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Wednesday, Apr. 4th 2018

Language, Culture, Church program celebrates 20 years

Sr. Maria continues to prepare men for the priesthood by instructing them in the Language, Culture, and Church program.

Sr. Maria continues to prepare men for the priesthood by instructing them in the Language, Culture, and Church program.

Now in its 20th year, the Language Culture, Church (LCC) program, and director Sr. Maria Armijo, S.F.C.C., have become an institution at Conception. Not only does the program provide a niche opportunity for its students, it also enhances cultural mindfulness on the Conception Seminary College (CSC) campus.

CSC’s LCC program began in 1998 with Sr. Maria, who still runs the program today. “In 1991, I had begun an ESL program at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary (IHM) in Santa Fe, New Mexico,” she said. “In 1998, our archbishop decided to close the seminary because he felt we did not have enough seminarians.” Abbot Benedict Neenan, who was then the President-Rector at CSC, asked the rector of IHM if he could visit IHM to talk about the English as a Second Language (ESL) program. He and Fr. Patrick Caveglia visited IHM and invited Sr. Maria to bring the program here.

The program’s purpose is to prepare international seminarians for programs of priestly formation in predominantly English speaking and learning communities. They often need a program of study to become proficient in English,  opportunities to familiarize themselves with American culture, and time to embrace the Church in its American expression. 

At the end of the school day, the seminarians do not go home like other ESL students. “We call it LCC, Language, Culture, and Church because our students are seminarians discerning if priesthood in the United States is for them,” Sr. Maria said.

Although the Catholic Church is the same throughout the world, cultures may vary. The LCC seminarians need to know the practices of the Catholic Church in the United States. Probably the greatest need met by the program is to have Hispanic and Vietnamese priests ordained for dioceses that have multicultural communities.

In addition to formation, the program teaches international students English and prepares them for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The test is required for international students by many universities as proof that they are ready to do a traditional course of college studies.

The LCC seminarians have a full daily schedule. Like the rest of the college community, their days include class, meditation time, praying the Liturgy of the Hours as a community, Eucharist, meetings with their spiritual director or chaplain, tutoring, working, and studying. “The seminarians are living in a microcosm of parishes in most of their dioceses,” she said. “The seminarians live and learn with and from each other.” Seminarians learning Spanish have opportunities to practice what they are learning with native speakers of the language and to better understand their culture. “In the end, it is a win-win situation for everyone.”

Ordained alumni are busy in their respective parishes. Several of them are in parishes that have a Hispanic and an English speaking community, while some are only in English speaking parishes. More recent graduates are continuing in graduate level schools of theology. Sr. Maria says that while it is difficult to keep track of those not ordained but who have returned to their countries origin, some now teach English as a second language in their respective places.

“Without a doubt, the most rewarding experiences have been to teach and see the students learn English and be successful in their college and theological studies,” she said. She also enjoys witnessing their ordinations and hearing their stories in both English and Spanish. “To have people from their parishes come to Conception Abbey for retreats or prayer days, and have them tell me how excited they are with my past seminarians,” is special to Sr. Maria. She appreciates when alumni return and encourage current students to work on their goals of learning English and being ordained because it can and does happen.

“I am truly grateful for the invitation from Conception Abbey and its monks for accepting the program,” she said. “I believe the LCC program is providing a need for the dioceses of the Midwest.“

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