Seven years ago Deacon Bartholomew (Michael) Mercado was in the middle of completing his BA in Religious Studies at Hellenic College of the Holy Cross (HCHC). During this time, he spent the fall semester of 2010 abroad in Greece at CYA. Something which turned out to be one of the most profound experiences of his life.
Jack Bushell, is a current CYA student on a similar path. He is half-way through his studies at HCHC. The seven-year program involves a 4-year undergraduate degree to earn a BA in Religious Studies, and then a further three years in the school of Theology to receive a Master of Divinity.
On a recent trip to Athens, Deacon Bartholomew visited CYA and met with Jack Bushell. I chatted with them about their experiences at CYA in Greece as a current student and alumnus and how study abroad has been vital in enriching and advancing their personal, academic and spiritual growth.
“I had a friend, Andrew Pavlakos who had gone to CYA with another student Christopher McQueeny (ordained to the priesthood years ago). He enjoyed his time a lot. So I enquired as to how to come to CYA, and with the help of Dr. Lily Macrakis, (Academic Dean of Hellenic College at the time) I was able to go to Greece and study at CYA for a Semester in Fall ’10.”
When asked about his time at CYA, Deacon Bartholomew explained that study abroad in Greece had a profound effect on him. “I wanted to get out of a certain class at the theological school, so I asked the Dean of Hellenic College whether I could take a course at CYA of a similar nature (which I knew she loved). The class was Aegean & Ancient Greek Art & Archaeology with prof. Diamant. At first, even though I was using it as a ploy to get out of the other class, (Archaeology is not my field by any stretch) it was one of the best, most interesting classes I’ve ever taken. Professor Diamant was wonderful, it was a very different experience, and gave me a different perspective overall.”
Deacon Bartholomew was born in the United States; his mother is Greek American and father, Puerto Rican. He explained that he learned all of this Greek in Theological School. Throughout the seven year course, there are 24 credits of Modern Greek alone including, Beginning Modern Greek, Intermediate Modern Greek, and Advanced Modern Greek, as well as Liturgical Greek.
“Much can be learned by the way Modern Greek is taught at CYA. The Modern Greek program at CYA is exceptional, all of my classes were terrific. I was so impressed that years later I suggested to our student coordinator that we offer an additional option to stay in Athens at CYA for 3-4 weeks during our senior trip to Constantinople & Thessaloniki (St Helen’s Pilgrimage). Since then HCHC runs this Modern Greek program through CYA every summer. Everyone is more than content and has nothing but great things to say about the program.”
When the matter of coming to Greece came up for Jack Bushell, it was a question of choosing whether to visit for a few weeks in the summer or spend a whole four months studying abroad.
“I also had a good friend who went to CYA, Christopher Zaferes, who was my counselor in youth camps in high school. Many people at Holy Cross have been to CYA, they talked about how wonderful the experience was.” For Jack, the chance to go to Mt. Athos and experience monastic life, meet and connect with relatives and spend a semester studying Modern Greek, Byzantine History and Religion was too excellent an opportunity to pass up.
“I live and study in Massachusetts, this is my first time traveling outside the country, it’s most probably one of the only opportunities I’m going to get where I can spend 4 months in another country. I’m so glad that everything lined up. Spiritually and academically studying abroad has given me many opportunities, and tools to grow as a person. The program structure is beneficial overall and it still isn’t over.”
Jack reflects on the experience of meeting his relatives in Athens, going to the church that his grandmother went to and the house she grew up in, ” It’s a blessing, it’s really special to have these memories and to send them back home and have family look at what I’ve been doing.”
Jack’s primary focus is studying, learning the language, learning Byzantine chants, and diving into theology and spiritual life in preparation for the priesthood. “There is a saying in the seminary, many are called few are chosen, I feel the calling and hope to be chosen someday.” I want to finish my bachelor, graduate and continue with my masters. I like working with the youth ministry. I can see the prospects of a career in it, even if I get ordained. There is a lot of work to be found.”
Deacon Bartholomew during his time abroad in Greece also took the opportunity to go to Mt. Athos with a group of fellow CYA students. He fondly remembers going to Chios where his grandfather was born and visiting his relatives for the first time in Kozani. “It was a wonderful and very special opportunity meet with family and family friends, to see magnificent places, to go to the “horio” and be with everyone was absolutely wonderful.”
Upon returning from his semester abroad Greece, Deacon Bartholomew completed his Master of Divinity a year early and stayed at HCHC an extra year to complete a Master in Theology. In his final semester, he was fortunate to serve as assistant to Bishop Kyrillos of the ecumenical patriarch. “He’s an extraordinary academic who teaches dogmatics and canon law and suggested I seek a scholarship from the Catholic Committee for Cultural Collaboration”.
In 2015 Deacon Bartholomew was awarded a scholarship to attend the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. He is currently conducting academic research and anticipates staying in Rome for two more years to finish his dissertation. When asked where he sees himself in the future, he said, “I desire to go back to the U.S. and serve the church, of course, this depends upon my metropolitan bishop, I may be called to serve at the theological school with his blessing.” Jack remarked, “He might be my canon law professor.”
It was a pleasure to chat with Deacon Bartholomew and Jack Bushell and learn about their CYA journey. We welcome and encourage Alumni to stay connected with us. Take a look at the Alumni & Friends section on our website to find out how.