Discerning young men are helped at the annual Come and See weekend by gaining a glimpse into the many aspects of life at St. Joseph Seminary.
Coordinated by the Office of Vocations, the free, live-in weekend provides opportunity for men who are contemplating a vocation to the priesthood.
A total of 21 men, including eight from the Edmonton Archdiocese, attended the priestly vocation discernment weekend, Feb. 7-9.
The others were from Calgary, High Prairie, Okotoks, Saint John, N.B., Toronto, Victoria and Saskatoon.
"I've been looking at the priesthood for a couple of years now. I'm finishing high school and I'm deciding what to do with my life," said Antoine Labrecque, 17, of Saskatoon.
Also in attendance from Saskatchewan were Father Jim Kaptein, vocation director for Prince Albert, and Father Jean Marc Mireau, vocation director for Saskatoon.
Held annually, the Come and See weekend allows for youth such as Labrecque to explore and learn about the life of community, prayer and service, particularly as they are lived out by priests and seminarians.
Labrecque expected the weekend to aid him in his discernment, but he wanted to see the seminary before committing to anything.
He said the seminary is "a very nice place," and he was allowed to ask questions and interact with the current seminarians.
"I was pretty sure that this is what I was going to do," said Labrecque. "I was planning to apply here, but I wanted to see what it would be like first, and help me figure out the next step if this is what I really want to do, and how it works exactly."
He was able to engage with faculty and students as they discussed issues regarding formation for ordained ministry, theological education, preaching excellence, and seminary life and work.
Two high school buddies – Rafael Alvarenga, 17, and Alberto Menendez, 19 – are actively involved in Church life at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Edmonton.
They were encouraged by their pastor to learn more about life in the seminary, and gain a better understanding of how seminarians balance Church responsibilities with their everyday lives.
"Our priest thought that the next step would be this, to see if we're interested. It's an option to see the lifestyle and everything. It's very beautiful and it's not what I thought it would be at all," said Alvarenga.
The young men toured the seminary on Friday evening. Saturday's itinerary included rosary and Holy Eucharist in the seminary chapel, listening to vocation testimonies, Evening Prayer and sports.
On Sunday, they had Morning Prayer, and formation directors were available for individual meetings.
Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Bittman celebrated the Eucharist on Sunday morning.
Alvarenga was not seriously discerning the priesthood until he went to the Come and See. Once there, it became a real option for him.
He assumed there would be a lot more pressure put on them to become priests, but that assumption was wrong. All through the process, he has the option to back out.
"It's a discernment process, and it's step by step. You can either learn that you're going to become a priest or you can learn that it's not God's plan for you. But either way, you can find yourself here," said Alvarenga.
He thought that being a priest meant being strong-willed, and he might not be able to handle it. But after experiencing seminary life firsthand, he deemed it a definite possibility.
"I would have to go into deep thought about that because I want children, I want a family. Besides that, I don't see any reason why I couldn't do this," he said.
Ever since Menendez was a kid, his parents joked about the idea of him becoming a priest. Whenever his father said, "You're going to be a priest someday," he would laugh the idea off.
But at a recent retreat in Calgary, a woman reaffirmed his father's words, also telling him that he should be a priest.
"There's no coincidence. With God's work, there's no such thing as coincidence. So when I got invited here, I was kind of iffy about it because I thought if I come here, there's a 100 per cent chance I have to stay here," said Menendez.
As with Alvarenga, he learned that there is no immediate commitment required. Entering the seminary does not guarantee that he will be ordained a priest someday.
"God works in mysterious ways. Maybe he's calling me, and maybe he's not. I'm not too sure yet, so it's going to take prayer to find out what he really wants," said Menendez.