F.I.S.H. families provide seminarians home away from home

New seminarians at Saint Joseph Seminary College, just like anyone else leaving home for the first time, can often experience their share of excitement, loneliness, challenges, and of course, homesickness. It can be a confusing and hectic time. To help seminarians adjust to life as a stranger in a strange land, a ministry of St. Peter Catholic Church in Covington called the Families Inviting Seminarians Home program, or F.I.S.H., is providing Saint Joseph seminarians an opportunity to get away from the seminary periodically and enjoy a little bit of "home away from home.”

This year, more than 40 seminarians have paired up with 26 families on the north shore according to Christi Burns, who currently oversees the F.I.S.H. program. Families and seminarians are encouraged to visit with each other at least once a month. Most seminarians remain with their St. Peter family throughout their time at Saint Joseph.

“At this time in their lives it’s important to be part of a regular setting in a comfortable home, with a home-cooked meal while also experiencing family life and the dynamics that accompany that,” said Burns.

Tony Ramirez and Francesco Mion, both seminarians from the Archdiocese of Atlanta, were paired with Ed and Gina Bergeron in Covington, who have been participating in F.I.S.H. for about six years.

The Bergeron family, which includes four kids, frequently host Ramirez and Mion at their home for pizza nights on the weekend, family birthday parties, football games, and movies.

“They are like a second family to me. In a way, their kids have kind of become my siblings. They are really awesome. Mrs. Gina is always caring. Like the mother she is, she often asks about our classes and is genuinely interested in how our formation at the seminary is progressing,” said Ramirez.

The program also shows that despite their calling, the seminarians experience the many ups and downs of daily life just like everyone else.

“What I love about F.I.S.H. is that I grew up thinking priests weren’t approachable. Spending time with these young men shows they are human too. We strive to give them a vision of what a good Catholic family looks like. We aren’t perfect, so they see that side of it too,” said Ms. Bergeron.

When seminarians get paired with Melody and Bobby Barousse, they get the added benefit of an extended family of aunts, uncles and grandparents, who also live on the same property.

“We’re just one of four families on the property that take on the seminarians. When you think you have given something to God, really He’s the one doing you the favor. There is a sense of richness we feel being connected to these boys. Their love for Jesus is just amazing. They are such great role models for everyone that comes into contact with them, including our children and grandchildren,” said Ms. Barousse.

The Barousse family is currently paired with seminarian Nicholas Ware from Lafayette. The F.I.S.H. program not only allows for quality time together, but it also helps prepare the young men for their future roles in the priesthood.

“I think being able to witness a family that’s close and that loves one another is vital for priesthood because, as priests, we are going to be put into parishes where we develop relationships with families that are loving and supportive,” Ware said.

Joys and triumphs, along with sorrow, are part of the life that priests are expected to manage on a daily basis.

“We are people who mess up and ask for forgiveness and keep moving forward. F.I.S.H. provides a meaningful example of what they will experience as priests years from now. We do have a desire for heaven. We’re trying. The fact that they can walk with us through our challenges and imperfections and love us despite them is great practice for when they become pastors,” said Ms. Barousse.