25 years of discernment at Serra House

By 
  • September 25, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - Serra House in Toronto has reached its 25th birthday and continues to welcome young men who are in the “pre-seminary” stage of their life.

Here, men can discern a vocation to the diocesan priesthood while studying or continuing in the work force, all the while supported by a community of peers striving for personal and spiritual growth.
Located near the University of Toronto campus in downtown Toronto, it is far from being isolated, yet it offers a place for reflection and formation, as well as comradeship and support as the men discern their path in life.

“It has helped me so much in my faith in general,” said Jeff Pangilinan, 22.

Pangilinan is beginning his third year at the house and thinks the community experience is great.

“It helps to have priests living in the house,” he said. “They’re a great influence.”

This year, the house has six men discerning a call to the priesthood, although it has welcomed on average about 10 Canadian-born and immigrant faithful annually, and can accommodate up to 15.

Fr. Liborio Amaral, the current rector and Serra House director, said that not everyone who lives at Serra House becomes a priest, but they may discern to become a husband or a religious brother.

“All three discernments are positive,” he said. “It amazes me that these young men who are in their 20s are faith-filled, wise, willing to learn about their faith and how God can lead them.”

Besides their spiritual formation, residents are also encouraged to become involved in parish ministry. Although most residents at Serra House in the past five years were in their early 20s, that isn’t always the case, he added.

In the past, the house has welcomed a lawyer and a school board superintendent, who lived there for a year of spiritual nourishment and direction while continuing their jobs during the day.

The daily schedule for all consists of morning Mass at 7 a.m., although some of them begin their day as early as 5 a.m  to get ready for the day and spend time in personal prayer, said Amaral. Breakfast and lunch are available to those who are around, but the real meal together comes after 5:30 p.m. evening prayer. Here, they get down to the meat of things.

“During dinner, we discuss a number of topics: Church teaching, politics, the latest movie, a clarification on priestly identity, case scenarios, what parish life is like, how they would react to a certain scenario,” Amaral said.

One of the best parts though, he said, is just sharing his own story and love for the priesthood.

“Around the table, talking about faith — it reminds me of when I was a young seminarian, how I also wanted to know more about the Catholic faith and dreamt about what it would be like to celebrate Mass, give blessings.... As a rector, my own priesthood is renewed every day when a young man asks something about the priesthood and the faith and then reflects on it. I tell them there is nothing I would rather do than be a priest.”

Fr. Pat O’Dea, currently pastor and executive director of the Newman Centre on the University of Toronto campus, served as Serra House rector and director for nine years. He took over after the founder, Fr. Sean O’Sullivan, passed away. He had met O’Sullivan years before while discerning the priesthood at a monastery in the United States.

At the age of 20, in 1972, O’Sullivan was the youngest elected MP to enter the House of Commons.

“He was disillusioned with politics and he came down from Canada because he was in public life and said, ‛I thought it would be nice if I could discern somewhere quietly,’ ” O’Dea said. “I think he used himself as a model (for Serra House).”

O’Dea said Serra House is a less daunting place than a seminary for someone who is still unsure of their vocation.

“Living with other guys who are discerning makes a big difference,” O’Dea said.

It also provides formation, so that when they do enter the seminary, they are more confident, he said.

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