How Rome is shaping our future priests
An eight-week crash course in learning the Italian language. That’s what seminarians at the Pontifical North American College in Rome go through before they start attending classes in the “Eternal City.” Those classes are taught in Italian. While it is a daunting task to learn a new language in a new city so quickly, for seminarians from the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, it’s worth the stress to be chosen to study among the saints in Rome.
“To study and be in Rome is a tremendous blessing,” Neoga’s Chris Trummer said. “There are also some challenges with living here and being so far away. But, with those challenges come a lot of blessings. To be surrounded by the saints and in the heart of the church and live close to where the pope is, has kept me more rooted in the universality of the church and how the Gospel is meant for the entire world. I have a deeper appreciation for the breadth of the Gospel, and we can hopefully bring that gift back to the people of the diocese.”
“Studying in Rome, we get a privileged sense of Catholicism,” Quincy’s Deacon Michael Berndt said. “To be in a culture where there are crucifixes everywhere and there are paintings of Mary on buildings, it’s really neat to experience that culture. Also, being around the saints in Rome, you get this really awesome sense of Catholicism.”
“It was a huge culture shock and language shock,” Jacksonville’s Grant Wilson said. “But, after a while, it all started to grow on me. It’s interesting that we started with philosophy, so a more secular foundation, and that leads into theology. We have been learning how to give homilies and serving, so it has been getting closer to what a priest actually does.”
An interesting distinction with these three men studying in Rome, none of them took the path of going from high school straight into the seminary. Instead, it was college and working in the secular world. Trummer attended the Automotive Technical Program at Lakeland Community College in Mattoon. He is also a veteran of the Illinois Army National Guard. (Trummer’s brother, Deacon Michael Trummer, was also recently ordained to the transitional diaconate for the diocese.) Deacon Berndt grew up on Chicago’s south side at attended Quincy University. After graduating with a finance degree, he worked for several years in Quincy before joining the seminary. Wilson knows a lot about business, growing up on a family farm and graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree with business administration.
While studying at the North American College, often called the NAC, each seminarian is assigned with an annual apostolate, which is ministry work outside of class. Wilson taught catechesis to Italian first-graders, Berndt was a tour guide at St. Peter’s Basilica, and Trummer participated in hospital ministry, by visiting with sick patients. What the seminarians enjoy about these experiences in Rome, is that unexpected experience around every corner.
“The coolest experience for me is when I was walking to class, and I saw this family with one of those tourist maps, and I asked them if they needed help with directions,” Wilson said. “With this family, we then got into a really long discussion about the faith. They even came back to the NAC for a tour. It was a really cool example of how we can be missionaries even to tourists on a street.”
“One time I gave a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica to a couple who are Hindu,” Deacon Berndt said. “When we were looking at a cross, I asked them, ‘Do you know what that is?’ After thinking about it, they said, ‘No.’ I realized at this moment I had to give them the entire Kerygma, the very first steps of Christianity, and the entire tour was based around a catechesis of the Catholic faith. That conversation wouldn’t have been brought about had it not been for the beauty that sort of opened their hearts to the reception of what I had to say.”
“Studying in Rome allowed me to spend time last winter in Poland and see some of the famous sites,” Trummer said. “The community of where St. Faustina lived, where St. (Pope) John Paul II lived, and the tomb of St. Faustina. I also got to spend a week in the Holy Land with two of my close friends. That was really the fruit of other blessed opportunities to travel while I have been here. These are occasions to grow in fraternity, but above all, to grow closer to the Lord.”
Despite a time in our church where negative headlines seem to be constant and more people aren’t just leaving the Catholic faith, but faith in general, these men are excited about the future of our church and becoming a priest.
“The issues facing our church now make me want to be a priest more because yes, there were bad examples and there are still some bad examples today, but that inspires me to work harder and be a better example for the future,” Wilson said.
“Issues surrounding the church have relit the fire for us seminarians,” Trummer said. “It’s purifying us of any bad motivation or selfish motivations we might have going into this vocation. It reminds us of what truly matters and that is serving Christ, his church, and his people.”
“While I was in college, I was very happy,” Deacon Berndt said. “But I wanted to be fulfilled, like filled to the full. I wanted more, and I didn’t want to settle for just being happy. I also love people and the sacraments. You can’t do it without that grace.”
This summer, all three are back in the diocese helping at parishes. Deacon Berndt is at Sacred Heart in Effingham, Wilson is at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield, and Trummer is at St. Paul in Highland.