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Seminary field education mixes ministry with diversity
Published Friday, February 22, 2013
by Kaitlin Lindahl, Western New York Catholic Images/WNYC Vocations 2 22 13.jpgThe best learning is often that which we do outside of the classroom – getting involved, interacting, communicating. The theological field education program at Christ the King Seminary does just that.

The program is mandatory for students obtaining their master’s degree in divinity or pastoral ministry. It gets the students, a mix of lay people and candidates for both the diaconate and priesthood, out of the classroom and into the community to cultivate their ministries in a variety of settings.

“Field education is a lot like other internships in the sense that it gets you in the field to learn under supervision,” said Kathleen Castillo, director of theological field education. “It’s supervised practice ministry.”  Castillo said all students receive a supervisor, and that students’ field education is catered to individual needs and schedules to find the best fit possible.

“Each person is unique and each ministry task is unique, and they’re developing their own unique but genuinely Catholic and Christian response to ministry situations,” she said. “We go for kind of a case-study method of learning.”

Possibilities for field education placements range from hospitals to prisons to food pantries and parishes.

“There are the usual parish placements, and seminarians do a whole pastoral year and they do summer placements, so that takes care of a lot of those parish-based placements,” Castillo said. “The other ones I call specialized placements because they are in the community or in an institution. The community-based ones could be social justice placements, like Voice-Buffalo, where churches gather to address social community issues. Another really interesting one is the Network for Religious Communities with Dr. Stan Bratton. That’s an interfaith dialogue organization that also happens to run a food pantry. They do pantry services and host meetings on a variety of issues, and then they do all kinds of education and media, like radio and TV shows, on interfaith dialogue. They really are working to try to address issues like the Middle East and so on.”

Another unique placement Castillo mentioned is in Albion where students can work with an outreach program designed for migrant farm workers. Currently, there is a deacon candidate doing his fieldwork ministry there, Castillo said. Other placement locations include the Franciscan Center, Erie County Medical Center, Little Portion Friary, St. Joseph Collegiate Institute and Father Baker Manor.

John Adams (pictured above), a third-year theology student and candidate for priesthood, said his field education has been an important tool, not only in shaping his ministry, but getting to know diverse backgrounds and cultures in the community as well. Last year, he did his fieldwork at Roswell Park Institute, and now he is ministering at the Lackawanna Food Pantry.

“It’s been a tremendous experience because it brings together a lot of our experience in the classroom, our experience in our theology classes, and the different experiences that we learn about helping in the community,” Adams said. “It brings us into the community in order to put into practice our experiences in prayer, in understanding theology in practice. It helps to bring a familiarity to us with the diverse cultures in the community, and we’re able to kind of understand the different needs, individuals with a variety of needs.”

In addition to the field placement, students also spend time doing theological reflections in order to intertwine their fieldwork and class studies. It’s an integrated approach that gives the students a perfect balance between ministering and understanding, said Castillo.

“When I say they integrate, I’m actually referring them to another thing that they do (which) is theological reflection,” Castillo said. “That’s a disciplined process of relating field and study, and what you end up with is a person who is genuinely representing the best of Church ministry practice because they understand the Church’s real tradition such as all the Church teaching and Scripture. Students take classes together, and we’re very proud of that integrated approach on campus.”

Adams said he found the integrated approach helpful because it offers a chance to gain a deeper understanding of what’s done both in and out of the classroom.

“We think about applying our theology studies to what we’re doing in the field, and then we reflect on it (and) discuss it with other members including the clergy and other ministers,” Adams said. “We’re able to reflect on our experience and then have a deeper understanding of how what we learned in the classroom is applied in the community setting.”

Aside from helping students grow in their faith and profession, another benefit of the field education program is the volume of ministry it brings to the Diocese of Buffalo, ministry that would be nonexistent without the program.

“It’s beneficial to the diocese because 7,000 hours of ministry was delivered to the Diocese of Buffalo because of all this field education this past year,” Castillo said. “It helps us and it helps those facilities. We’re all served.”