Families give seminarians home away from home

By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald

A hug. A hot meal. A place to chill. A sincere, “How are you?” These simple gestures are the crux of the Families Inviting Seminarians Home or F.I.S.H. program whereby families adopt seminarians studying at St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, outside Covington.

F.I.S.H. began in 2011 as an idea of the St. Peter Parish’s vocation committee, said program coordinator Christi Burns, whose husband Daniel is the seminary’s academic dean.

“The northshore is such a special place with the seminary, the abbey and religious orders such as the Carmelites,” Burns said. “We noticed an influx of out-of-towners and thought we could fill the void of their parents not being here. It’s a great reciprocal experience for the families and the seminarians. The families learn that these are regular guys who want to get away for some leisure time from their religious studies, and the seminarians get to see family life and find the comforts of home.”

F.I.S.H. parents cook dinner or host family nights for seminarians, provide rides to and from the airport or whatever is needed, just like family.

Become part of family

In the 2017-18 school year, 26 northshore families are hosting approximately 40 seminarians. Among them are the Barousse and Bergeron families, parishioners of St. Peter Parish in Covington.

Melody Barousse said her mother, Kay Morse, told her about F.I.S.H. and encouraged her to participate. Of course, her extended brood of four families living on the same property joined her.

“Two weeks later, two of the cutest boys came walking up to our house – Andrew Schumacher and Carlos Pancetto,” Barousse said. “We basically take them in, and we try to be that home away from home. We pray for them, and they pray for us.”

Believing in God’s providence, Barousse said being a F.I.S.H. family got her daughter, Caroline, married. She met Andrew Schumacher’s older brother Chase, and they fell in love, got married and now have a baby.

“Andrew said at the rehearsal party that he made a deal with God, asking him, ‘If you find Chase a good wife, I will become a priest.’ God told him back, ‘You become a priest, and I will find Chase a good wife.’”

Andrew became a seminarian, and God fulfilled his part of the deal, Barousse said.

At the Barousse home on St. Nicholas’ feast day, Barousse’s current seminarian, Nicholas Ware from Rayne, Louisiana, was holding his own in the midst of 20-plus people.

“I come from a big extended family – my mom was one of nine – so this was right at home for me,” said Ware, who earned a master’s in kinesiology before entering the seminary.

Yet, he was intimidated that first visit to Barousse’s house when asked to do a blessing.

“They put me on the spot but it was great,” he said. “That initial experience showed me they wanted to integrate me into their family. I see their authentic family interaction. You don’t see cell phones. You see a display of hugs and people saying, ‘I love you.’ It’s great.”

Home away from home

F.I.S.H. parent Gina Bergeron and her family have hosted 11 seminarians since the F.I.S.H. initiative began. The Bergerons are known for homemade pizza nights with seminarians, creating a casual atmosphere for her family to interact with future priests. Pizza is a hit with seminarians, too, said seminarian Tony Ramirez, who even brought his Texas mother for the delicacy. He’s also had gumbo.“The food here is great,” Ramirez said. “The hospitality is great. At first, I was uncertain, but they grew on me.”

With seminarians regularly in the house, Bergeron said her children are no longer apprehensive around priests. In fact, on a recent visit, her four children and she and her husband were interested to hear a description of an acrylic with gold painting that took Ramirez two months to complete.

“They are more comfortable with them,” Bergeron said. “This program has made it more real for them. They see that the seminarians just don’t become a priest (overnight). It is a commitment, and the seminarians have to make sacrifices to become future priests.

“It’s cool because they get to spend time with us before they become a priest,” Gabrielle Bergeron, 17, said. “They get to see a family before they are in a parish, and they tell us about their experiences.”

Her family has substituted for seminarians’ families at St. Joseph’s Family Day when seminarian families can’t attend.

“It’s become a home both ways,” Bergeron said. “I want to love them like they are my child. I know if any of my sons were to be a priest, I would want them (other F.I.S.H. families) to love my child the same way.”

“It’s more about a personal relationship,” dad Eddie Bergeron said. “It’s how they treat us, and we treat them.”

“It’s meant a second home for me to come back to,” said seminarian Francesco Mion, whom the Bergerons also care for. “It helped relieve the homesickness.”

F.I.S.H. relationships tend to linger beyond the seminarian’s study days at St. Ben’s. Both Barousse and Bergeron remain in touch with past seminarians. Bergeron mentioned Zach Rodriguez and Jake Blaszak from Texas.

“Overall it’s been great,” Burns said bout F.I.S.H.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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