For young men in the Augustinian Pre-Novitiate program at Villanova University, life as students is about much more than academics. Tom Abbott, 22, of Grand Blanc, Michigan and Spencer Thomas, 24, of Tulsa, Oklahoma are at Villanova preparing their minds and spirits for a vocation to the Augustinian priesthood. Tom arrived in the Summer of 2015 to begin his liberal arts major. Spencer began taking theology and philosophy courses at Villanova in the Summer of 2016 to fulfill the requirements of formation for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Tom explained that a typical day in the Pre-Novitiate program, in some ways, looks very similar to any other student’s day. “Nine to five is classes,” he summarized. Tom is on Villanova’s campus studying and attending class with other Villanova students during the day.
The difference lies in what Tom and Spencer do before and after class. Each morning at 7:30, they gather for morning prayer at the Bellesini Friary, arriving a few minutes early to center themselves. After class at 6:00 PM, everyone living at the Friary gathers for dinner, which usually lasts an hour. While other students may be spending only twenty minutes in the dining hall to eat a quick meal, Augustinians value the community built by conversing at the dinner table. Spencer and Tom’s weekends also differ from most students’, as they spend much of their time doing ministry. “My ministry is two-fold: on Thursdays I help [people coming out of prison] in Philadelphia: it’s called Adeodatus,” Spencer explained. On Sundays, visits a prison in Philadelphia and does Eucharistic ministry, while Tom serves at a nursing home on the weekends.
There are aspects of the program that Tom and Spencer love, while others challenge them. After growing up with seven siblings, Tom appreciates that the Augustinians value community: “One of the reasons I joined [is the] community aspect. It’s like a family. You get to know each other really well.” Spencer agreed with Tom: “Their idea of community… it’s not just getting together, but it’s the fraternal nature there. I would also say [my favorite aspect is] the opportunity for ministry. It’s not just a matter of intellectual formation – it’s the experiential, too.”
When asked what challenges him, Tom replied, “Prioritizing time for the right things and prioritizing time for the right people.” He and Spencer further explained that if they are invited to do something on a weekend with their friends, but the community has already planned something, the two must put the community first and spend time with their Augustinian brothers. Most college students never have to balance school life with a religious community in such a way.
When he is not in class or with the community, Spencer enjoys reading, playing the guitar, and playing basketball. Tom spends his free time at the gym, watching movies, and hanging out with friends. During Easter break, both Tom and Spencer will be sponsoring RCIA candidates, as well as formally making the decision to go to the Novitiate in Racine, Wisconsin. In August, with their brief time at Villanova complete, both will likely be reporting to Wisconsin. Even long after their time at Villanova is complete, they will no doubt feel the effects of their intellectual and spiritual growth at the University.