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The 34-year-old from Austin, Minn., had never done anything like it – never gone door to door to sell coupon books or magazine subscriptions, let alone the Catholic Church. Before he entered seminary, the self-described introvert had worked in IT.
Yet there he was, a broad-shouldered 6’6” with a youthful face and a neatly trimmed goatee, staring down a long block, sweating in the summer heat and feeling totally unprepared. It was Neil’s first week participating in “Evangelization in Action,” a new program of The Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul, Minn., that enlists seminarians to study evangelization in the morning and practice it by evening. Neil and two other seminarians were asked to pound the pavement around a small parish in an old suburb, and they started on an adjacent street to the east.
The men took turns leading the conversation, a role that fell to Neil when they approached a red two-story house on the corner. A brunette Baby Boomer appeared, staying behind the screen door as she sized up the seminarians. She had been a member of the parish but was no longer Catholic, she said.
It almost sounded like a case-closed comment, but there was something in her voice that lacked finality. Neil stumbled through the script he’d been running in his mind until she interjected, signaling to the kitchen where she’d been making dinner.
“I’m forcing this,” he thought. He decided to ditch the script, look her in the eyes and ask why she’d left the church.
The question hung in the air a moment – honest, earnest. Decades ago the parish priest had made a comment she found offensive. It compelled her to leave the church.