Summer in Sheridan

I have been told that I need to blog more…ahem Meg (see her blog here).  So I figured I would take this opportunity to share what my summer is looking like.

My summer assignment as a deacon is at Holy Name Catholic Church in Sheridan, WY.  Sheridan is nestled next to the Big Horn Mountains (part of the Rocky Mountains in WY) and is a beautiful place to be assigned for the summer.  The population of Sheridan is roughly 20,000 so it is big enough to have some of the mainstream stores (Wal-Mart, Albertson’s, etc.) but still has that small town feel (every third Thursday evening during the summer they close main street for a street festival, which I am looking forward to experiencing).  My experience of the parish has been fantastic.  The people of God here are very welcoming and hospitable.  This past weekend was my first weekend here for the summer and I introduced myself to the parish by preaching (see that homily here), but since Sheridan has two mission churches (one in Ranchester and the other in Story) I preached one Mass in Sheridan one in Ranchester, and one at the VA hospital here in Sheridan as well.  During my time here I will be blessed to preach and assist at Mass, baptize (I am very much looking forward to this!), visit the sick in the Nursing Home and Hospital and bring them the Holy Eucharist, assist it weddings and funerals, and experience day to day life in all the parish functions throughout the summer.  I even get my own office in the Holy Name Pastoral Center and it is great!  I’m so used to having my bedroom and office all in one small dorm room, so to have my own office feels very strange and liberating.  In addition to the parish functions, I plan to get a kick start on my thesis that I will be writing during my final year of Theology.  I plan on writing about the Theology of Suffering as seen in Pope Saint John Paul II’s apostolic letter, Salvici Doloris.  So hopefully this summer I get a lot of reading done preppring me to begin that work (as well as read for fun too!).
Life in Sheridan is not limited to the parish life.  I’m getting back into running (I’ve had some back problems during the past year that has prevented me from doing some of that, but I’m better now) and Sheridan has a pretty awesome run/bike path that follows the Tongue River and the Little Goose Creek through the city called “Sheridan Pathways” that is cool to run on.  Also, since I’m so close to the mountains I plan on exploring them during my off time to relish God’s beauty in creation.  Last Saturday a group of us hiked to Paradise Falls in the Big Horn Mountains and here a few of the pictures from that incredible (although short) hike.


Another thing that I’m excited to get more a chance to do is cooking.  It’s fairly hard in seminary cook since the kitchen provides us with incredible meals most every day, but in a parish cooking is easier to do.  I’ve already gotten the opportunity to try to make homemade corn tortillas (Meg helped) with fresh chorizo and onions and they turned out pretty decent.  I’ll be trying to perfect that recipe as the summer goes on.

I think that summarizes my coming summer pretty well.  Primarily my role this summer is to grow ever closer to the Lord through prayer and the sacraments and to help the people in Sheridan do the same through the Lord’s gift of the diaconate ministry in me.  Please pray for me and know of my prayers for you too!

It’s been a while!

So it’s been a while and I wanted to take this opportunity to post my last post for my trip to Guatemala.  I have actually been back in the United States for 2 weeks now (time sure flies) and am just about fully settled back into the seminary routine (see my upcoming post on that).  This is just a quick wrap-up post about my awesome summer experience.

Definitely the most exciting part of my Guatemala experience was summed up in the pictures of my previous post.  Climbing to a Volcano and going to experience the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal were definitely the highlights of my experiences outside of the city of Antigua.  The remaining weeks were spent primarily in my usual routine of spanish tutoring during the week and the weekends were spent just taking things easy, wandering around Antigua, and trying to catch up on sleep.  In those weeks we were able to take a school trip to a coffee farm.  We saw coffee plants and learned about the process of harvesting the plants.  After finally coming to appreciate coffee in its fullness it was remarkable to actual see the plant that provides for the drink that I am so accustomed to.

During these weeks I was definitely feeling homesick so in order to feel a bit more like home I had my mom email me her recipe for chocolate chip cookies and I did my best to bake some with my host family.  We then ate cookies and played “Uno” (yes “Uno” is played in Spanish speaking countries too!).  It was a lot of fun, we got to converse with the kids and play a fun game too.  I won one of the games.

We also finally made our way up to the Cerro de la Cruz – a huge cross that is on the hill overlooking the city (see my picture below).  It was an awe-inspiring view at 6:00am with nobody up there besides ourselves.

