Diocese of Richmond seminarians

Diocese of Richmond seminarians

St. Francis Parish is fortunate to have two seminarians from the Diocese of Richmond assigned to the parish for the summer of 2020, and we are pleased to have them introduce themselves in their own words:


Seminarian Graham Fassero

Seminarian Graham Fassero (before his quarantine beard)

Hi, I’m Graham Fassero! I’m studying at Saint John Paul II Seminary in Washington, D.C. My home parish is St. Augustine, Richmond, which is where I came into the Church in 2016. Before entering seminary in 2019, I worked in public safety for five years, and before that, I tinkered in freelance web design. I play piano and guitar—mostly hymns and contemporary Christian music.

I grew up near Lynchburg, VA. I’m the oldest of eleven kids, all homeschooled. My parents are protestants, and they taught us to love the Bible, prayer, and some great Baptist hymns. My parents and siblings all live near Lynchburg still—five are still in school, two in college, three working—one is married and has a son. We like to spend time together playing board games, talking about books, cooking, eating foreign food, singing, playing music, and hiking.

In 2012, looking for a church that would stick together in spite of disagreement, I started going to Mass occasionally, and I was astonished by the centrality of Christ. The Mass was packed with Christ Crucified, Christ the God-man and Man of Sorrows. He was in the readings, in the prayers, in the artwork, in the songs, and—unknown to me—in the Eucharist. I researched Catholic teaching, read the church fathers, and prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for a year. I entered the Church in 2016.

In 2017, while taking the Eucharist to patients in the hospital and nursing home, I felt a call to become more involved in the Eucharist and the life of the Church. I felt a call to evangelize. And I felt a call to return to the Liturgy of the Hours. Eventually, a parishioner suggested the priesthood, which I had never considered, but which united all of these calls. I entered the seminary in 2019.

St. John Paul II seminarians

St. John Paul II seminarians

Saint John Paul II Seminary, where the Diocese of Richmond sends all our undergraduate seminarians, is just off the campus of Catholic University in D.C. The seminary houses four priests and about fifty seminarians from six dioceses. Mass, Morning and Evening Prayer, meals, and adoration are held daily at the seminary, as well as spiritual direction and formation talks. On campus, we study philosophy full-time. My favorite class is Spanish. My walk to class takes me past the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and the JPII Shrine, which are both awesome places to visit and to pray.

After four years at Saint John Paul II Seminary, I hope to study theology at another seminary (chosen by the diocese). Theology studies last for four years, with a year-long parish assignment between the second and third years. Altogether, seminary formation takes about nine years.

My favorite writers, saints, etc.: G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, John 17, Rich Mullins, Audrey Assad, the “Internet Monk,” the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Julian of Norwich, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Cecilia, St. Joseph.

All the best,
Graham Fassero


John Paul Shanahan and his nephew William

John Paul Shanahan and his nephew William

Hello St. Francis parishioners! My name is John Paul Shanahan and I just finished my second year of college seminary at St. John Paul II in DC. There I study philosophy at The Catholic University of America. I am so thrilled to be with you all this summer, I am sorry that you’ll have to put up with the goofball I am for two months.

A little bit about me:

I am desperately in love with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. It is this mystical disguise of Our Lord in the Eucharist that has drawn me close to His Sacred Heart. It is thanks to his Grace in my life that I am with you all this summer, I am so thankful for this!

The Church calls us to live the virtues of faith and charity. My family is grounded in the Faith and has given me plenty of ways to experience and practice charity. I believe myself to have been fortunate, even blessed, to have been born into a family like mine because many people have not had the experience to grow up in a family where the practice of the Faith is accepted as a normal part of life. Though my family is like other families in our struggles and occasional squabbles, throughout my life I have experienced God’s grace through my family.

