Sam Giangreco is a seminarian in his fifth year of the Priestly Formation Program at Christ the King Seminary. When he was profieled in a previous issue of the Seminary newsletter, Aurora Christi,Sam had just been assigned to Immaculate Conception Parish in East Aurora for his pastoral year, part of the program that places the seminarian in full-time residency at a parish. We recently caught up with Sam to look back on his pastoral year, which ends in May, and to talk about where his priestly journey will lead from here.
"Going into it, I didn't know what to expect, but I was surprised as to how much I was learning and how much growth I needed," Sam says in reflecting on the pastoral year. "I gained great experiences in teaching the children at the elementary school, and the parishioners have been so warm and welcoming, always giving me incredible, affirmative feedback on how I was doing."
Sam notes that Immaculate Conception pastor Rev. Robert W. Wardenski has been an extremely supportive role model who greatly challenged the seminarian to stretch beyond his comfort zone during the pastoral year. "Father Bob taught me to be a person of the people and encouraged my involvement in the parish," Sam explains. "He offered me ways to be more present to the children and teachers in the school, the parishioners at Sunday liturgies and so forth."
Among his many responsibilities, Sam taught religious education to eighth grade parishioners who attended public school, and he taught courses on the virtues to students in kindergarten through eighth grade in the Immaculate Conception school itself. Sam also continued to present reflections at Wednesday Mass, during what would normally be the priest's homily, and Father Bob was a great help in strengthening the seminarian's preaching skills, pointing him to resources and books for guidance.
In addition, Sam acted as a facilitator for the parish's Good News People Program, a weekly gathering of parishioners who read scriptures, pray together and discuss their faith. Sam says this experience helped him strengthen his leadership skills in the parish setting.
Demonstrating the practical side of the hands-on learning experience of the pastoral year, Sam says his many duties helped him strengthen his time management skills. "I never really kept a calendar before, but I learned quickly how to schedule the many appointments involved with parish life," he says.
When his pastoral year comes to a close, Sam will be working in a hospital or nursing home over ten weeks in the summer, the next step in the Priestly Formation Program known as the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). At this writing, he has not yet received the specifics of his CPE assignment. Then in the fall, Sam will return to the Seminary for two more years of study that will include extensive academic studies in all areas of theology, another summer assignment, and additional field education experiences, hopefully leading up to Sam's ordination into the priesthood.
Sam says the pastoral year offers a teaching experience that the Seminary cannot, giving the seminarian a realization of what parish life is really like.
"The Seminary gives you the theological knowledge but it doesn't really click until you hit the ground running at a parish," Sam concludes. "I felt like the new guy in the beginning but now I truly feel I am part of the Immaculate Conception parish family."