By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

Spending six weeks along the soothing waters of  the False River in New Roads was more of a homecoming than a summer assignment for seminarian Tres Turner.

New Roads will always have a special place reserved in Turner’s heart, as his family’s roots run deep through the scenic area that offers year-round spectacular views. Turner’s mom was raised in the area and the fourth-year seminarian was baptized at Immaculate Conception Church in nearby Lakeland by Father Matthew Lorrain, currently the vocations director.

Turner spent his six-week summer internship at St. Mary of False River Church under the tutelage of pastor Father Pat Broussard and said it was rewarding in many ways.

“It was a great experience,” Turner said.

While many college students spend their summers unwinding and dipping their toes in the surf, seminarians in the diocese are afforded an up close and personal peak at their future. Most of the seminarians will spend six weeks each summer serving in a church parish, living in the rectory and assisting the pastor in a number of ways, including ministering to the sick or something as simple as taking the parish truck to have the oil changed.

Some seminarians serve in a hospital for the summer or perhaps go on a mission trip.

“(The summer internships) are so vital to my discernment,” said Turner. “You can learn so much just spending a week with a priest. The seminary trains us and we get a lot of the principles. When you go to do your summer assignments you get to see how the principles are applied in practical situations. We don’t get a lot of that in the seminary.”

Father Lorrain said the summer assignments are multi-purposed, in some cases just providing companionship to a pastor who is assigned in a parish by himself. Seminarians are assigned to cover all areas of the diocese so they can be a witness for vocations.

“I try to put them in parishes with priests that will assist them in their growth,” Father Lorrain said, adding that the summer is a time for a seminarian to work on his soft skills, including adjusting to living in a rectory.

“Are they easy to live with? Are they difficult?” he said. “Those are the kind of things that are important so that we can give them feedback to say ‘you’re kind of messy,’ which might not be noticeable at the seminary. Or they might need to learn to pick up after themselves.”

He said those practical skills that need sharpening might not be so obvious in seminary life, but something that can be pointed out before ordination.

“The internship is as much practical as spiritual,” Father Lorrain said. “You want to measure their discipline, their self-knowledge.  You don’t want to just focus on psychology  because that would be missing the point.”

“As long as the guy knows what are his strengths and what are his gifts,” he said. “You don’t have to have it all nailed down but pointed in the right direction. You have a clear destination in front of you.”

Turner said he assisted at all of the Masses, performed maintenance work such as setting up tables and chairs and sitting in on some meetings and marriage prep sessions with Father Broussard.

Turner had spent six weeks in 2018 assisting Father Jamin David at St. Margaret Queen of Scotland Church in Albany but admitted this year was a difference experience.

“Last year I did not have much of an expectation so what happened was I followed Father Jamin around everywhere he went, which was a good thing, and I think I really needed that,” Turner said. “This summer I wanted to take more of an initiative and was able to do some things on my own.”

He said his summer work even included making homebound visits on his own, which he admitted was initially confusing because some of the people were older and not necessarily aware of what was happing. But he said he found an internal joy, and for that he was grateful.

“I think the biggest difference (from 2018) is more confidence in my vocation and myself, especially starting out in the seminary when I was 18 years old, coming right out of high school,” Turner said. “It took a while and some experience being with parishioners to be comfortable to be myself in front of people and being comfortable ministering to other people.

“Every year I do an internship I gain more confidence in myself and being able to minister without being worried about people judging.  I think the biggest thing for me is not worrying about the unknowns and trust in God and trust what he has given is enough.”

Turner said the internship helped affirm his decision to become a priest and made him even more eager for the day he is ordained. He admitted seminarians are limited in what they can do but the experience is invaluable, especially in his spiritual life and learning how to pray like a priest does and establishing a relationship with Jesus in the midst of what can be a typical chaotic day in the life of a parish priest.

“We don’t put high expectations on what (a seminarian) needs to learn or to develop (in the summer),” Father Lorrain said. “Whatever God provides in the summer is why you were there. It’s not as if there is a long list of things that need to be accomplished other than growth in faith and personal growth.”

“It’s not like we are looking for perfection in the summertime,” he added. “We know we all make mistakes.  We are looking for openness to God’s grace and life and a strong desire to serve others.”