Alberto Pacheco Carrillo
Alberto Pacheco Carrillo
ST. BENEDICT — Every parish priest needs to be a leader, but not all seminarians have the natural gift. Even those who are born to it need to develop their skills. According to three student leaders, Mount Angel Seminary rises to the occasion.

Deacon Cheeyoon Chun, the seminary’s 34-year-old student body president, learned leadership gradually.

“Seminary gives you experiences,” Deacon Chun said, explaining that each student is in charge of something, even if it’s washing dishes. Men move on to be sacristans, liturgical ministers, committee members then class officers.

Each seminarian also receives an assignment at a parish each year, doing things like teaching catechism, serving in a soup kitchen or helping form those who want to enter the church at Easter.

“These things may be small, but they are important,” said Deacon Chun, who himself cleaned a seminary lounge and worked in an after-school program.

Deacon Chun was born in Portland but moved to California and is studying for the Diocese of Orange. His grandmother is a member of Korean Martyrs Parish in Southeast Portland. The idea of priesthood came in middle school but he pushed it aside and instead pursued a career in architecture. He loved the blend of art and science, but the notion of priesthood kept returning.

He became deeply involved in parish life and realized that priesthood felt more like his calling than designing buildings.

In seminary, Deacon Chun has learned that leadership requires humility.

“It’s not my church but Christ’s church,” he said. “It’s not all about you. As leaders here, we focus on building relationships with our brothers and with God.”

Another key skill: listening. Deacon Chun often asks fellow students how they are and then remains silent. “Have your door open and be approachable,” he said.

Alberto Pacheco Carrillo, 26, is studying for the Diocese of Salt Lake City and serves as chairman of college graduates who are fulfilling prerequisites, mostly in philosophy.

The skill Pacheco Carrillo has worked on most is motivating others. That takes some doing, given the variety of men and languages in the class, plus the deleterious effects of pandemic regulations.

“My goal this year has been to create a fraternity that is united in diversity,” he said. “We all live the same things — we can’t leave the hilltop and do everything we want to do. Leadership means we move forward and do what we can do.”

Pacheco Carrillo graduated from the University of Utah in 2018 with a tech degree. Two years before, he became involved in the Newman Center and began to discern his vocation. He also was a member of a second parish. A priest told him to slow down, choose one faith community and dedicate himself to it fully. That was an early lesson in wise leadership.

Eventually, Pacheco Carrillo became a parish religious education director. The people responded well and that encouraged him to apply for seminary.

Good leaders keep an eye for people in need, Pacheco Carrillo said. An obvious case early in the year at seminary is helping rookies learn to use the complicated prayer books.

“Leaders take the initiative,” Pacheco Carrillo said. “If you see something that needs to be done, just go ahead and do it.”

Taylor K. Mitchell, a 29-year-old seminarian from the Diocese of Honolulu, is president of college seminarians.

The pandemic created a challenge for leaders to keep students active and connected. Mitchell has learned that servant leadership is key. He keeps this question in mind: “What can I do for you so that you can do your best for the community?” He likes that better than telling people what to do to succeed.

“This also seems to me to be a very Catholic way of understanding leadership,” he said. “I have always been very good at doing everything on my own, but that really doesn’t work in the long run. I could plan every event myself, but how does that help my brothers grow?”

Mitchell entered RCIA as a teen. He started teaching confirmation classes shortly after joining the church and eventually became a youth minister.

“Everyone told me, ‘You’re going to be a priest one day!’ And I thought they were all crazy,” Mitchell said.

He ran away from the idea but decided to give seminary a try. So far, he said, it’s a good fit.

As a leader, Mitchell has realized his role is not so much to make everything work no matter the cost, but to help encourage and empower others to be able to handle the tasks that are expected of them.

“No one,” he said, “wants to listen to a leader who stands at the back and directs everyone.”