Our mission at Seton Education Partners is to provide the best in whole-child education, character formation, and Catholic catechesis to families in underserved communities. Our Seton Teaching Fellows touch every aspect of this mission; but, as young lay people on a year of service, they wouldn’t be able to serve without the support of strong ministers and churches. Thankfully, we’re blessed to have amazing priests, religious partnerships, and parishes to support our fellows! One of these parishes is the Church of St. Anselm and St. Roch in the South Bronx, NYC. It’s a hub for praise, worship, and the sacraments for our Fellows serving in the neighborhood. At the heart of this ministry is Fr. Mike Eguino, the pastor at St. Anselm. Our recruitment associate, Jack Morgan, sat down with Fr. Mike to ask him a few questions about the Church, the Parish, and his experience as a priest at St. Anselm. What follows is an excerpt from Fr. Mike’s interview:
Jack: Fr. Mike, thanks for being here, could you tell us a little bit about the history of St. Anselm as a parish, church, and community?
Fr. Mike: Thanks for having me! So, St. Anselm parish is approximately one hundred twenty-five years old. It was founded by a group of benedictine monks who came from Germany and established a community here in New York. They created a tremendous amount of art in what used to be called the Bernese style; long story short, everything about the artwork and the feel of the church is based on this. This style is what a people about sixty or so years before the second Vatican council interpreted as a revival of the church. They imagined this is what the Church of the future might look like. So, think of your great grandparents imagining what a church might look like for you to worship in.
Fr. Mike: The artwork is all about closeness. It’s about being able to recognize yourself in the art. You could see a family member. It’s not a piece of art that’s eons away from you, it’s something that’s near, like seeing a neighbor. It’s a distinct art style and an impressive building—the New York Historical Register of Buildings said it was one of the fifty most beautiful historical buildings in the city of New York.
Jack: Yea, I lived down the street, and loved the church. I’m into iconography and the eastern style so it really connected with me. I love the gothic style present in a lot of New York churches, but that can be very dark. The eastern style is so bright, so full of color, so stimulating.
Fr. Mike: It’s like worshiping in a ruin! St. Anselm is actually modeled after two of the most important churches in the world. First is the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Everything up to the sanctuary is very much a model of the Hagia Sophia, but on a smaller scale; and the sanctuary itself is modeled after the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, or as we call it the Pope’s church. Originally the community that lived and worshiped here was Irish, German, and Italian. In recent years we have really come to serve Puerto Rican communities, Central American communities, and a few Italian families. St. Anselm here is actually located in the poorest congressional district in America, so it’s really a beautiful gem for this community to experience.
Jack: The Hagia Sophia is great because it was modeled to be so transcendent that when you walked in, it felt like you were in heaven, not on earth, so you had these mystical experiences.
Fr. Mike: I’ll say two things: it’s a beautiful church, and it’s easy to pray here!
Jack: So, Fr. Mike, what is your favorite part about being a priest here at St. Anselm?
Fr. Mike: Actually, my favorite part about being a priest here at St. Anselm is getting to meet, know, and encounter the Seton Teaching Fellows.
Fr. Mike: Absolutely, because—I’ll be honest with you—there are lots of challenges that come from serving as a priest in an impoverished and underserved community. It brings a lot of hope, it brings a lot of joy, and it’s beautiful and inspiring to see young people who put aside their life and their plans to help others. They are doing it with a sense of purity of intention, a sense of honesty with their place in life, and they do it with a full heart. For me, I’m honored and privileged to share in the midst of that, and to walk with and accompany so many of the fellows throughout the year.
Jack: In what ways do you get to encounter the fellows?
Fr. Mike: Just the other day they had me over to the house on Tinton for a barbecue, they were like, “Hey, come on over Fr. Mike” and I came down to just hang out, I blessed the house which was cool, and just got to know them better. St. Anselm is also a formation hub for the Seton Teaching Fellows, once a month they come down here for prayer, to study, for teaching. Actually, Hagia Sophia means holy wisdom, and it’s so cool that these young people come here to grow in wisdom of thought, intention, and discernment. We started up adoration, which is really something powerful. You may say, “what are you talking about, adoration?” This is not your typical adoration. This is the adoration you experience where there is an encounter with the Lord. Young people feel closeness to God. It’s guided in that way.
Jack: I remember the one in July and it was incredible. Normally in adoration, you are in a church where it’s just the eucharist and the monstrance—which is beautiful, and all you really need obviously—but here you have the backdrop of the iconography and the mosaics which makes you realize that you are not just in an earthly environment.
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Want to learn more about St. Anselm, including how you can pray for Fr. Mike and his flock? Check out the full video interview at our youtube (including a tour of the Church). Stay tuned to our blog as we showcase more of the parishes that serve our fellows, families, and communities. If you want to learn more about being a Seton Teaching Fellow, then explore our application and see what it takes, or sign up for an info call with our friendly recruitment team—we’d love to hear from you!