All in all my summer was one full of God’s grace.  It was very challenging being in a place so far from home and feeling a bit isolated from everyone back home but I had God with me and persevered.  I even learned quite a bit of Spanish along the way!  (and made some great friends too)  I am no where near fluent in Spanish, but I am able to converse simply and have quite a solid foundation in grammar to continue in learning Spanish on my own back in the United States (by hopefully engaging in conversation with hispanic seminarians and by means of Rosetta Stone).  I also am very familiar with the Mass in Spanish and that will help me as I learn how to celebrate the Mass in Spanish as a future priest.  My experience in Guatemala has taught me to be grateful for everything that we, as Americans, are blessed with and typically take for granted (wide sidewalks, bike lanes, etc.).  I will never quite look at a shower in the same way again, definitely not without gratitude in my heart that we have what we have in the United States of America.

Gratitude.  Gratitude is the virtue that I would like to cultivate this year in seminary, and this summer experience was a good launch into that endeavor.

Real life coffee beans!
Coffee farm!
Out for a walk with my teacher.


Making Mom’s chocolate chip cookies with my host family!


Cerro de la Cruz – overlooking Antigua.
The “reflection shot” of the Arco de Santa Catalina.


The soil of the United States of America was a welcome sight!

Volcanoes and Ruins

Another impressive couple of weeks! I am now well into my fifth week here in Guatemala doing my best to learn Spanish and immerse myself in the culture. It’s going well, but I’m definitely feeling a tad homesick, the German in me wants more punctuality and rule following than what is commonly lived here (along with paved streets and wider sidewalks). It’s all good though! Living here definitely is making me appreciate the life that I am blessed with in the United States and I will take that gratitude with me when I return in August.

Two weekends ago I got to check off a bucket-list item. I hiked a volcano! (well in actuality we didn’t hike THE volcano, but hiked as close as we could). We hiked Volcan de Pacaya, which is an active volcano in the southern part of Guatemala. It is one of the most common volcanoes for tourists to climb because it is the safest (robbers sometimes frequent some of the lesser hiked volcanoes). The last major eruption of Volcan de Pacaya was in March 2014 (just 3 months ago!) and we even wandered out onto the lava bed that the volcano created then. The lava bed had residual heat beneath it that in some areas we were even able to roast marshmallows and ate S’mores. It’s truly incredible what our Earth is capable of!

Roasting marshmallows! Yay S’mores!

This past weekend was also filled with adventures as a group of us traveled to the northern part of Guatemala to see the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal. Some of these ruins were built around 8,000 B.C. and are still standing today! We spent a day in Flores (on an island in a lake near Tikal) and just enjoying a bit of vacation (we stayed in a hotel with AC). We got to eat supper at a restaurant and watch the sun set over the lake. Very beautiful. The day in Tikal was absolutely stunning. It’s quite literally in the jungle in Central America. It was incredibly humid and the heat index was roughly at 105ºF. We had a guided tour around the ruins and got to see all of the major temples and places the Mayans would have lived and were told the history of the ruins. We even got to see a bit of wildlife, we saw a couple spider monkeys, a tarantula (which was sure to stay a number of feet away from), and heard howler monkeys in the distance. We were able to climb a few of the temples and see the impressive view over the jungle and just marvel at the engingeering and intelligence of the ancient Mayans. Their mathematical and astronomical knowledge would have been on par with our modern understanding. Tikal is truly an incredible place to visit and I do not regret the crazy travel that it took to get there. We took two overnight buses (8 hours to get from Guatemala City to Flores) and when we were getting back to the bus station at the end of our time in Flores, we crammed 7 people in a taxi… eh, it’s Guatemala, these things just sorta happen without missing a beat.

Templo 1 (Temple 1).
The Star Wars nerd in me rejoiced when I got to see the same place where the Rebel Base in Ep 4 was filmed (at Tikal)!

Please continue to keep all of us here in Guatemala in your prayers. A number of seminarians are finishing up their time here and are headed back to the USA, but we still have three and half more weeks of learning. As the weeks keep going it will be difficult for us to keep focused, so pray for our ability to absorb as much Spanish language as we can in the next few weeks! We’ll be back stateside before you know it!

Macadamia Nuts, Bombas, and Tortillas, the Guatemalan Adventure Continues…

Wow, crazy how time flies, it’s already nearing the end of my third week here in Guatemala! My Spanish is progressing. In the moments it can feel frustrating as if I’m not making any progress but when I look at where I am now compared to where I was the first day, I am able to converse much more easily in Spanish and obviously am learning a lot. My teacher is incredible patient with me (¡Gracias a Dios!). We have been slowly working our way through the nuances of Spanish grammer and in particularly we are working with the different verb tenses (for you grammer people out there: I have been working through the present, the preterite, and imperfect tenses so far).