Growing up in a large Irish Catholic family has given me some unique experiences. It is not unusual to wake in my home to the smell of pipe smoke and the sound of Irish folk music playing throughout the house. My father is a high school teacher and has taught me a lot about the faith, prayer, and responsibility. My dad, a former Grand Knight and pastoral council chairman, also served as a catechist to our high school confirmation students. My dad has taught me much about Church history, apologetics, the lay apostolate and shared his deep respect for the Church’s liturgy with me. My dad also supported my interest in sports, especially Notre Dame football. My mother, an occupational therapist, is a beautiful example of a loving and caring mother. Though it can’t be easy, she does an amazing job of taking care of all eight of her children while also working in her profession. She has taught me how to be patient and how to care for others. For example, mother always makes sure that the parish priest is regularly supplied with home cooked meals and desserts. My mom led the youth group for years, is a cantor at Mass, and now is the head of evangelization for my home parish. My mother is a shining example of faith and strength. My parents have been patterns of faith put into action for all eight of their children.

My schooling began at Roanoke Catholic and later in the 4th grade I transferred to Franklin County Public School. Though it was a challenge to be in public school I made some wonderful friendships that still last to this day. In public school I was one of only a few Catholics in my entire class of 500 students; it was always fun to discuss the Faith with those who assumed the worst about me as an outspoken Catholic. Some of my favorite classes at Franklin County include Air Force ROTC, Television Production, and Leadership Training. I also had success outside the classroom playing many sports including football, wrestling, frisbee, soccer, and cross country. While in high school I had three part-time jobs. My first job was at McDonald’s, which began in the summer following my freshman year. My next job was working in the meat department at a Food Lion grocery store. I met a lot of great people and enjoyed much success there. Lastly, I worked as a babysitter for my nieces and nephews; this was definitely the best job I’ve ever had.

John Paul with his parents as he moved into the seminary

John Paul with his parents as he moved into the seminary

My fascination for the Faith and the gift of the sacrificial priesthood started in 1st grade. Due to a lack of altar servers at my church, I got to start a year early. This made me super excited about the Faith and the priesthood. So when my first-grade teacher at Roanoke Catholic asked us to write and draw who we want to be when we grew up, I said I wanted to be a priest. I didn’t think I’d be the only one who said “priest” but indeed I was. Once people heard what I wanted to be, many priests came to visit me in class including Msgr. Joseph Lehman from Our Lady of Nazareth Church in Roanoke. Over the next 12 years and even today I have continued to serve at the Altar of the Holy Sacrifice. Being an altar server and volunteering as a reader and an extraordinary minister at Mass helped me to discern my vocation.

While in high school I attended pilgrimages to New York City, Baltimore, and Louisville with my parish and Fr. Mark White. Along with the pilgrimages I have also gotten to attend events like the March for Life, the Diocesan Youth Conference, and Quo Vadis discernment camp. Through these events, I have been able to prayerfully consider my calling in a spiritual and Catholic setting. The Quo Vadis camp that the diocese has put together over the last three years has been one of the most beneficial experiences for my vocation. At the camp, we heard great talks, enjoyed fraternity, and experienced the Holy Spirit. The phrase “Quo Vadis,” that is, “where are you going,” has been the focal point of my prayer life over the past four years to help discover what calling our Lord has for me. My prayer life has grown slowly but immensely thanks to these experiences of Faith.

John Paul serving Mass at his home parish with Fr. Mark White

John Paul serving Mass at his home parish with Fr. Mark White

Another important part of my vocation story is the spiritual direction I received from my pastor, Fr. Mark White, at St. Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount. Fr. Mark and I would meet regularly to discuss my prayer life and the path the Lord has placed me upon. Fr. Mark encouraged me to keep an active lifestyle physically, spiritually, and socially. Fr. Mark taught me to always be busy, increase my prayer life, avoid idleness, and develop my academics.

Now that I have been in seminary for two years I can honestly say that I have followed God in this race and cannot wait to see what else lies ahead as I prepare for the priesthood of Jesus Christ. I hope this summer to encourage the young people of the parish to be with Jesus in the Eucharist and to ask the question for themselves, “Quo Vadis Domine,” where am I going? May the Lord through the Immaculate Heart of Mary continue to guide Graham and me this summer as we encounter the Lord here at St. Francis of Assisi in Staunton, Va.

In Jesus and Mary,
John Paul Shanahan