When you look at a map of the dioceses served by The Saint Paul Seminary, chances are that some of our seminarians were raised on farms, and chances are they will pastor rural parishes someday. To support this reality, the seminary offers a Rural Ministry Practicum (RMP), a unique experience that brings seminarians to area farms to learn first-hand the challenges and opportunities of rural ministry.
For more than 10 years, Dr. Christopher Thompson, academic dean, has co-taught this five-day immersive experience with the National Director of Catholic Rural Life, Jim Ennis. Every year, he is gratified by the seminarians’ response. “This is an ideal way to teach the men about issues facing our farmers and how to respond in faith,” he said. “Our seminarians learn a great deal from people who intimately rely on the bounty and mysteries of God’s creation for their livelihood.”
The purpose of the practicum is twofold: To introduce the men to Catholic Social Teaching about care of the earth, and to translate this theological vision in a rural setting. The structure of the practicum also serves a dual purpose: To interact with farmers in a very practical way, and to reflect on and explore these realities in a contemplative setting. The result is a full examination of pastoral ministry and its theological foundation in the context of rural ministry.
The on-site visits in 2019 brought 26 seminarians to the Glisczinski Farm in Belle Plaine and to the Metogga Lake Dairy Farm in New Prague.
For Tanner Thooft, a Theology II seminarian from the Diocese of New Ulm, the RMP allowed him to share his real-life experiences of growing up in a rural Catholic household. “I love the agricultural lifestyle, and I love working on the farm. I also know the struggles people face and what motivates them. I pray that my background, coupled with my formation, will help me to serve my future parishioners.”
The practicum also included presentations from a representative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Father Greg Mastey, a priest for the Diocese of Saint Cloud who has served up to five rural parishes at one time.