Last Wednesday we got to tour a macadamia nut farm, and got to sample them. All the nuts are picked by hand and they use incredibly simple machines to remove the shell, dry the nuts, and sort them. They then sell the nuts by themselves but also make a variety of other products (macadamia oil for your skin, macadamia nut butter, chocolate covered macadamia nuts, plus other foodstuff). Additionally they use macadamia nuts in making pancakes in their restaurant and top them with macadamia nut butter… and they were most certainly delicous (we, of course, had to try them!).

On the 4th of July, we celebrated our Independence Day by having a fiesta at the school. Beginning with our national anthem, a barbeque commenced. We gathered food that could be cooked like in the United States and ate hamburgers and hot dogs (turkey dogs…), plus baked beans, corn on the cob (elote), potato chips, and beer. It was probably the worst (healthwise for me) I’ve eaten since coming here to Guatemala, but it was delicious and a nice reminder of home. We also had a few bombas (fireworks that aren’t for viewing as much as they are for making a lot of noise – they are usually set off during the day) that we lighted in celebration. Practically just like being home. I also listened to “America” by Neil Diamond, a personal tradition of mine and a song that I love.

Last weekend we stayed in Antigua again and wandered around the city, exploring more. We toured the ruins at the church of San Francisco and also went to Mass there.
The famous arch in Antigua, at dusk.

This week (along with learning more Spanish) has been even more awesome because we went to one of the family’s houses to learn how to make tortillas de maize. [Disclaimer: the tortillas weren’t made from scratch, but with a packet of Maseca, a pre-made corn flour mix]. 5 of us got our hands dirty and flattened the corn flour in our hands to make tortillas and helped Flory (the mom of the home) grill them slightly. Flory then taught me how to make guacamole (incredibly simple!). All I did was mix avocados with a little salt and some lime juice. Flory cooked carne asada and chorizo and we all got to enjoy tacos with our homemade tortillas. ¡Muy delicioso!

My incredible meal of homemade tortillas with chorizo & carne asada, onions, and salsa chiltepe. And guacamole!

This week I was also blessed to share some incredible coffee (espresso mixed with Mayan chocolate) with a good seminarian friend of my from the Diocese of Orlando, FL, Mark LaBelle. He’s here in Guatemala learning Spanish as well, just at a different school.

And so here’s to what God’s grace has in store for me during the next five weeks! Cheers!

Mountains, Hills, Retreat, and Camping

More travel has been in my life this past week. Late last week I traveled across the state to go to the Grey’s River Valley (south of Jackson Hole, WY). All the seminarians of Wyoming that could had gathered for a 3 day retreat to focus on deepening our relationship with God and also focus on growing in brotherhood with each other. This is one of the few opportunities we have to spend time together since we are spread among a few different seminaries throughout the country. We stayed at a guest ranch 30 miles into the Grey’s River valley. It was absolutely beautiful and void of any cellular signals (which is always a blessing to be able to completely “unplug” from the outside world). Each day we would gather specifically for Morning Prayer, Mass, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and Evening Prayer. We spent a day on the Snake River, white water rafting. It was a bit intense of a trip, the river was flowing very fast and high and cold from the runoff due to it being springtime. The next day a few of us were able to go hiking around in the valley and it was cold enough outside that it was misty and even rain/sleet fell on us as we worked our way back to the cabins.

Coming off of a retreat in the mountains, my family and I headed east into smaller hills, the Black Hills in South Dakota, and got to spend a couple days camping. I think this was the first time in a couple years since my immediate family has all been together for a camping trip. These kind of trips are becoming rarer so I did my best to relish the experience. We went camping with another family (good friends of ours) and so when it rained (of course) we camped out in my parent’s camper trailer playing “20 Questions” for a couple hours and eating JiffyPop popcorn. During the day we fished (2 fish were caught) and we drove through Custer State Park and found the buffalo. My brother, Greg, and I also took all the kids to the Flintstone Village theme park in Custer, SD that afternoon and it was enjoyed by all. I even ventured onto the swing set with the kids, I haven’t done that in years, it was exhilarating! All in all a good time to spend enjoying family, friends, and God’s beautiful creation outside in the Black Hills.

I am now in a brief, brief calm before the next round of activities. This weekend is the ordination Mass of Deacon Brian Hess and Deacon Bob Rodgers in Cheyenne, WY. I am so excited for them and for the their ministry! Please keep them in prayer as they begin their wonderful life of service as ordained priests! And then shortly after celebrating with them, a small group of us seminarians will board a plane for Guatemala to learn Spanish for the next 8 weeks. So stay tuned for pictures and updates as I live, learn, and pray in Guatemala.