By John Wilebski/Seminarian at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, Winona, Minnesota

Looking back at my formation over the past year and a half at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, it is beautiful to see the growth the Lord has cultivated in me. Each day he asks me to deepen my relationship with him and enter deeper into divine love. “The Program for Priestly Formation” describes seminary formation as, first and foremost, a cooperation with God’s grace. During my time at seminary I have experienced God’s grace daily, which drives me forward in my formation. I have experienced God’s grace in extraordinary ways, but most often I have witnessed how God works in the ordinariness of day-to-day life; from doing chores around the seminary, to homework, or even just enjoying the company of friends. It is through the sum of these graces that I have seen a priestly heart begin to form and develop in me, helping me to enter Christ’s ministry and learning to give of myself to others.

About a year ago while I was visiting a local nursing home in Winona, I was approached by a new resident who was wondering who I was. When I told her I was a seminarian, she shared with me that she used to be Catholic but was no longer practicing the faith. We talked for awhile, getting to know more about each other and parted ways following the visit. Upon returning to the seminary I brought the experience of that day to prayer; something in my heart told me that this was not just a chance encounter. A week later I sought out the woman again and we continued getting to know each other. Week after week I continued to visit her and in between visits I prayed for her, asking the Lord how I could be an instrument of his grace. After several weeks of conversation, she once again mentioned that she used to be Catholic, however she also mentioned that she wanted to be Catholic again. A bright and radiant smile appeared on her face, I could not help but smile back! That month after forty-plus years away from the Catholic faith she returned and once again began receiving the sacraments.

That experience has been one of the most profound blessings I have received in my seminary formation. I am reminded of a verse from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). God worked through me, bringing his beloved daughter back to his Son and the Church. Seminary has taught me to cooperate with God’s grace more fully and is continuing to deepen my relationship with Christ the Good Shepherd.

I am grateful each day for the work that the Lord continues to do in me, as well as the other men of Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary. As I continue to learn how to be a disciple of Christ Jesus, I strive to be a witness to those around me, and an instrument of God’s love.


Fr. Xavier Ilango
208 North 7th Street
Warren, MN 56762

Fr. Matt Schmitz
200 3rd Street NW
East Grand Forks, MN 56721
(218) 773-0877

Bonnie Sullivan
Administrative Assistant
(218) 281-4533