Last weekend the house took part in the Encounter With God’s Call retreat at Conception Seminary in an isolated section of Missouri. This retreat is traditionally offered for those in high school or college, but are in just first steps of the discernment process to the priesthood. As previously established, we are already real seminarians, so while we were not perhaps the ‘target audience’, there was still much for us to get out of this trip.
To begin with, we were able to pray in an unfamiliar place, and enter more intentionally into our own discernment. The Abbey’s basilica is such a beautiful place and it is very peaceful. Being out in the middle of nowhere allowed us to find a quiet place away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
During our time there, it was also very foggy, adding the feeling of isolation from the world, and thereby able to experience the presence of God in a closer way.
It was also important for the sophomores in our House to experience the campus and life of the college, as many will be moving up north to continue the education. We were able to get a feel for the facilities, food, classes, rooms, and culture of the school. We walked away knowing we would be in good hands as we leave the HoF.
We were able to spend time with the high school and college students from our diocese that joined us on retreat. Fathers Hecker and Brand, the chaplains for Kapaun Mount Carmel and Bishop Carroll high schools, chaperoned a group of 16 young men. We were able to pray with them and get to know them better. We were also able to answer questions and address concerns in a very frank and informal way during recreation times.
Lastly, it was a blessing to visit our seminarian brothers from Wichita that are currently studying there at Conception. As a diocese we meet during the summers every week, all together. During the school year, we are studying in different places all across the country. This was a great opportunity to catch up. We were able to pray, eat and chill with them. Our brother seminarians showed us the good side of life up at conception, like Mario Kart and late-night snacks. Several performed in the play that Brother Cyprian O.S.B. directs every semester. This year’s was hilarious, and we were falling out of our seats.
Visiting conception was a great experience, it gave us an opportunity to reignite our spirit discernment and enjoy wholesome fraternity The exhausted look on all of the House of Formation seminarians as we left conception was a sure sign that it had been a great visit and retreat.
A man has to eat. We are no exception! Many are surprised to hear we do our own cooking. If we don’t cook, we don’t eat. Luckily, we are blessed with many capable cooks and several more learning quick.
Surely the most comfortable person in the kitchen is Fr. Mike (just try his homemade alfredo). Unfortunately we can only get him in the kitchen a few times a month. The rest is up to us. Too keep there from being too many cooks in kitchen, the seven of us are divided into teams that rotate in as the week goes on. The most experienced are paired with those that have spent less time in the kitchen to help spread the wealth of knowledge.
We’ve gotten high-tech, and our Kitchen Leader, Joshua, uses an online service to send out a large sign up each month. This schedules both the meal and the team that is cooking for each night. At the start of the semester, we were asked to provide three meals each that we already knew, or could learn how to cook. This came out to twenty one different options for dinner to choose from. We try to pay attention and keep similar meals away from each other.
All of our recipes are uploaded to a separate site called Meal Board, which we export each week to a shopping list with each item sorted out into categories. Every week our Grocery Leader, Thomas takes that list, along with the whiteboard from the fridge. If he is able to read our writing, both our wants and needs are added to the virtual cart. Fr. Mike holds final veto power, but we still usually are able to get our favorite fruit snacks. We pick up our order curbside from the supermarket, and almost don’t even have to walk inside.
We try to have food on the table and ready to eat by 5:30, but our holy hour is from 4-5. This has resulted in becoming pros with the slow cooker. Throw some protein and spices in before we go to school, and enjoy some good teriyaki chicken on rice 10 hours later. Often the best part of the meals are leftovers, and just a normal family, we have our own leftover night (usually on wednesdays). The leftovers are also popular for lunch when we don’t have time to pack a sandwich.
We established early on that if you are not cooking, you get to set the table and will be cleaning up after! The system works well, but also like traditional family life bathroom breaks seem to conveniently fall during clean up time! We’re working on it.
Overall, expectations have been exceeded in the kitchen. Our favorite is a simple fried rice with chicken (We got Fr. Mike to buy the House a wok!), with some calzones, dough made from scratch of course, taking a close second. We've had a few struggles. None of us will quickly forget the infamous homemade crockpot mac-and-cheese that resembled a non-newtonian fluid more than a pasta dish. We still ate it; it built character. We are proud to have not set the smoke alarm off even once, and we learn something new every night!
The Diocese of Wichita has achieved national acclaim for the way we live out the idea of stewardship in very concrete ways. Here in the HoF, we also try to remember our responsibilities and give of ourselves when we can. Often this results in working around the House, or helping to clean up the parish grounds. This last weekend, giving back gave us the opportunity to do something none of us had ever done before: work at a nut farm.
During the work day, Myra Jacobs works for the Diocese of Wichita in the Ministry With Persons With Disabilities. In the evenings and weekends, she works with her husband at their farm just west of Oxford KS. This time of year, it's all about nuts. Pecans to be exact. The Pecan Patch houses hundreds of trees, with multiple varieties of pecans, all in season from mid November to mid December.
We were asked to jump in and help out during this peak harvest time. We spent the first half an hour or so, taking a tour of the farm. The Jacobs have a bit of everything! Nuts, chickens, rabbits, a very friendly cat, screen printing, embroidery, and a spring fed pond with a newly built tea-house, just to name a few. We met the animals and got the lay of the land before heading out to the pecan groves.
The first steps to harvest was ground shaking! Well, tree shaking anyway. An implement attached to the tractor griped the trunk of a tree, and an offset weight caused caused the nuts to fall like rain, along with plenty of leaves and sticks.
After they have fallen to the ground the harvester is pulled with the lawn tractor, collects the nuts, and bags them.
The nuts than head to a blower where they are fed into a hopper, a large fan blows off the excess organic material, and the nuts fall to a conveyor.
This is where we spent most of our time. We separated leaves and sticks that had snuck through the blower. We were also responsible for quality control. We made sure to remove any nuts that were not quite ripe, and kept a sharp eye out for little holes indicating the presence of a weevil(a nasty little insect that likes to burrow in, and snack of the nut). Our eyes got sharp, and our hands learned to move quick. In just a few hours (and a break for lunch) we had sorted and bagged around 850 pounds of pecans.
Some of us helped inside too. Filling up the loud industrial cracker, that would crack away for hours, one nut at a time. We filled and packed both the whole nuts, and the cracked nuts and got them ready to sell.
It was far from an average Saturday for us, but what a great way to help give back to a community that supports us so well. (And we had a blast while we were at it.)
To provide an inlet into the life of seminary formation through the lenses of prayer, study, and fraternity.