Follow @shmsdetroit

All Over the World—Formation Near and Far

Sacred Heart seminarians journey around the world to unleash the Gospel.

by Maggie Doyle

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses... to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

This summer, Sacred Heart seminarians gave life to those words in Scripture as they followed Christ’s call to share the Good News. Whether it was through formation programs or mission trips, these seminarians brought light, love, and service, while growing in inspiration and faith.

Vice rector and dean of seminarian formation Fr. Stephen Burr explained how Sacred Heart Major Seminary has carefully designed its program to give seminarians transformative experiences aligned with each specific year of seminary. These experiences equip seminarians with important tools and encourage them to be open to God’s grace.

by Maggie Doyle

“Every formation experience gives a seminarian a chance to overcome himself and become more of the man God desires him to be. Meaning, each program presents challenges that take a man out of what he might prefer or be accustomed to in his daily life,” said Father Burr. From their own backyard in America to international expeditions, Sacred Heart seminarians embraced the roles of missionary and student wholeheartedly.


The Desert Formation Experience | Israel

First-year theology seminarians set off for the Holy Land to journey in the Desert Formation Experience. For thirty days, they walked where Christ and his apostles walked, and stood before holy sites as they deepened their understanding of the Gospel. “The Holy Land was like walking around in the Bible,” said Ryan Eggenberger, a second-year graduate seminarian for the Archdiocese of Detroit. “After all, one purpose for investing in and sending seminarians on pilgrimage is to enrich our preaching as future homilists; in other words, we’re supposed to come home and share the graces God gave us.”

During their trip, the seminarians documented the incredible moments with vlogs and reflections on the sites they saw, from the Upper Room to the Avdat Desert and the Tomb of Lazarus.

While the seminarians were deeply shaped by these first-hand experiences, the reason for these trips goes beyond their personal formation.

“I realized this pilgrimage was meant for many people and that I would carry them with me to the various holy sites through my prayer,” said Michael Churchill, a second-year graduate seminarian for the Diocese of Winona-Rochester.

Included in those prayers were the benefactors and donors of the Desert Formation Experience, which is funded through generous parish support, and the annual Desert Golf Classic Outing hosted by Sacred Heart’s development office. 

Learning Spanish | Guatemala

First-year philosophy and pre-theology seminarians for the Archdiocese of Detroit headed to Guatemala for ten days, where they studied Spanish. The Archdiocese of Detroit has seen a large increase in its Hispanic population over the last decade, making Spanish an increasingly important pastoral language. This formation experience is part of the seminarians’ academic formation and is covered by tuition. 


“Traveling to another culture gives a lived awareness of the Universal Church as a priest needs to be comfortable serving all of God's people,” Father Burr said.

During their trip, the Fuego Volcano erupted just eighteen miles away from where the seminarians were staying in Antigua. Although there was ash in the street and smoke in the distance for several days, the seminarians were not harmed by the volcano.

Inspiring the Next Generation | Michigan

Undergraduate college seminarians in their first and second year often spend their summer at Camp Sancta Maria, a fun, spiritually-centered outdoor experience for kids and teens. As counselors, the seminarians become role models, lifeguards, and coaches as they offer helping hands with the horses, music, crafts, and the high ropes. This interactive role allows them to share their faith and inspire and be inspired by campers and fellow counselors.


While Sacred Heart organizes the aforementioned formation experiences, seminarians also have the opportunity to organize or participate in other mission trips if they feel called to do so.

Offering Encouragement | Tanzania 

After the Archdiocese of Detroit’s young adult mission trip to Ethiopia was canceled due to turmoil in the country, fourth-year graduate seminarians for the Archdiocese of Detroit Dcn. Adam Nowak and Dcn. John MacKenzie decided they still needed to do mission work in some way. They began researching, fundraising, and praying about traveling to Tanzania.

They told their Tanzanian contact they were open to whatever help was needed, so before the seminarians arrived, they did not know what kind of work they would be doing.

“When we think about mission trips as Catholics, we think of building something or doing something and getting our hands dirty. But this was very different. We didn’t do any of that, but what we did was even more important, probably. We spent time with the people and villages that sometimes feel left behind,” said Deacon Adam.

Deacons Adam and John were hosted by the bishop of the Kahama Diocese, traveling with him on pastoral visits to several villages where Mass is sometimes only celebrated once a month because of the priest shortage.

At one village, the entire town welcomed them with singing and dancing and continued doing so as they walked to the church to celebrate Mass. In another town, two thousand people came to Mass at the church that only seats one hundred fifty people.

“There were twenty people peeking into each window, just trying to adore Jesus… their dedication and faith even though they couldn’t see, hear, or even receive, was a beautiful reminder of the great mystery of the Mass,” Deacon Adam said.

