The Challenges Of A Big Parish, Joys Of Youth
Published: September 16, 2010
Seminarian Gaurav Shroff, shown in the top row, second from left, poses with the St. Brigid Church Life Teen group. He worked with the youth of the church over the summer, including accompanying the teens on a mission trip to Nicaragua. (Photo provided by Gaurav Shroff)
“Father Luke, if possible, I’d like to be in a bigger parish this summer.” I recall saying that to Father Luke Ballman, the director of vocations, at some point in the spring. Father Luke obliged, and on June 1, I pulled into the parking lot of St. Brigid Church in Johns Creek. Big parish? Try huge parish! Over 3,500 families registered. Six Masses on the weekend in a beautiful sanctuary that seats 900 people. Dozens of ministries. Tons of stuff going on, even over the summer, when most parish programs take a hiatus.
Each summer, the seminarians get assigned to a different parish in the archdiocese. The idea is to get a hands-on experience of parish life, to learn from and be mentored by the priests of the archdiocese, and to help out as we are able. Each seminarian’s experience is different, as unique as the individual man, as unique as each parish is unique.
I came to St. Brigid eager to help out, eager to learn, eager to see a “big parish” in operation, and eager to discern the Lord’s unfolding call in my life.
“Help me learn what You would have me learn. Let me do only what You would have me do,” I prayed.
The very basic responsibility of a seminarian over the summer is to serve at Mass. I served daily Mass, and a couple of the weekend Masses. On the first and last weekends of my assignment I served all the Masses. This was tough! It made me appreciate the sacrifice of so many of our priests as they serve multiple Masses in multiple locations every Sunday. A few times a week, the pastor, Msgr. Paul Reynolds, had me share a post-Communion reflection on the Scripture readings. I hope these were received well by the people.
I also accompanied the parochial vicar, Father Gilbert Exumé, as he brought the sacrament to the elderly and homebound.
The heart of my apostolate, however, involved the Life Teen program. St. Brigid’s has an active youth group, very ably led by their youth minister, Mandi Whittaker, and a team of adult core leaders who really love their work and the teens they work with.
I dived right in. I accompanied a busload of teens to the Alive in You service camp in Chattanooga: a week of prayer, praise, and manual labor in service to the poor. I attended a weekly summer Bible study on the Mass. I led a small group at the annual Steubenville Atlanta Conference, which draws nearly 3,000 young people from all across the country. There was a camping trip for the guys, up in the mountains near Clayton.
The highlight of the summer occurred during my last week at St. Brigid. I accompanied 21 teens and adult leaders on a Mustard Seed Communities–sponsored mission trip to Nicaragua. We spent a week in Managua and Diriamba, praying, spending time with the mentally handicapped children in the orphanages and doing manual labor around the orphanage compound. It was interesting watching teens from suburban Atlanta respond to the developing world.
Everyone did fine (though a stomach bug decimated half the camp at one point!), and everyone delighted in playing with the kids at the orphanage. All the children needed was love, and they loved back, without any pretensions or conditions or limits. It was a truly beautiful experience.
I think that each of us encountered the Lord, present and powerfully alive, in these children. “For to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:16)
The summer also provided an opportunity for the seminarians to hang out together and get to know each other, at our weekly Wednesday evening gatherings and other activities. The archdiocese uses several different seminaries around the country, and the summer is the only time for us to really grow in fraternity, as we prepare to serve the people of North Georgia, God willing, as their priests.
Soon we’ll all be back in class, continuing our studies. And I am very grateful to the Lord for a beautiful summer back home in Georgia.
Gaurav Shroff, the son of Manu and Rashmi Shroff, is a native of India. He grew up in Mumbai and lived in South Carolina before moving to Georgia. He comes from a Hindu family and came to the faith when he was in college in Mumbai. He is in his second year of theological studies at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland, in the graduation class of 2013. His home parish is Good Samaritan Church in Ellijay. Shroff is a diehard Gamecock.