Thursday, October 15, 2009

Divine Word College Seminary

I'm at the Divine Word College Seminary in Epworth, Iowa. I arrived here yesterday after visiting the province headquarters in Techny, IL. The reason I am here at the Divine Word Seminary is to visit the SVD community here. This is where I spent one year from 1998-1999 as an Associate discerning a vocation in religious life, specifically with the Divine Word missionaries.

Epworth is a small town located in the Tri-state area, not too far from the Mississippi river and the Illinois border. There is not much to speak of about this town. By far, the seminary is the town's most famous landmark. It can be seen clearly from Interstate 20 running through the town. When I was at the seminary, I often sat on the lawn stretching from the seminary above running to the street below to watch the cars passing by on the interstate. On the other side of the interstate is cornfields that spread out as far as the eyes can see. In the winter, these cornfields become a white carpet of snow. I suppose the Society chose Epworth to build the seminary is precisely because there is nothing much here to speak of. Although, it does have its charm of small town America.

89 students are studying at the seminary, which is also a 4-year college. Divine Word College Seminary is the only one of its kind in the entire country. The students here study ESL, philosophy, and cross-cultural studies. ESL students make a significant number of the student population. Less than 40 students are actually SVD candidates. The rest are sisters, priests, and candidates from other congregations. A large proportion are from Vietnam. The Society since last year has started to give scholarships to sisters and priests from Vietnam looking for an opportunity to study English and obtain a degree in the United States. The presence of these individuals have made the seminary more lively and unique in character. Surely, there is no other seminary in this entire country, or in this entire world for that matter, that has the characteristics seen here.

Most of the SVD candidates are Vietnamese Americans. But there are also students from other cultural backgrounds such as Sudanese, Caucasian, Indonesian, and Latino. In the last 35 years, Vietnamese Americans have constituted the majority of the candidates at this seminary. However, in the past the number of vocations have been quite higher than the present. The decrease in vocation is being felt throughout the entire country, and at the SVD seminary, it is no exception. However, with nearly 40 candidates any other religious congregation in this country would be envious of the SVD.

Last night I gave the students a presentation on my mission work in Thailand. I had pictures to go with the presentation. They seemed to be impressed by my work. Many students came up to me this morning and told me that they enjoyed what I told them, and some felt that they might even be interested in joining me in Thailand in the future. If this happened, it would still be quite a few years off. Still, it's nice to know that my presentation is making them think of the possibilities.

Mission animation is an important task for the formation of the students. It helps them to envision a future for themselves and give meaning to the sometimes tedious and often challenging academic responsibilities that they have to fulfill at the moment.

The seminary will celebrate Mission Sunday on the 18th of October. This is the one day of the year where the entire Church celebrates its call to mission as a church. It reminds every Christian of his/her responsibility to take part in God's work of preaching the Good News to the world. This year, I will be the presider and homilist at the celebration. It is a great honor for me because this celebration is one of the two major celebrations that the seminary organizes each year. In attendance will be the seminary community, guests as well as students who participate in the "come and see" program. It's important that I have a good message that speaks to their heart and mind and helps them to see more clearly that we all have a role in the mission of the Church.

I am happy to be here, to see that the Seminary is evolving and fulfilling its purpose in new and creative ways. I am happy to see that new generations of people are responding to the call to serve God and fellow human beings. I am happy that they still are attracted to the message that we have a responsibility to help the poor and the marginalized.

At this moment, nearly midnight, many of them are busy studying in their rooms. Some are congregating as a group in one of the classrooms to study as a group. A few are camping out in the library (where I am writing at the moment). This is midterm week for them.

There is much to do in the mission field. But the training starts here at this seminary where theory will eventually be put to practice.

Epworth, Iowa, 15 October 2009

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