By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

WYNNEWOOD – The $200 million archdiocesan capital and endowment campaign, “Heritage of Faith, Vision of Hope” includes an anticipated allocation of $20 million to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood.

Of that amount, $10 million is earmarked for immediate campus infrastructure needs, $4 million for the renovation of the Chapel of St. Martin of Tours and $6 million to an existing scholarship endowment for Philadelphia seminarians – $1 million of which is to finance a new Hispanic ministry training fund.

Each year, the seminary sends a group of Philadelphia seminarians to Mexico for an intensive six-week Spanish language immersion program to prepare the future priests for ministry in the growing Hispanic Catholic population in the Archdiocese.

“The fact that the Archdiocese has taken the initiative to do this demonstrates its already present concern for the ministry and the needs of the Spanish-speaking people and has recognized, along with the Church universal, that this need is growing and it really is imperative for the Church to respond to it,” said Sean Loomis, 25, a seminarian in first theology whose home parish is St. Denis in Havertown, Delaware County.

Loomis was one of three seminarians who recently reflected on last summer’s excursion to Puebla, Mexico and environs.

“For me, it was really like being a missionary,” Loomis said.

The seminarians studied Spanish between four to six hours each day. “Even if we had to ask a question, we had to use Spanish to ask our professor the question or to describe what we weren’t understanding, then understand his explanation fully in Spanish so that it would click with us,” Loomis said. “That was a real submersion.”

Loomis studied homemade vocabulary cards practically non-stop on the bus ride between classes or while commuting to other locales via taxicab. “If there was ever one word I didn’t understand that came out of the professor’s mouth in class, I wrote it down,” he said. “Sometimes I would ask, sometimes I would just look it up in the dictionary.”

Before Loomis retired for the evening, he reviewed his homemade cards and their definitions. Loomis said he returned to Philadelphia equipped with 700 new words.

Those words came in handy this past August when Loomis met a non-English-speaking priest from Africa who had just stepped off a bus in Philadelphia. “He started speaking French, then he asked me if I spoke any other language in Spanish. I switched gears and we had a whole dialogue in Spanish.”

“The experience in Mexico really gave us the chance not only to study the language but also to be immersed in the culture,” said Anthony Hangholt, 27, a seminarian in second theology whose home parish is Holy Saviour in Linwood, Delaware County.

Among the highlights for him was the trip to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

“I knew that the faith of the people was very strong, but when we visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, just to see the incredible faith that they have and devotion to her was inspiring,” he said.

Hangholt’s Thursday Apostolate through St. Charles Seminary is working with Msgr. Hugh J. Shields, the Vicar for Hispanic Catholics, in the archdiocesan Office for Hispanic Catholics.

“The Hispanic community in Philadelphia is so varied, but it’s very large,” he said. “Their needs are obviously great because of the population.” Being able to go to Mexico through this scholarship, “more and more of us will be able to speak their language and communicate with them” and one day as priests “bring the sacraments to them and help them to worship and practice their faith the way they would like to,” Hangholt added.

“It was eye-opening to realize how firmly established the Catholic culture is in that area,” said Thomas Whittingham, 30, a seminarian in second theology whose home parish is St. Agatha-St. James in the University City section of Philadelphia. “To see how they live it out in their place of birth is a unique advantage.”

The fact that the many Hispanic Catholics he encountered rarely used hymnals to sing hymns was surprising to Whittingham. “They all knew them by heart, and they all sang along. It was something marvelous to behold – old, young, everybody.

“They were just so active and there were so many,” he added of the mothers who never missed a beat of the music as they chased their children around the church while grandparents knelt in prayer just as their ancestors did decades ago in the same churches.

Although Whittingham was enrolled in an advanced Spanish class there and was comfortable conversing in the language outside the classroom, he conceded that expressing complex concepts was a challenge. “When they ask you why you want to be a priest, you kind of have that down in English, but when you want to try to express a complicated notion of God’s call and your response in another language, it’s tough,” he said.

Loomis, too, was moved by the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, as witnessed at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“From all the way outside the building, halfway into this massive courtyard, people would crawl on their knees all the way into the Shrine, up to the altar,” Loomis said.

“You look at that and it challenges you: Where’s my faith? You just see yourself dropping to your knees and crawling right along next to them. It’s amazing.”

There were some sad sights as well. “The one thing that struck me big time when we got there is that poverty is just rampant,” Loomis said. “People live in conditions that are totally foreign to America.

“It really broadens your perspective of humanity and God’s people,” he added. “When we say ‘Church,’ who is ‘Church?’ It’s not just everybody that is middle class. You look at these people in Mexico who might not have shoes, they live in houses that just have dirt floors – and those are God’s people.

“They need the Eucharist like everybody else,” Loomis added. “They need to know how God is present to them every day.”

To the contributors of the capital campaign, the seminarians say thank you.

St. Charles Seminary provides full scholarships for seminarians studying for the Philadelphia Archdiocese who attend the theology spanision. Additionally, partial scholarships are offered to Philadelphia seminarians who attend the college spanision or pre-theology programs.

In February 2009, Cardinal Justin Rigali called on all Catholics of the Archdiocese to join him in making a sacrificial commitment to a $200 million capital and endowment campaign to support the charitable, educational and pastoral needs of the Church of Philadelphia. At press time, the campaign had received $120 million in pledges and gifts.

For more information visit the web site or call the campaign office at 215-690-0702 or 610-896-7312.

Read Loomis’ personal account of the seminarians’ trip to Mexico in the Fall 2009 issue of “The Brook,” accessible online at

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or