Saint John Vianney College Seminary

Seminarians Encounter Ministry in Mexico City

This past J-Term, eight University of St. Thomas Church and Culture study abroad program participants witnessed the poverty that exists in Mexico. The Saint John Vianney College seminarians participated alongside SJV priest formator Father Joseph Kuharski.

Led by Dr. Michael Naughton, director of the Center for Catholic Studies and Nancy Sannerud, program manager of the center, this integrated humanities course encompassed an immersive study of the cultural, spiritual, social and historical interactions between the West and Indigenous cultures. A rigorous week of on-campus preparations included studies of Christopher Columbus, Our Lady of Guadalupe and papal addresses to bishops of the Americas. The class joined Father Paul Haverstock for Mass, discussion and Hispanic ministry at St. Gabriel the Archangel in Hopkins before flying to Mexico City and experiencing the local community firsthand.

Saint John Vianney College Seminary

Over seven days, students observed remnants of a pre-Christian world at Teotihuacan Pyramids, paid homage to Our Lady of Guadalupe at her shrine, visited the museum of the zealous Cristero Blessed Miguel Pro, served at Mother Enez’s orphanage and ministered to people living in the city of Nezahualcóyotl, which is more commonly known as Neza.

The SJV seminarians engaged in discussions and development strategies about future prospects for community improvement. The meetings were held at the Institute for Christian Social Thought.

These conversations continued back in St. Paul during post-trip reflections with Naughton and Jason Adkins, Minnesota Catholic Conference executive director.

The men found a powerful witness of priestly joy in Father Manuel Rojas Aguila, who served the Zumpango village outside of Mexico City.

Jack Massmann, a second-year seminarian from the Diocese of St. Cloud, noted the priest’s attentiveness to his people’s needs, both physical and spiritual.

“His fatherhood pertained to everything about them,” Massmann said.

Serving in an area of dire conditions, this spiritual father exhibited great humility through his priesthood. “It’s ultimately the work of God,” Massmann observed.

Appreciation for the priesthood was a pervasive theme on the trip. One evening, priest formator and trip chaplain Father Joseph Kuharski remained behind at a parish and rejoined the group after hearing dozens of confessions from those in the community.

“The people of Mexico love priests,” explained Matthew Wilson, a second-year seminarian from the Diocese of Lansing. His own desire to be a priest was sparked anew by this encounter in Mexico City. “They want to encounter Christ,” he said.

Editor's note: A version of this story originally ran in the spring 2023 edition of Vianney News. The Saint John Vianney College Seminary is located at the University of St. Thomas.