Visiting the high school seminary and the seminary’s home of formation also made a profound impact on the deacons, where they gave a talk and did a question and answer session.

“It’s hard in Africa because a lot of celibate men don’t receive respect… It’s a poor country, so for a person to leave the family to become a priest and not get paid, it’s a really hard decision and their parents often look down on them,” said Deacon Adam.

Deacon Adam explained he and Deacon John exchanged stories of encouragement and support and reminded the young men that even if their families are not supportive, God is faithful.

Encountering Christ in the Other | Ecuador

Deacon Adam also accompanied fourteen high school students on the tenth annual mission trip to the Diocese of Rio Bomba in Ecuador, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Office of Youth Ministry. As their spiritual guide, Deacon Adam witnessed a diverse mix of teens from different backgrounds come together as one while they served their brothers and sisters in Christ, abroad. 

“They’re able to work with each other and rely on each other in a way they would never have the opportunity to,” he said.

The group began construction on a chapel located deep in the mountains at an altitude of thirteen thousand feet above sea level. This made for exhausting but rewarding work. Other mission work included going door to door giving away rosaries and sharing the Good News, attending Ecuador’s National Youth Day, and spending time at the local orphanage and nursing home. The orphanage was specifically for abandoned children who were disabled and handicapped by the damaging effects of the area’s volcanic ash.

“These teens from Detroit sat with kids their own age and fed them. It was a reminder to all of us how much we take for granted as Americans, even poor Americans,” said Deacon Adam.

The nursing home also impacted the high schoolers, as one of them remarked, “It made me think—how often do I make an effort to see my own grandmother?”

On both his trip to Tanzania and Ecuador, Deacon Adam believed these experiences convicted him of the universal need for priests and the deep desire for faith.

“Faith transcends language,” he said.

Surrendering to God’s Will | India

Seminarians Richard Dorsch, a second-year college seminarian for the Archdiocese of Detroit and Corey Bilodeau, a second-year college seminarian for the Diocese of Lansing, set off to Calcutta to serve at the Nirmal Hriday (Immaculate Heart), where Mother Teresa first opened her home for the dying and the destitute. There, they prepared meals, did dishes and laundry, and cared for patients.


“It is absolutely amazing when you allow yourself to be completely emptied and surrender to the will of God, what he can accomplish through you—giving you so much strength and grace to encounter and serve even the poorest of the poor,” said Richard.

Other international, seminarian-led mission trips included; Iraq, attended by then fourth-year graduate seminarians for the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas, now ordained priests, Fr. Fadie Gorgies and Fr. John Jaddou, and third-year graduate seminarians Marcus Shammami and Kevin Yono; and China, attended by third-year graduate seminarian David Pellican

Relishing the Challenge | Philadelphia

Second-year college seminarian for the Archdiocese of Detroit, Andrew Smith, stayed closer to home than some of his Sacred Heart counterparts, as he accompanied the youth group from St. Peter Parish in Mount Clemens, Michigan on a mission trip to Imperial, Pennsylvania.


“The challenges of mission trips—working on a crew with people you don’t know, sleeping on the floor, stepping away from our regular routines and comforts— push us out of our comfort zones. But in these moments of challenge, we learn to rely on God more fully and put our trust in Him,” he said. 

Unleashing the Gospel Around the World

Archbishop Vigneron’s call in his 2018 pastoral letter Unleash the Gospel, while specific to the Archdiocese of Detroit, has no geographic boundaries.

“Today, no less than two millennia ago, there is no limit to what the Lord can do in our midst. His part is to clothe his Church with ‘power from on high’ (Luke 24:49) for the accomplishment of her mission. Our part is to give him our wholehearted ‘yes’—to let ourselves be transformed, guided, and sent forth by the Holy Spirit, who is the ‘principal agent of evangelization,’" wrote Archbishop Vigneron.

This wholehearted “yes” and Christ’s limitless grace that accompanies it, is clearly reflected in Sacred Heart seminarians’ formation experiences and global mission work. The people, culture, and communities they encountered and served, returned grace to them twofold.

This year’s trips may have ended, but the experiences, lessons, and deep growth that occurred for each seminarian will continue to echo through their work in the years to come, as they study, preach, and shape Christ’s living body on earth. 

Maggie Doyle

Maggie is a freelance writer and editor based in Omaha, Nebraska, passionate about sharing stories that captivate.

Stay connected with Sacred Heart. Sign up for our monthly newsletter.


Sacred Heart Major Seminary is a Christ-centered Catholic community of faith and higher learning committed to forming leaders who will proclaim the good news of Christ to the people of our time. As a leading center of the New Evangelization, Sacred Heart serves the needs of the Archdiocese of Detroit and contributes to the mission of the universal Church.