Priests receiving ordination. Wikimedia Commons

Vocation and Companionship

In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, several seminarians, a philosophy professor, and local laity gather on Monday nights for a School of Community led by four seminarians, all to be ordained within the next two to three years.
Chinh Pham

For the past two years, a School of Community has been meeting at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, 60 miles north of Washington, DC. The seminary is situated upon a scenic hilltop overlooking farms and pastures. Here, about 140 pre-theology and theology level seminarians from around the United States study for their life’s ministry. The initiator of this group, Marc Paveglio, from Palmyra, Pennsylvania, was raised in an ordinary but faithful Catholic family of Italian and Pennsylvania Dutch extraction. While growing up, he did not consider the priesthood. “I was not one of those kids that pretended to be a priest and played Mass.” While attending Penn State University, Marc was involved in the Catholic student community. He was also dating a young woman for two years, when he began to spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, asking the Lord to reveal his vocation. Little by little, he began to consider the priesthood. Suddenly and dramatically, he felt the Lord’s call. He vividly recalls attending Mass on January 10, 2004. In the homily, his pastor shared his own vocation story and how he had mourned for the wife and children that he would never have. Marc thought about his girlfriend immediately. “My heart was pierced at the thought of giving her up.” As tears poured down, Marc heard the voice of Christ calling him to follow Him as His priest. “At that Mass, I was filled with such incredible love that I did not know was possible. There was joy. My whole being shouted ‘Yes’ to His call.” The Lord spoke to him, “I will comfort her and I will comfort you… feed my sheep.” He knew that a new path had just opened.

After that experience, Marc met a Benedictine priest, Fr. Boniface Hicks, who became his spiritual director and mentor during his time at Penn State. Marc says, “He was the exemplar of the way I wanted to live the priesthood, with zeal and joy in sacrificing his life with love and trust in the Church.”

Meeting Giussani
Fr. Boniface asked Marc to read The Religious Sense. He eventually read this and At the Origin of the Christian Claim, and, later, Why the Church?. “It was alien and hard for me to read, but I saw something really beautiful and true.” Marc began to realize, “My faith and my following of Christ is entirely about knowing this Man as a Person, and that He is present here in the Church, and for me.”

Marc graduated and entered the seminary in the fall of 2007. During his first year, he continued to read Fr. Giussani. “As seminarians, there is a temptation to assume that we know Jesus simply because we are on the path to the priesthood, because we take classes, because we have time for prayer. But I wanted to know Him more deeply, as a daily presence, as truly dwelling in me.” Marc was interested in the Movement but just “wasn’t sure what to do or how to make School of Community work.” After being challenged by another seminarian to let go of his fears, Marc invited Fr. Lee Fangmeyer, a priest from the Archdiocese of Washington, to give a talk about the Movement. Expecting a Powerpoint presentation, Marc was surprised when Fr. Lee instead spoke informally to the small group of seminarians as an older brother, explaining how his involvement with the Movement and Giussani influenced his whole priesthood. Marc remembers, “I was so touched by how this movement affected him.”

From that moment, a few seminarians began to meet and discuss Giussani’s work and how it related to their lives. Marc quickly began to see the fruits of their gatherings. “It is very clear how our friendships in the School of Community have led us to encounter Christ through each other and in our everyday circumstances. It is He who remains with us and unites us. Because of His love, we can share what is deepest in our hearts.”

From Hinduism to Christ
Marc’s classmate Gaurav Shroff was born into a wealthy and educated upper caste Hindu family. Both his parents were London-educated economists and his father worked at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington, DC, in the early 1970s. The family returned to India when Gaurav was still young and he attended Catholic schools where the Indian elite were educated. His parents were secular humanists, but Gaurav learned the Hindu lore and traditions from his grandmother. His parents loved Western classical music and trained him in Hindustani classical music.

In high school, Gaurav attended Mass on August 15, 1990, the Feast of the Assumption–and also India’s Independence Day–and was instantly struck by the beauty of the sacred music and the Gregorian chant. He was fascinated, wondering what culture could have created such beautiful music. To better understand the music, Gaurav started to learn Latin from pre-Vatican missals that had Latin on one page and English on the other. He learned the Credo, Gloria, and other parts of the Mass and continued to attend on Sundays, sometimes accompanied by his father, to listen to the beautiful music.

In 1991, his friends invited him to attend the Easter Triduum. During the Mass on Holy Thursday, Gaurav was moved by the sight of the archbishop washing the feet of 12 men. “Here was an important man, humbly washing feet. He became a servant. This was unheard of in the rigid class society of India.” On Good Friday, since he could not receive Communion, he got in line to venerate the Cross. As he knelt down and kissed the Cross, he heard a voice say, “I died for you.” Gaurav wept. “I did not understand what it meant. I was certain that the Crucified Christ loved me. Then it wasn’t about music anymore; I wanted to learn more about this Jesus–either He was completely crazy or He was God.”

