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Language and Culture Live on for Chaldean Seminarians at Sacred Heart

by Karla Dorweiler

Chaldean seminarians belong to the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church, but they feel right at home at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. Twelve seminarians for the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of Saint Thomas the Apostle study at Sacred Heart, and while their overall formation is the same as that of their Latin-rite seminarian brothers, Sacred Heart provides classes and accommodations to prepare Chaldean seminarians to serve in their parishes and communities once ordained.

Instead of taking Latin as required at Sacred Heart, Chaldeans study ancient and modern Aramaic. They also enroll in courses on both the history and spirituality of the Chaldean Church. And while all seminarians gather in the chapel for morning and evening prayer and Mass daily, the Chaldean seminarians pray evening prayer together in Chaldean three days a week, and morning prayer and Mass in Chaldean every Friday.

An eparchy is a diocese of the Eastern Church. Outside the Middle East, Michigan is home to the largest number of Chaldean Catholics in the world. The Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle U.S.A. is based at Mother of God Cathedral in Southfield. Priests are ordained on or near the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle in July. At Chaldean parishes, Masses are celebrated in English, Arabic, Aramaic, and Chaldean, known as Sureth among the Chaldean community.

Theology I seminarian Brandon Elias grew up in Troy and entered seminary in 2020 after attending Oakland University and working as a mechanical engineer for several years. When he was growing up, his parents, who came to the United States from Baghdad, spoke to him in Arabic and English. Elias is learning the Chaldean language in seminary.

“I think Sacred Heart does a phenomenal job forming priests in general. To a Chaldean seminarian, it can be overwhelming because you’re learning the language and the history of the culture on top of what the seminary already asks of us,” Elias said. “It’s difficult but also very fruitful because it prepares us well and helps us know what the priesthood looks like for us as Chaldeans.”

Father Bryan Kassa served as the Vocations Director for the Chaldean Eparchy for five years and is now the Director of Seminarians. Father Kassa works with Chaldean Bishop Francis Kalabat to ensure their seminarians are receiving the formation needed to serve within the eparchy upon ordination.

“We have a long-term relationship with Sacred Heart beginning with our previous bishop, Bishop Ibrahim. The seminary has always been flexible with us as men were migrating to the United States and English wasn’t their first language,” said Father Kassa. “And we appreciate the formation they receive. You can have the smartest seminarians but without a movement of the heart or knowing what it is to be a man, you won’t have well-formed priests.”

Joseph Nannoshi is a Theology II seminarian with the Chaldean Eparchy.

“It’s a Roman Catholic seminary, and they’ve been so gracious to allow us to be here and study with them but also to give us the opportunity to bring in individuals to help us specifically with our own Chaldean formation,” Nannoshi said. “We do have some seminarians who are immigrants, but many of us were born here and went to school here. Making sure we can communicate pastorally in our Chaldean language is absolutely essential.”

Beginning in the Theology I year, Chaldean seminarians spend their weekends serving a parish within the eparchy throughout the school year. Nannoshi feels privileged to be given a parish assignment.

“The way that people in the Chaldean community trust us and relate to us is one of the best things about pastoral formation,” said Nannoshi. “People go above and beyond to treat us like one of their families. It’s such a beautiful encounter.”

Despite having their own unique aspects of formation, the Chaldean seminarians still find time to participate in the life of the Sacred Heart community as a whole. From trivia nights to playing on the basketball team, Elias and Nannoshi enjoy being with seminarians from the other dioceses.

“In the end, our diocese is located within the metro Detroit area which means we’ll have contact with priests from the Archdiocese of Detroit and the Diocese of Lansing after we’re ordained,” said Nannoshi. Being able to get to know our brother priests among the Roman Rite and study with them is a blessing. “

The twelve men studying with the Chaldean Eparchy at Sacred Heart will minister to over 100,000 Catholics at parishes in Michigan and Illinois and a mission in Boston.

“Being born here and not knowing the language as fluently as some of the guys, I’m realizing that there’s so much out there to learn. It’s exciting to understand more about what my roots are,” Elias said. “And I think it’s beautiful that we are able to learn about this at Sacred Heart. Otherwise, we could lose that aspect of our culture, our liturgies and traditions.”

by Karla Dorweiler

Karla Dorweiler

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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.