While most students get to close their books for the summer, Robert Herold is studying harder than ever – up to six hours a day. And rather than spending the summer sleeping in, he begins each day bright and early, at 6:00 am. A seminarian from Annunciation parish in Altamonte Springs, Herold joins seminarians from across the country in an intense 7-week Spanish immersion program in Guatemala.
“I go to a school that’s two minutes away and converse in Spanish with my maestra (teacher) for five hours and then break for lunch. After lunch, we have our final hour of conversation. For the next two hours I rest while my brain reforms,” Herold said. Despite the rigorous schedule, Herold said he does have free time on the weekends. “Usually, I like to explore the cafes around Antigua during the weekend to see where the cheapest Americano coffee is.”
Herold said his experience in Guatemala has been a positive one, although not without challenges. Traveling alone, participating in the celebration of Mass in an unfamiliar language and growing accustomed to new cuisine has Herold relying on God more than ever.
“The most challenging part is remaining comfortable with the lifestyle change and limitations of being in a foreign country. I’ve noticed loneliness is stronger when you’re not surrounded by the people you know and haven’t mastered the native language,” Herold said. “The most meaningful part is simply keeping my heart open and trying to follow where the Lord guides me.”
With a large Hispanic population in the Diocese of Orlando, and more than 50 parishes and missions offering Masses in Spanish, the language skills Herold learns this summer will help him to better serve his community in his future vocation.
“I feel more comfortable at least attempting to speak Spanish than I was prior. I used to think there’s no chance I could ever do any kind of conversational Spanish. However, when my maestra begins talking about her spiritual and family life I’m forced to do what I originally thought impossible,” Herold explains.
Herold is not the only seminarian spending the summer months gaining new experiences and knowledge that will help his priestly formation. There are seminarians working at the summer camps at the San Pedro Spiritual Development Center in Winter Park and others serving at hospitals as part of their clinical pastoral education. Cody Abbott, a seminarian from Our Savior Parish in Cocoa Beach, is spending his summer assisting at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in St. Cloud and serving at the nearby Bishop Grady Villas. Like Herold, it is an assignment that was initially out of Abbot’s comfort zone.
“When I first got this assignment, it wasn’t something I was comfortable with, not something I have any expertise with at all,” said Abbott, who worked in parish youth ministry before joining the seminary. “But I’m learning, no matter where you are, to see God in that place, to see God working. It’s a beautiful experience, letting go of what you want and seeing what God has in store for you.”
Abbott is living in the rectory of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. He has the opportunity to experience the priestly life firsthand, serving at Masses and funerals, meeting the parishioners, and attending ministry meetings. But most of Abbott’s time is spent down the street at Bishop Grady Villas, an assisted living community for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Residents take part in life-skill classes, where Abbot has been helping teach a variety of skills from social skills, to how to deposit money in a bank and different ways, to exercise. After class there is time to hang out or have dance parties or play games. Thursdays are particularly special because that is the day when Catholics residents go to St. Thomas for daily Mass.
“They are very involved in their faith,” remarked Abbot, who gives a short reflection on Sunday’s gospel following the Mass. “They like to talk a lot about God. Two of the residents are altar servers at the parish. They are very engaged and everyone in the community knows Bishop Grady Villas.”
Getting to know the residents of Bishop Grady Villas himself has made a big impact on Abbott, who has been inspired and enriched by his time with them.
“At the end of each day, they do a meditation and play soft music. I sit there and watch them. I look at their faces and I see them, maybe they’re fidgeting or shaking or whatever makes them unique, but I think, ‘Wow, that’s beautiful,’” Abbott said. “Before coming here, I would have only seen the disability. And maybe something is ‘wrong,’ but something is also right. I see God in them. They are made in God’s image.”
By Elizabeth Wilson, Special to the Florida Catholic, July 12, 2023