At a Jesuit retreat in1993,Gaurav was praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament at night.“I strongly felt the presence of the Divine, the deep love of God for me, and, in the darkness, I was illumined: My life belonged to Jesus, to knowing Him, to loving Him, and to serving Him. This was my mission and vocation. I felt called to be a priest.” Under the direction of a priest, on August 15, 1993, Gaurav began to study the faith, reading everything from Church doctrine to the Don Camillo series. After obtaining his father’s permission, Gaurav was baptized on August 15, 1994.

He wanted to discern his vocation to the priesthood and shortly moved to the United States and enrolled at the University of South Carolina, eventually earning a Masters degree in Religious Studies. Although he lost his way for awhile, having discovered “the party life,” he also worked as an associate campus minister. “The students I encountered knew very little about their faith and had no idea why they were Catholic.” Inspired toward evangelization, Gaurav first entered the novitiate of the Paulist Fathers, then switched to study for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Gaurav came across the homily given by Cardinal Ratzinger at the funeral Mass for Fr. Giussani. “When he said Christianity is not a set of propositions, not a set of doctrines, but born of this encounter with a person, I was really struck because it was my experience and it was what drew me to the Church.” In the summer of 2008, Gaurav ran into a CL table at the Eucharistic Congress in Atlanta. Through this, he soon became friends with some members of the Atlanta CL community. He read The Religious Sense just before starting his studies at Mount St. Mary’s that fall. “At the back of my mind, I kept thinking about Fr. Giussani’s emphasis on the desire of our heart for happiness. That’s exactly when this e-mail from Marc popped up about School of Community. I knew I had to go.” After two years of reading and reflecting on the School of Community, Gaurav says, “I can honestly say it has changed the way I look upon reality, the way I think, and the way I approach things. I have more confidence in the presence of Christ in the everyday things, the ups and downs, and it has become central to my following of Jesus.” Recently, Gaurav has noticed a change in his relationships. During the Easter break, as he was listening to a friend talk about his life, Gaurav felt a concern for the destiny of his friend, for his ultimate happiness. “It is becoming more crystallized in the way I live my relationships.”

A desire to build. Another seminarian drawn by beauty is Greg Haman. Greg is the middle of three boys and grew up in New Rockford, North Dakota, a town of 1, 200 people. One of his earliest childhood memories is being outside with his mother, a gardener. She gave him a small area of her garden to plant. “This sparked an interest in plants and the mystery of life, growth, freshness, and Spring.” Throughout his childhood, he would continue to garden with his mother. In college, Greg studied landscape architecture. His theoretical and artistic studies lead him from plants and gardens to large-scale designs involving communities and cities. “It came from my heart, this desire to build community and relationships. From my love of plants, it grew toward embracing human relationships.”During this time, Greg also wrestled with existential questions and found beauty and comfort in the sacraments of Mass and Reconciliation at his college’s Newman Center. He came to love the sacraments for what they had done for him. The possibility of celebrating and bringing these sacraments to others inspired his entrance into the seminary.

Rediscovering Roots
Mark Starr is the oldest of seven children and grew up in Florida. He attended Catholic schools but did not know the faith well in the post-Vatican II environment. After graduating from high school in 1979, he enrolled at Georgia Tech University and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. He started a small engineering firm on the outskirts of Atlanta. As a young college student, Mark left the Catholic Church when a Protestant friend asked him if he was saved. “He told me, ‘It’s when you know without a shadow of a doubt that you will go to heaven when you die.’ I didn’t have that assurance.” Mark then accompanied his friend and eventually became a Baptist. From the age of 21 to 39, Mark joined, then left, several Protestant churches. Mark’s last church closed because of declining membership. Mark then asked the Lord what he should do and where he should go. The Lord told him, “Go back to your roots.” Resisting, Mark promptly joined the Anglican then Episcopal churches. After six months, Mark eventually returned to his roots, the Catholic Church. He had been away for 18 years.

Mark then befriended his pastor, who was ordained at the age of 55. This sparked Mark’s interest. “I wanted to help other Catholics who had left the Church as I had done.” After a few years of discernment, he finally entered the seminary and now faithfully attends the School of Community. “It is where the piercing questions are asked. Is it possible to live this way? Can I live a life where every waking moment is devoted to the Lord? I would like to say that I can but I recognize that none of us is an island–we need one another to build each other up. I see myself as part of a community within the seminary.”