By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Nearly four dozen seminarians from the four Iowa dioceses gathered Aug. 7-9 for the annual seminarian convocation, which the Diocese of Davenport hosted at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. Six seminarians are in formation for the Davenport Diocese: Alex TeBockhorst, Alfonso Pizano, Blake Riffel, William Keating and Deacons Dane Dickinson and Mike Snyder.
“The Iowa Seminarian Convocation is always a blessed opportunity for the seminarians of our diocese to connect with the other seminarians of the state,” said Father Jake Greiner, the Davenport Diocese’s director of vocations and of seminarians. “We also invite a guest speaker to this convocation to help supplement the men’s formation for the priesthood. The fraternity and formation is a blessing as the men begin the academic year.”
Paul Ruff, director of counseling services for St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota, led the talks on “Our Emerging Selves,” “The Self and its Parts,” “Formation as Intentional Attention,” “Built for Joy” and “Seminarian and Priest.” Father Greiner also thanked the state’s Knights of Columbus for their support of the annual event.
Alex TeBockhorst, a first-year seminarian who will begin classes at St. Pius X Seminary in Dubuque this fall, appreciated the convocation and connecting with other seminarians. “I met most of the men who will also be at St. Pius X Seminary this fall. I felt relieved and excited to connect and share stories with the other seminarians,” said TeBockhorst, a member of Holy Trinity Parish at its Kalona church.
The presentations offered “excellent content about interpersonal relationships, rooted in our Catholic faith. I have a background in mental health counseling and I enjoyed the fresh perspective the speaker offered,” he said. The talk that stood out for him “focused on the neuroscience and emotions involved in vulnerability. It reminded me that we are made for relationships with God and each other. It was applicable because I was surrounded by fellow seminarians who are also looking for relationship and connection. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, for relationship.”
Seminarian Alfonso Pizano has completed his second year of theology and is taking a pastoral year at Divine Mercy Parish-Burlington. He will teach Spanish at Notre Dame Catholic Schools in Burlington. “The convocation experience has been truly enlightening,” he said, and the insightful talks allowed “us to develop a profound understanding of our interior beings. This self-awareness is a crucial stepping stone towards effectively serving the people of God. The primary objective wasn’t to attain perfection but rather to unearth and amplify the innate goodness that already exists within our lives.” He also appreciated the opportunity to connect with others studying for the priesthood. “The camaraderie built during this event promises to form a strong foundation for our future fraternity.”
Seminarian Blake Riffel, also of Divine Mercy Parish, graduated this past spring from Loras College while studying at St. Pius X Seminary. He is in his first year of theology at Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois. “I experienced a newfound appreciation for the fraternity, support and brotherhood of fellow seminarians throughout these past two years,” he said. “Returning for my third seminarian convocation, it’s a privilege to have this time to grow in friendship with other great men who are discerning a vocation to the priesthood. I hope and I pray that we will continue to have more men respond to God’s invitation,” he said. “I pray that our fraternity continues to deepen within the four Iowa dioceses as we approach and enter our shared vocation of Jesus Christ’s priesthood.”
William Keating of St. Patrick Parish-Iowa City is also in first year of theology at Mundelein Seminary.
“This year’s convocation was very fruitful for me for many reasons,” he said. Among the reasons was the opportunity for seminarians to come together from throughout the state and to catch up with one another. Also, “This year’s convocation really honed in on a few things that have been talked about for the past two years in seminary but have only recently begun to take deeper root in my heart,” he continued.
Speaker Ruff “brought a psychological perspective to formation and spoke about ways in which we as seminarians can lead lives of deeper spiritual, intellectual, pastoral and human integration at the level of the heart.” The breakout sessions and practical applications were very helpful. “We were encouraged to share with one another the various ways the Lord had blessed us in our formation and to talk about the desires the Lord had placed upon our hearts. It was a very beautiful thing to see the vulnerability with which everyone engaged with one another … with which everyone opened themselves up to receive the messages from the talks,” Keating said.