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Montreal Diocesan School of Theology resurrects summer mission internship

In 2015, the Rev. Benjamin Stuchbery was considering quitting school. He was in his second year at McGill university and had just declared his major in religious studies, but with the academic pressure weighing down, he wasn’t sure whether to stay on that path.

Then he heard about the mission internship program running that year at Montreal Diocesan Theological College, which places students in positions with nonprofit organizations throughout Montreal. Participants in the nine-week program can do work that benefits the community and its charities while the school pays them a $5,000 stipend.

“I remember hearing about it and thinking to myself ‘this is exactly what I need’ … The opportunity to spend a summer exploring questions of vocation just felt right,” says Stuchbery.

“What I wanted to explore that summer was testing whether I was called to be a minister of the church in a pretty broad sense—not necessarily in a priestly [role]but I wanted to try facilitating a Bible study.”

Stuchbery secured a placement that summer with Montreal’s Christ Church Cathedral, where he had been a parishioner for a few years already. He worked on the church’s fair-trade goods program, ran Bible studies, did home ministry visits and, in mid-July, preached his first sermon from him.

This June, Stuchbury was ordained in the same cathedral, becoming a curate. And Montreal Diocesan (known to its students and faculty as Montreal Dio) has brought back the mission internship program after a seven-year wait. Principal the Rev. Jesse Zink, says the pandemic was one reason. The school felt it had been very tough on young people.

“It’s disrupted their education, it’s disrupted their social life, it’s disrupted professional development,” he says.

Meanwhile, society has been facing a number of important challenges, Zink says: climate change, human migration, racism and Indigenous reconciliation. Montreal in particular has been hit by the housing crisis and has seen a rise in homelessness. School officials had been getting a strong sense that many young people wanted meaningful ways to help, he says, making now the perfect time to relaunch the internship.

Zink hopes it’s here to stay. Previously, Montreal Dio had run the program one summer at a time, in 2004, 2011 and 2015. But this time, a substantial grant from the US-based private foundation the Lily Endowment and contributions from donors have Montreal Dio planning to keep the program running for five consecutive summers. In that time, Zink says, the school will be working to create a fund that will make the internship sustainable as a permanent, regular part of the school’s annual programming.

This year’s internship program hosts 13 students from across Canada, including Montreal, Calgary and Nova Scotia. From May 30 to July 29, they will spend 80 per cent of their time working with non-profits including the Mission to Seafarers, Jesuit Refugee Services, housing ministries and food security ministries. And one day a week, they’ll gather at Montreal Dio to hear guest speakers on topics ranging from professional development to the history of ministry work in Quebec.

“I think it’s a wonderful program. I can already see that in what’s been taking place this summer. It’s terrific to have these young people around here and be surrounded by their energy and enthusiasm for the ministries they’re engaged in,.Zink says.

While students need not identify as Christian to participate in the internship, Zink says this year’s cohort all have some connection to the church from their previous lives.

“Some are quite active, some grew up in the church and maybe feel a bit more more distant, some are coming into the church maybe not having been members before—all of whom have connections through the church to God in Christ. All of them are looking for ways to make that meaningful to their lives,” he says. “This program is one step for them to begin to understand how their faith speaks through them and into the world around them.”

Stuchbery says that by the time he finished the program, he was sure he would continue to pursue his religious studies degree and continue to work in the church. The experience spurred him on to consider and eventually decide on a career as a priest.

To anyone considering applying in a future year, he says, “I would say just dive in. Don’t hold back. The program the way I experienced it is a gift in terms of the freedom and the scope for creativity, and as an opportunity to test out your gifts and how they’re received in the community.”

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