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Seminary life Boston style

Vocations

‘The best year of my life’ is how James Thomson summed up his first 12 months of study at the Pope St John XXIII National Seminary in Boston.

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After much discernment, James, 40, last year decided to quit his job as a credit analyst and head to the USA to study alongside other mature aged seminarians. At the time he knew it was going to be a life-changing event and a year later while back in Adelaide for the holiday break he was happy to share that everything had worked out well.

“I’d never experienced seminary life and never been to a seminary before but straight away I found it was comforting. I hit the ground running and fell into the rhythm of life quite easily, and have really enjoyed the program that fosters the human, spiritual, academic and pastoral formation.”

James said he had learned so much from the other seminarians who came from a range of backgrounds and cultures.

“I’ve got a Benedictine monk next door to my room, opposite there is a Franciscan friar and the other side a physician who was in the US Army.

“My journey seems very bland and straightforward compared to some of the men – some are grandads, parents, doctors, dentists, lawyers, teachers and there are a lot from the special forces. There’s a good mix and the stories people tell you, it’s incredible how they got there.”

A long standing parishioner at St Martin de Porres Church in Hallett Cove, James said it was “eye opening” to witness the universal Catholic Church from the other side of the world.

“Boston is a very Catholic city – on paper 47 per cent. All the churches are like our Cathedral parish here – 2500 parishioners, five Masses on a Sunday – and Americans are very vocal about their faith; they don’t mind talking about it,” he explained.

Besides intensive study, during his first year James also managed to visit Palm Beach in Florida, attending the Easter Sunday celebration with 3000 South American Catholics.

“They had Mass on a field in the school in the morning and in the afternoon played games and cooked barbecues. Coming from quite a conservative, reserved background and seeing that more open side of the Church was beautiful,” he said.

He also participated in the March for Life in Washington DC which “took me by surprise…that half a million people were willing to stand up for what they believe in”.

One of the most joyous events he witnessed was the ordination of the 13 graduating seminarians.

“It was incredible to see! The seminary is a living, breathing place and nothing is stagnant. The fourth years are ordained and they move on and a new wave of seminarians arrive. I look forward to the work I will be one day doing as a priest,” he said.

Reflecting on his transition to life in the US, James laughed that “without a doubt” the hardest adjustment had been coping with the weather.

“Those winters are harsh.”

And while he misses friends and family he said he was looking forward to returning to Boston on August 18 to begin his second year of study.

“There is nowhere else I want to be.”

(Deacon Pat Lopresti from Adelaide is also studying at the seminary in Boston and enters his fourth, and final, year this month).

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