bus trip for the seminarians to bond, and the “old hands” to let the “newbies” know what seminary life was all about.

Among the new seminarians on their first pilgrimage with the archbishop were Dustin Holthaus from St. Matthew Parish in Topeka and Kenn Clem from St. Patrick Parish in Osage City.

Holthaus appreciated the opportunities to pray the rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours with the other seminarians and have some time with the archbishop.

“I got to sit with the archbishop during dinners and lunches,” said Holthaus. “Several times I talked to him one-on-one. It was really nice to see him let loose a bit. He really has a great sense of humor.”

Although they agreed that all the pilgrimage sites were impressive, Clem had a definite favorite.

“The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe was the most beautiful place ever,” said Clem.

“It’s a grand, amazing church. It just blew me away. The walls had 20-foot high murals of saints and relics at their bases.”

Their time up north wasn’t all saints, relics and shrines. They also played ultimate Frisbee on the La Cross chancery grounds.

“Dean Wheeler [from St. Pius X Parish in Mission] made some pretty neat grabs in the end zone,” said Father Wallisch. “He was the MVP of seminarian ultimate Frisbee.”

Although it was easy for Father Wallisch to pick the MVP, it was hard for him to pick a high point. Certainly getting to know and interact with the seminarians was one, and the common prayer was another. Perhaps it was how the seminarians made him recall his own seminary days.

“It’s humbling for me to spend some time with these guys and to see their devotion to the Lord, how seriously they take their discernment and formation, and to see their camaraderie,” said Father Wallisch.  “They inspire me to want to be a better priest, a better member of the presbyterate and a better vocations director.”


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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