Rome to Dixon a ‘Saga’ for Diocesan Seminarian
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
June 4, 2020
DIXON—Seminarian James Linkenheld has been living at the North American College and studying at the Gregorian University in Rome for three years. He is on track to be ordained a transitional deacon later this year in Rome.
Such a setting provides opportunities for unique events, but Linkenheld reserves 
the word “saga” for this semester. He was interviewed on April 28.
“About two months ago is when the coronavirus really picked up in Italy, and the Prime Minister announced a lockdown. The seminaries said we could leave if we liked,” he says. “At that point, I talked with (the Rockford Diocese) and we decided, since I was comfortable, I could stay.”
Two weeks went by and half of the seminarians at North American College had left, but “we were assured at a house meeting we were good to continue” to stay in place, he says. 
Two days later, students were called to the college auditorium and were told the school could no longer assure students’ wellbeing, so it was closing.
Just that morning Linkenheld had told another student not to worry and “no way would we miss classes.” Then, he says, “two hours later, it was closed. It was so wild.”
He called the diocesan vocations office and arranged to return. Once in the U.S., he began a two-week quarantine at his family’s cabin in northern Wisconsin.
“I just stayed by myself in the north woods,” he says. “It’s beautiful up there – a comfortable space (for) prayer and to confront the Lord about events (and) sort of analyze the ways it affected me. It was disturbing getting kicked out of home and community. That (two-week) space of silence was a great blessing.”
His quarantine ended the Wednesday of Holy Week, and Linkenheld says he entered into the Triduum, with his family in Belvidere, with a different perspective of how God calls to Christians “through the everyday events of life.”
“We are not a religion that seeks to escape” the world, he says. “We seek to engage the Lord in the world.”
On Easter Monday, Linkenheld moved into the rectory at St. Patrick Parish in Dixon with Father Keith Romke, pastor. The parish had been set to be his summer assignment. He continues his classes remotely in much the same way his classmates are doing.
“My professors are not necessarily keeping to a schedule,” he says. “Each professor is emailing out recorded material, and we’re responsible for going through it on our own. Yesterday, I signed up for my exams in June ... all mine have been changed from orals to written” exams.
He is enjoying his time at St. Patrick’s, he says. 
“It’s been actually pretty exciting for me, working, in conversation with Father Romke and other people in the office in how can we be creative. (The coronavirus) generated a new impulse for missionary activity.”
Classes and discussions about ministry at school were all “speculative,” he says. “It’s been really exciting to talk about that in a real setting. I’m grateful for Father Romke for freedom and his constant invitation to collaborate with him. I’ve gained so much experience and am excited to see what priesthood might be like in the future.”
Father Romke, he adds, provides a great example.
“He loves the Lord and his people and sees his role as pastor in this crazy time to be as creative as possible to reach his people creatively and within boundaries” of COVID-19 restrictions.
Linkenheld’s days have consisted of school work in the morning, some kind of parish outreach or activity in the afternoon, and relaxing in the evenings. One outreach project has him doing “seminarian strolls” where he records himself walking around the parish campus or down the block while he muses on a topic for about 10 minutes. The strolls are posted on the parish Facebook page.
Another parish connection had him and Father Romke rearranging the rectory chapel so the tabernacle was located in front of a window. The Eucharist is not exposed, but, as the priest explained in a Facebook entry, parishioners are welcome to come to one of the four parking spaces near that window to pray.
“It’s a nice, peaceful spot, and it’s neat to come down the stairs and see a couple of cars” parked there, Linkenheld says. “Last night we saw headlights and knew someone was praying. Regular adorers have been taking times to drive over and be there.
“It was a little thing to rearrange the rectory chapel. This little thing is bearing fruit.”
His own prayer, he says, “has not changed so much as it has grown.
“I’ve still really been mulling over some insights from my quarantine on how deeply the Incarnation runs, and how to respond. I’m still trying to learn how to walk in the light of Christ.”
Linkenheld’s after-summer plans are “still up in the air,” he says. “Normal summer assignments are going to run through mid-July, but I’m not due back in Rome until September.”
That time in between could be vacation or staying at the parish. Either is okay with him, he says, as long as he can spend some time with his family. He adds that it is all up to Father Kyle Manno, director of vocations.
Linkenheld’s hands-on time at the parish is “a different shape, different texture to formation ... a different place the Lord is seeking to form me.
“And I’m excited for what that’s going to look like, and what that looks like already.” 
Shop Religious items at HOLYART.COM