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Preaching Boot Camp

by Ryan Eggenberger

Spring program for first-year theologians improves speaking and preaching skills.

During the first days of spring term, I moved my belongings from the St. Joseph residential wing, near Sacred Heart's noisy Linwood Avenue entrance, to the St. John Vianney wing, where the upperclassmen live. When Deacon Lazarus Der-Ghazarian, the seminary's plant director, gave me the go-ahead to move, I thought, Finallya quieter space to sleep!

As I rolled over after my first night in my new room, I was startled awake by the roaring of demolition equipment from across the street, where workers have been demolishing an abandoned building on the seminary's new property. Initially I thought, You've got to be kidding me. But after a moment, I smiled and thought, Construction noises: very appropriate.

The noise of a big-time construction project helpfully illustrates the nature of priestly formation. During one's time in the seminary, each man submits himself to the Lord and asks to be formed, or re-constructed: Lord, I am totally yours. Do with me whatever you want. The Holy Spirit takes an offer like that seriously and begins to work.

The first construction project of the theology formation program is what is called Preaching Boot Camp (PBC). The PBC is an intensive three-week speech and acting class, facilitated by Mr. Paco Gavrilides, instructor of homiletics. It is designed to identify, undo, and fix poor speech and presentation habits, so that, as future homiletic instruction takes place, more time can be focused on content and delivery and less on basic mechanics.

The course is taught in conjunction with Dr. Arthur Beer and Mary Beer from the theater department of the University of Detroit Mercy. This spring marks the Beers' ninth year with the program.

The class isn't all mechanics. As a first taste of future homiletics courses, Mr. Gavrilides and guest priests give scriptural and theological reflections on preaching, with emphasis on practical ways to prepare to preach. The centrality of prayer, learning to respond to the Holy Spirit, and the prophetic nature of the preaching ministry are particularly emphasized.

Seminarian Ben Rivard, from the Diocese of Marquette, says, Preaching boot camp was an invaluable experience that gave me a wealth of self-knowledge concerning my speaking abilities. The program helped me to develop skills to become a more effective preacher.

The class concludes by seminarians preaching a homily after a daily Mass at a local parish, which is the first preaching opportunity that many men get. Homilies are evaluated by the professors as well as parishioners. The program gave us a great jump-start on our homiletics studies, Diocese of Lansing seminarian John-Henry Keenan notes.

Preaching Boot Camp is a perfect opportunity to begin the construction project that is theology formation. Men open themselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit, to be built up into the priests and preachers Our Lord wants to give to the Church. PBC helps to facilitate that construction process, so that the Gospel may be authentically preached with power, clarity, and love.

Ryan Eggenberger

Ryan Eggenberger is a graduate Seminarian for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

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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.