The Big Columban Family: Formation Highlights

Frs. Thomas Seungwon Nam and Pat Cunningham
December 14, 2010

Fr. Thomas Seungwon Nam, Rector of the formation program in the Korean Region, provides the following update about life in the formation house in Seoul:

While many of us have had an “Is it over?” experience, an experience or change that causes us to see one aspect of our life as ending, sometimes we realize it is a chance to see the life giving experience of God’s gift even if we ask ourselves “Is it over?” Some people may ask that question when they leave single life to get married. Others may ask it when they finish their college degrees and move on into the working world. However, another way to look at it is to realize that the moment can be called a resurrection experience in our daily journey. Many of our Columban students have had this type of resurrection experience since they entered the formation program.

It makes me wonder when I hear someone say that their personal life is over when they enter the seminary. Does that make sense? I think that when we respond to God’s call it is the beginning of a new life as a gift from God, and it does not mean that one’s personal life has ended.

Let me give you an example from my own experience. After joining the Columban formation program in 1992, I used to visit my mother on Sunday from time to time. One Sunday I visited Mom, and we had lunch together. In the late afternoon my mom asked me, “Why do you keep watching the clock?” I said without thinking, “It is time to go back home.” My mother stared at me for a while and asked, “Did you say, ‘your home’? ” but she didn’t say any more about it.

Ten years later, I was preparing for my priestly ordination, and I visited my mother. She suddenly asked, “Do you remember the conversation we had about where your home is?” She carefully told me that at that moment she felt really sad and felt that our relationship – that of a mother and son – had abruptly ceased because of my remark.

She felt that I had somehow separated myself from her when I said, “It is time to go back home.” She told me with a big smile, “I realize I have not lost my son,” even though as a missionary priest I have a big Columban family now in addition to my birth family.

Entering the seminary as a response to God’s call does not mean leaving the relationships that children have with their parents, nor does it mean the end of one’s personal life; it is rather a beginning of a new life in a larger Columban family. That is why we call the formation house “our second home” because this place is not just for studying or boarding; the formation house is not only a residence. The formation house is our home as we begin a new chapter in our lives.

Currently, we have nine students in our formation program, all members of the larger Columban family. Some are living in Korea while others are overseas. Four students are in South Korea: Gregorio Youngin Kim, who is preparing his deaconate ordination at present is in Seoul. Peter Daecheol is in his third year at the major seminary in Seoul.

Paul Changyoon Yee and Peter Syehyun Kwan are both in their first year at the major seminary. Five students are abroad. Lucano Hwa Ku finished the First Mission Assignment (FMA) and is preparing to go back to Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois. Augustine Jeehoon Yee and Carlo Yuigyun Jung are in the process of completing their last two semesters at Catholic Theological Union. They will do their FMA in Fiji next year.

Andrea Sunjong Ryu and Antonio Jinwook Seok are studying their first semester of theology at the Jesuit seminary, Ateneo, in Manila, the Philippines.

For these nine Korean Columban students, we ask your prayers so that they may be strengthened and nurtured in their vocations. Please tell other people around you about the vocation to the missionary priesthood so that young people can muster up the courage to respond to God’s call, to embrace new beginnings and new life.

Fr. Pat Cunningham, Vice Rector of the formation program in the Korean Region, provides the following update about ordinations, students and changes at the formation house: This past year has been a very eventful year with many comings and goings at the formation house, and of course an ordination celebration which was the highlight of our program and the Korean Region.

We witnessed the end of in the formation house chapel Fr. Ray Scanlon’s many years of dedicated service as Rector of the formation program in Korea. In extending our gratitude and saying our farewells to Fr. Ray, we had the great pleasure of welcoming his successor to the program, our new Rector Fr. Thomas Seungwon Nam!

The changing of the guard happened against the very happy backdrop of a wonderful ordination celebration where, in January 2010, Fr. John Taemoon Kwon became be ordained. It was a wonderful moment for him, his family and friends and local parishioners who literally pulled out all the stops in making it a day to remember for all who were present. It was also a day to celebrate for all those who journeyed with Fr. John during his initial formation, formators and fellow students alike, who helped nurture and strengthen his missionary vocation over the ten years or so in Columban formation.

He took up his assignment to Taiwan in September 2010 after a period of ministry in a local parish. Our thoughts and prayers went with him as he began his new assignment.

Ordinations are wonderful celebrations and a great sign of hope for our Society. They represent the culmination of many years of struggle, self questioning and moments of joy along the way when one feels a certain confirmation in one’s response to God’s call to become a missionary.

We are happy to report that we had another ordination in the region quick on the heels of Fr. John Taemoon Kwon. Gregorio Youngin Kim’s deaconate ordination was on September 18, 2010, and his ordination to the priesthood will take place in March 2011! I guess the reason why I’m getting carried away with all the ordination talk is that there has been a hiatus of eight years since our last priestly ordination.

Ordinations are a great opportunity to showcase our vocation and formation programs and to stoke up interest in Columban mission and are incredibly energizing for all the Columban family in the region! We need new students to keep the vision of our founders (who themselves were constantly motivated and energized by God’s call to spread the good news in lands far from home) and patron St. Columban alive for the next generation. Therefore, at the beginning of the year, we were only too delighted to welcome two new students, Peter Syehyun Kwan and Paul Changyoon Yee, to the program. We also welcomed the return of another student, Peter Gikwang Kyu, who had been in the program previously and is now in his fourth year in Columban formation. Following an initial period of time of getting to know one another and gradually finding our feet as a new community, everyone soon settled into the daily routine of classes, the various activities of the program and life together in the formation house.

We are also happy to announce that we have another student, although he is of the four legged canine variety and doesn’t always abide by the guidelines set out in the program. His name is Paremi, or “hope” in English. Some people have noticed that the vice rector has lost a few pounds recently, and I can put that down to Paremi as he has been putting me through my paces around the the streets near the formation house. I’m not sure who has been walking whom, by the way! Paremi, a guide dog puppy and quite a big one at 52.8 pounds, is temporarily on loan with us from the Samsung guide dog school. He will return to the guide dog school following graduation from the program at the end of the year where he will undergo postgraduate formal training. Paremi has turned out to be a big hit with our neighbors and is settling into Columban formation with aplomb.

We are fearful he may have trouble passing his exams though, as he appears to be too lackadaisical and has a tendency to break the rules! As you can see our formation program is not only engaged in forming missionaries, but guide dogs as well, so it demands a lot of versatility on all our parts. We are all on the journey together, and someday we will reach our destination!

Fr. Thomas Seungwon Nam (L) is the Rector of the Columban Formation program, and Fr. Patrick Cunningham (R) is the Vice-Rector of the Columban formation program in Seoul, South Korea.

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Columban Mission.