As a former Army chaplain deployed in Afghanistan, Fr. Christopher Butera had to be keenly aware of his surroundings. Although the United States was decreasing its presence, attacks on U.S. forces had increased and there was a bounty on Christian chaplains. In addition to his safety, Fr. Butera was on constant alert monitoring the disposition and spiritual well-being of his soldiers.

These heightened awareness skills have proved beneficial in Butera’s role as Director of Seminarian Formation for the Diocese of Allentown. Butera identified a need for Juan Rodriguez, a Third-year Theology seminarian at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD, and matched it with funding generated by the Seminary Education Endowment Fund managed by the Catholic Foundation.

Juan Eduardo Rodriguez (right), a seminarian from Allentown, has benefited from the Seminary Education Endowment Fund thanks to the keen observation of Rev. Christopher Butera, Director of Seminarian Formation for the Diocese.

“We noticed Juan was struggling in the classroom and in his study of English as a second language,” Butera said.  “We wanted to help him meet the necessary academic and English proficiency required for ordination.”

During conversations with the Juan, Fr. Butera observed Rodriguez leaning in further than usual and turning his head whenever someone was speaking to him.  “We suspected that Juan may have a hearing issue,” he said.

Butera’s observation proved correct. Testing revealed that Rodriguez had 85 percent hearing in his left ear and only 48 percent hearing in his right. Factory noise from a previous job may have contributed to his condition. 

With funding from the Seminary Education Endowment Fund, Rodriguez was fitted with hearing aids.  It changed his world.

“I am now able to better understand when people are talking to me and to learn the correct pronunciations of English words,” Rodriguez said. “Having balanced hearing has made a big difference.”

Rodriguez was born in the Dominican Republic. His family came to the U.S. in 2007 and settled in St. Paul’s parish in Allentown. With only one Hispanic priest in the Diocese, Rodriguez has a strong desire to give back and serve the growing Hispanic population.

“The gift of hearing will allow me to complete my formation in the Seminary and then serve my Spanish community,” Rodriguez said.

The Seminary Education Endowment Fund was started three years ago to support the educational needs of seminarians in the Diocese.  The fund was started to help seminarians and their families afford the rising cost of their education.

It costs $37,000 per year to educate a seminarian. Multiply that number by eight years and families are looking at a total bill of almost $300,000.