By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published November 12, 2015
ATLANTA—With prayers to be a house of joy and encouragement, the new St. Charles Borromeo House was blessed by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory on Monday, Nov. 2.
There are eight young men living in the two duplexes from three countries—Korea, Vietnam and Colombia.
“I know and experience all different cultures and different languages,” said Anh “Joseph” Nguyen, 22. A native of Vietnam, he immigrated to the United States with his family in 2014 and they settled in New Jersey. Now he attends classes at Georgia State University daily to improve his English.
The St. Charles Borromeo House for Priestly Formation is a revived effort for international seminarian candidates where they can consider serving the church as a priest, improve or learn English and become familiar with American culture. The residential program has been off and on since it was initiated in 2000. It had been located before in south Fulton County, on the grounds of Most Blessed Sacrament Church.
Residents are expected to live here for a year before they attend seminary.
“The Borromeo House is a space to pray in the midst of the world. That is what I want for the men, a space to pray with others who are considering God’s call in their lives,” said Father Tim Hepburn, the vocations director who also lives there.
It will be a success if the men, both those who become seminarians and those who discern other paths, recall their time at the Borromeo House as an important step in their discernment, he said.
The house blessing took place during National Vocations Week, which ran from Nov. 1 to 7. There are about 50 men who are seminarians for the Atlanta Archdiocese. A special collection was held in parishes on Sunday, Nov. 8, for the support of the Vocations Office and the cost of seminary studies for future priests.
“The vocations program and its Borromeo House are making space in the hectic pace of people’s lives for them to hear the call of God. When people are generous to the seminarian collection, they are generous to the mission of God, who calls all people to holiness, and many people to vocations of service in the church,” Father Hepburn said in an email.
During the prayer service, Archbishop Gregory encouraged the community of men to be full of joy and encouragement.
“There should be joy in the house, fraternal joy,” he said.
Acknowledging the international mix of students, he said the diversity should be valued. “You come from many cultures. But the house must never be a house of babel” but a house where they support each other, he said.
He recalled the Eastern European tradition of house blessings where visitors come to homes to seek Jesus. The students are not Jesus, he joked, but they “know enough about the Lord to represent him for people who come to this house.”
The two duplexes are located off Spalding Drive, around the corner from St. Jude Church, Sandy Springs. The Atlanta Archdiocese purchased the two buildings at 813 Dalrymple Road in late 2014 and early 2015 for approximately $820,000. The men also have a cook, who prepares meals a couple of times a week. The community has cars for students to drive to the MARTA station to catch the train to downtown Atlanta and the campus of Georgia State University. Its sunlit chapel is used for community prayers twice a day as the men gather in the morning and evening, and Mass is celebrated weekly.
Coming from diverse backgrounds, the men said they embrace the opportunity at the Borromeo House.
Nguyen said he and his family attended daily Mass in Vietnam.
“I grew up in my parish. I studied in Sunday school every week,” he said.
Nguyen, who has dark hair and wire-rimmed glasses, worked in a nail salon after he arrived in the United States. He has an older sister. When he told his boss how he had considered being a priest, the man encouraged Nguyen to take the time to see whether it was a genuine desire. There will always be time for work, Nguyen was told, but not always the freedom to consider life as a priest.
Andres Aldana, 30, worked in a small grocery store at the American Embassy in his native Colombia before arriving in Atlanta in July. He worked part time as a parish sacristan. One of five children, Aldana said being away from home can be lonely, but video chatting with his family three times a week helps with homesickness.
A friend from Colombia, who is in seminary studying for the Atlanta Archdiocese, persuaded him to pursue his vocation in Atlanta. Aldana said seminarians are supported and encouraged here and he prays daily for the members of the Atlanta Archdiocese, who have allowed him the opportunity to pursue his vocation.
He said his goal for the year is to “hear God’s call and serve all people.”