On a Thursday morning at Wildwood’s Notre Dame de la Mer Parish last September, seminarian Paul Abbruscato addressed the 8 a.m. morning Mass-goers, sharing the life of Francis de Sales on the saint’s feast day. In a way, he could have been talking about himself and his fellow seminarians of the Diocese of Camden.
“Saint Francis de Sales had a radical trust in the Lord, and forfeited everything to follow Christ,” he said.
While the majority of South Jersey’s seminarians are studiously taking classes at college or seminary, Paul Abbruscato and Carlo Santa Teresa are currently in their Pastoral Year of formation, wearing Roman collars but not yet ordained, and living out and experiencing the day-to-day life in a parish.
Since this past June, Abbruscato has been in Wildwood, while Santa Teresa is stationed at Saint Andrew the Apostle Parish in Gibbsboro.
For both of them, just like other seminarians and priests, the morning begins with prayer and the Eucharist.
Torchy Bower, a daily communicant at Notre Dame de la Mer, praised Abbruscato’s contributions to the parish after the September Mass. “He’s the parish’s extra son — we’ve all adopted him,” she said, adding that “his presence has been a true blessing” with his “energy and life.”
After the Mass, at which Abbruscato assisted Father Yvans Jazon, parochial vicar, the seminarian returned to the sacristy to meet with Helen Moriel, who gave him instructions on how to properly order the Roman Missal for each day’s celebrations.
As Moriel moved brightly-colored ribbons through different pages and sections of the Mass, Abbruscato’s eyes kept intent focus on the task at hand.
In his interactions with parish staff and faithful these past months, Abbruscato says he has been “blown away by their constant charity and generosity, their holiness, and how God is working through them.”
Ten years ago, at the age of 23, he embraced the Catholic faith, drawn to “the reverence that the Catholic Church has for the Word of God,” he explains.
Now in formation for the priesthood, he is passionate about what he believes. When asked on how one can find meaning, purpose and joy in life, Abbruscato isn’t afraid to respond. “Give yourself all to God. Through prayer, work, study, give all the glory to him.”
In Gibbsboro the next morning, Carlo Santa Teresa finished up 7 a.m. morning Mass with Msgr. John Frey, a now retired pastor and one time director of vocations for the Diocese of Camden, who lavished praise on the young seminarian.
“He’s been going ever since he got here,” Msgr. Frey enthused. (Thirty minutes after moving into the rectory, Santa Teresa was helping a couple with their wedding rehearsal.)
“He’ll do anything he’s asked,” Msgr. Frey continued.
Abbruscato and Santa Teresa are completing their education through parish life, which includes returning to the classroom to teach others. Abbruscato leads an eighth grade confirmation class every Tuesday afternoon, and Santa Teresa teaches religion to sixth and eighth graders at nearby Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Berlin.
“It’s wonderful that we have young men dedicated” to seminarian formation, says Alice Malloy, Our Lady of Mount Carmel School principal.
Santa Teresa’s interactions with students “shows the youth that there’s nothing unusual” about pursuing a vocation to the priesthood, she continues.
Father Michael Romano, director of Vocations for the Diocese of Camden, explained that a seminarian’s assignment on a pastoral year is made on a “case-by-case basis” with the goal of “cementing them in discernment, rounding them out, and providing them a realistic vision of the life of a diocesan priest.”
When it is decided that a seminarian will go on a pastoral year, Father Romano cited the criteria for parishes, which include “a pastor that can be a good mentor, to teach and lead the seminarian by example,” and a parish “with an active parish community, that will invest in the life of the seminarian.”
During their respective afternoons, Abbruscato made his daily 1 p.m. food donation pickup from the Bagel Depot, to be dropped off at Lazarus House Food Pantry to feed the needy, while Santa Teresa busied himself in the parish office, taking calls and filling the Sunday Mass binder with prayer intentions and bulletin announcements.
As well, their days are filled with weekly Communion calls to the sick and homebound.
Santa Teresa acknowledges that after five years up in South Orange — taking classes, studying, and fraternizing with fellow seminarians— being immersed in the daily operations of a parish has been an adjustment.
“These days are unpredictable, so the key is finding balance, and being present to people who come to you to encounter Christ,” he says.
“Here, the work done at the seminary is put into practice. You see how much people are hungering for, looking for Christ,” he adds.
For more information about vocations to the priesthood, visit www.camdenpriest.org