Fr. Arnold, seminarians study in Guatemala

The wind whipping a plastic tarp cover on the back of a small pickup truck made conversation difficult last month for a group of Spanish students studying in Guatemala, but the tight quarters helped overcome the din.

“Pickup trucks were our main mode of transportation,” said Father Chad Arnold, director of the Vocations Office and assistant director of the House of Formation, who was part of the study cohort.

Bouncing in the back of a truck with him were seminarians Dillon Cott, Chris Rumback, Andrew Meng, and William Stuever. They were accompanied by two seminarians from the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Father Arnold returned to his office in the Chancery after two weeks in Guatemala. He was replaced by Father Clay Kimbro, parochial vicar at St. Anne Parish in Wichita, who flew down to study with Sonja Bontrager, assistant professor of Spanish at Newman University, and some of her students for intensive Spanish studies. They arrived a week before Father Arnold.

Many of the Spanish-speaking Catholics in the Diocese of Wichita are now from Central America, Fr. Arnold said, adding that the poverty he saw and the country’s violent history made it clear why they left their homelands.
But the students experienced only joyful hospitality from their hosts, he said.

During a segment of his visit, a local family hosted him as part of the “mountain school,” located in a rural community. The students ate meals with the families but were housed elsewhere. Hosting students is a way for the poor families to make a little money.

“My particular family had a home with a dirt floor, with chickens underfoot, a corrugated tin roof, and open fire cooking for everything. And the cook was a mother with three children,” he said.

Father Arnold said classes were outdoors in grass huts with dogs visiting when they wished.

They were in the mountains, he said, so the evenings were cool. And because it is the rainy season, some things never felt completely felt dry, he added, including bed sheets.

“But the men took it with good humor,” Father Arnold said.

The priests and seminarians were able to compensate the families for their hospitality by organizing and celebrating Masses.

“We got to visit Blessed Stanley Rother’s shrine and have Mass in the room where he was martyred,” he said. “And one of the local women even made me a stole.”

Blessed Stanley Rother, originally from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, was martyred in 1981 during a civil war. He was beatified in 2017.

Father Arnold said reflecting on the trip he better understands that people are people. “Even though there was a language barrier, we were able to connect with the people.”

Most of the students were also immersed in their Spanish studies for five weeks in the city of Quetzaltenango. They returned to the United States on July 15.