Being a spiritual father goes beyond book learning
The bestselling book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” describes with great persuasiveness how most of life’s important values and virtues are instilled in the sandbox.
Ask any priest, and he is almost certain to tell you that while the seminary did its best to prepare him for ordained ministry, he learned more about actually “being” a priest in his first six months of on-the-job training in a parish – dealing with leaking toilets and struggling marriages – than he did in years of seminary formation.
In an effort to help seminarians understand some of the real-world challenges they will face upon ordination, Notre Dame Seminary will expand its faculty with the appointment of Father John Arnone, the highly respected pastor of St. Rita Church in Harahan, as a formation advisor, working with Father Joseph Krafft, director of pastoral formation.
Father Arnone’s charge is clear: Help seminarians translate the human, spiritual and intellectual formation they receive in the seminary into becoming pastorally sensitive priests.
“The guys want to be as good and as faithful and as perfect to Holy Mother Church as they can,” Father Arnone said. “But when they get into the parish, we realize we don’t live in a perfect church, a perfect parish or a perfect world. Maybe the idea is to give the seminarians that authority to know they can have some pastoral flexibility.”
Father Arnone, ordained in 1999, served as a parochial vicar at St. Cletus in Gretna and at St. Benilde in Metairie, before assuming pastorates, beginning in 2002, at Holy Name of Mary in Algiers, St. Stephen in New Orleans, Our Lady of Lourdes in Violet and St. Bernard in St. Bernard.
For the last four years, he has been pastor at St. Rita Church in Harahan.
Variety of assignments
The variety of assignments has not only enriched his priesthood but also helped him encounter various pastoral challenges that he will be able to share with seminarians.
He was inside the parish office at St. Bernard during the BP Oil spill disaster when he heard “a little commotion outside.”
“There was a young man, in his 30s, literally having a nervous breakdown in the parking lot,” Father Arnone said. “He was just stressed out. He had lost his job, he had no money, he couldn’t pay his house note or his car note. There was no electricity in his house. We had to call an ambulance and try to get him some help that way. It was very emotional to witness the despair of the people.”
In his new role, which will start July 1, Father Arnone will work with Father Krafft on what is called the “external forum” of pastoral formation. Each will meet with about 30 seminarians to see how their outside ministry – such as parish internships or hospital ministry – is going.
“As intense as seminary formation is, it’s not all about the book learning, especially in the pastoral field,” Father Arnone said. “I had no clue I was going to be the one having to unstop the toilets or get a broom and mop up after a sick child in the back of church. You just never know who’s going to be on the other side of the phone when that phone rings or who’s going to be on the other side of the doorbell. You never know what opportunity is next, and you’ve got to keep saying, ‘Lord, give me the grace I need to handle this.’”
Expanded enrollment, need
Father James Wehner, rector-president of Notre Dame Seminary, said the seminary’s expanded enrollment over the last several years makes Father Arnone’s appointment even more critical.
“We have about 50 more seminarians than we did in 2012,” Father Wehner said. “When Pope Benedict XVI came to the United States, he addressed the American bishops and said, ‘You really need to think about releasing some of your best pastoral priests for seminary work.’ Father Arnone is such a highly energetic, highly motivated priest who has the pastoral needs of the people close to his heart.”
Father Arnone says he hopes to give seminarians a sense that their role as a priest “isn’t about me, but it’s about how God is working in and through me to make the world a better place. … With the guidance of Pope Francis, we need to be with the people and walk with them and meet them where they are. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share my experiences with the guys to help them become even better in pastoral ministry.”
While he won’t miss tending to leaky roofs or other crises when he goes to the seminary in July, Father Arnone said he intends to make clear to his St. Rita parishioners that “if they make a lemon pie or a pecan pie, they know that Carrollton Avenue is not that far away. I do accept deliveries.”