Seminarian John LoCoco Shares Life Via Skype with St. Mary Students
It’s 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning in Maggie Berens’ sixth grade homeroom at St. Mary Parish School in Menomonee Falls. The students have just finished studying the Beatitudes in their religion unit, and now it’s time for what has become a unique weekly tradition for the class — a cross-Atlantic Skype session with seminarian John LoCoco.
As LoCoco’s face appears on the projector screen, he is greeted by an enthusiastic chorus of pre-teen voices. “Hi John!” He smiles and waves, sports paraphernalia and religious icons visible on the wall behind him in his residence at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
There’s some brief discussion of the weather in Milwaukee vs. the weather in Rome (it’s much hotter in the eternal city, LoCoco assures the students), and then they move right onto the reason for the call: serious theological concepts. This week, LoCoco is discussing Pentecost with the students, and he begins by going through their previously-submitted questions. “I especially liked Logan’s question: did the disciples’ hair get caught on fire?” he says, as giggles ripple across the classroom. “I can answer that right now. That’s a no.”
LoCoco, 25, has spent the past few summers home in the Milwaukee archdiocese, working at St. Mary Parish and learning the ins and outs of his future life as a parish priest. These weekly calls began back in the fall, when he returned to Rome to continue his studies in anticipation of his ordination to the priesthood next May.
As luck would have it, Berens and LoCoco are old friends from their days as classmates at St. Mary’s Visitation in Elm Grove. Berens suggested that LoCoco strike up a modern-day pen-pal relationship with her homeroom class, and now, thanks to the wonders of technology, every Tuesday morning her sixth-graders are able to get a glimpse of the life of a seminarian in Rome.
Not only is LoCoco a valuable resource for the kids in their religious studies, he’s come to be a mentor to them — a friend, said Berens.
“We’re having trouble keeping young people in the Church,” she said. “I think it’s important that they can relate to a priest. They see him as a friend.”
In today’s conversation on Pentecost, LoCoco asks the students what they already know about the topic. Student Colin Stewart raises his hand and supplies the answer: “Pentecost is when the Holy Spirit came down to the disciples and Mary and allowed them to speak in different languages to preach the Gospel.”
“So, this was probably a pretty big deal, don’t you think?” says LoCoco. “Why is it important for us? Why is it worth commemorating? The Church never does something ‘just because.’ It’s always to teach something, or to commemorate a really important event.”
Stewart’s classmate, Nate Clayton, has the answer. “Because it’s the Church’s birthday, when the disciples went out to the world and started preaching the Gospel.”
LoCoco encourages the kids to look to the Book of Isaiah for further reading about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and reminds them that their baptism and future confirmation are “the continuation of what started in Pentecost. You fit right into that reality. It’s not just history, but the living Church that we’re in.”
In the submitted questions from the students, there are plenty of serious ones — Why did the Holy Spirit appear in the form of a flame? How many people were baptized on the day of Pentecost? If we have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, why don’t we always utilize them the way that we should?
But, there are also plenty that are just for fun: Who do you think will win the NBA finals? “Warriors.” Who’s your favorite basketball player and why? “Larry Bird, because he shoots the ball really well.” What’s your favorite thing to do as a seminarian? “That’s easy — going to Mass every day.” Who is your favorite Brewer player, and why? “I love Robin Yount as an all-time Brewer, but right now Eric Thames is a lot of fun to watch.”
With Berens’ permission, LoCoco assigns some homework — research one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and write out three ways to grow in that particular gift. But before LoCoco signs off, student Logan Tappa has a very pressing spiritual question that he wants him to address.
“So…we were talking in Spanish class about how fish is technically called a meat. But in Lent, we can’t have meat, but we have fish. Why is that?”
“That’s a good question. I would recommend for questions like this a website called USCCB.org. It has all of your answers right there,” said LoCoco. “They’ve said that meat does not include fish, so you can trust in that. Eat fish on Fridays, feel confident that you’re doing the right thing. And in Spanish class, don’t eat fish or meat, ever. Just study.”
Stewart said that he sees LoCoco as “someone you can talk to, and you don’t have to feel afraid of sharing something personal with him.”
“Skyping with John is really fun, and I get to find out what it’s like to be a seminarian by talking to him,” he said.
For his part, LoCoco said that his Skype relationship with the students has been a great way to “concretize” the intense period of study and prayer that precedes ordination.