Oftentimes, Catholic parishes are described as the local “faith family comprised of many families.” Ultimately, all ecclesial ministry, and in a particular way the ministry of the priest, is at the service of the localized family of faith. During my pastoral year assignment at Saint Matthew Parish in East Stroudsburg, I learned firsthand what it means to minister each day among this faith family in a specific parish.
In taking this unique formational opportunity as a seminarian, I experienced many privileged moments of personal growth and grace. It would be too exhaustive to list all these amazing experiences here. However, I can point to three significant lessons which I continue to hold in my heart after spending a year with the parish family of St. Matthew’s.
First, I now better understand that my vocation is not private, but meant to be shared with others. The parishioners at St. Matthew’s were invested in my formation. They allowed me to minister among them through joys and sorrows, laughter and pain. I was present at weddings, funerals, and baptisms, as well as for all types of meetings, pastoral visits, and meals. For me, the greatest bond I shared with the parish family was when I was ordained to the diaconate by Bishop Bambera at St. Matthew’s in May of 2017. My vocation to ordained ministry blossomed during my time at the parish and so it was only appropriate that the parishioners shared in that day with me!
The other significant lesson I learned while on pastoral year was of the constant need for openness and creativity in ministry. Ultimately, it is the Spirit of God who guides the Church and directs the parish towards new and exciting ministerial possibilities. For instance, our campus ministry outreach to the students of East Stroudsburg University eventually led to the establishment of young adult ministry in the Poconos. When engaging with our Spanish-speaking parishioners, we recognized the need to reach out to other members of the Latino community who were no longer practicing their faith. Ministry, I continue to realize, requires an openness to being led by the Holy Spirit and the ability to respond to the needs of the People of God.
I am aware of the need for fraternity among all ministers, particularly among priests. Not only did I work alongside the pastor of St. Matthew’s, Fr. Jerry Shantillo, and the assistant, Fr. Joe Mosley, but I also lived, prayed, and socialized with them as well. I learned from their experiences and examples. Fr. Jerry and Fr. Joe often worked together with the other parish priests in the area, demonstrating the importance of collaboration and communion. I recognized that with these priests, I share in that same bond of being called by God to serve the Church in a particular way.
As I continue to prepare for ordination to the priesthood and full-time parish ministry, I keep these lessons ever before me. I still have much to learn as I move towards priestly service. Yet, I feel confident and at peace, knowing that my experiences at St. Matthew’s Parish have challenged me, stretched me, and transformed me. I am a better disciple, and God-willing, I will be a better minister of the Gospel because of my pastoral year spent with the parish family of St. Matthew’s.