BY WILLIAM BOER
One summer a minister visits a camp in Puerto Rico. He speaks to the young people about the lack of Presbyterian ministers and urges them to consider a path to ministry. He announces that at that night’s worship service he will call up anyone who is thinking of becoming a minister so that those people can be prayed for.
Photo: Kim Schmidt
A thirteen-year-old girl in the camp considers the minister’s words. Her name is Ruth-Aimée Belonni-Rosario, and she will eventually graduate from Princeton Seminary and become its associate director of admissions. At that night’s worship service when those considering the ministry are called up, she hesitates. Then, as she takes her first step forward, she becomes completely confident. Looking back on that night she says, “I felt completely calm, completely peaceful. That’s what I wanted to do, that’s what I had to do.”
It would be a long time before that calling could be realized. As the years passed Belonni-Rosario kept her calling in her mind and remained active in her church. However, she wasn’t sure if it would be her career. In college she studied business administration. Afterward, she considered law and had even applied to law school before an encounter with a female minister steered her again toward the ministry. Her pastor, who had previously preached in New Jersey, urged her to apply to Princeton Theological Seminary. It seemed very far from home, but she decided to at least apply. “If you want to be a minister, it’s good to leave your family and learn in another context,” she says. When she was admitted she took that as confirmation that her path was ministry.
The transition to a life at seminary wasn’t an easy one for Belonni-Rosario. When one speaks to her and feels her energy, it’s hard to imagine that she has ever been shy. But when she first came to the Seminary as a native Puerto Rican Spanish-speaker she had some trouble with the language barrier and was often quiet. She was already fluent in reading and writing English after having to use English language textbooks at college in Puerto Rico, but the difference between the formal English used in textbooks and the spoken language left her uncertain in conversations and often stopped her from speaking in groups. It wasn’t until her second year in seminary that she began to overcome this.
While beginning seminary was difficult, Belonni-Rosario formed strong friendships and good memories as a student. She speaks fondly of the friends she made and of the professors who encouraged her not to worry about her accent. Her best memories are of times spent hanging out with her friends, whether they were all going out or just talking in the cafeteria. She says, “People were there for each other. If someone was preaching somewhere, we would go and support them.”
After Belonni-Rosario graduated in 2007, she took a call as a pastor at a church in The Bronx. However, in 2009, she married her seminary sweetheart, Amaury Tañón-Santos, who was deeply rooted in a ministry in central Jersey. As a clergy couple they couldn’t effectively maintain two ministries so distant, and Belonni-Rosario eventually decided to seek a calling closer to her husband’s. When the position in the Seminary’s Admission’s Office opened up, it seemed like a great fit. As someone who understands that beginning seminary can be a difficult transition, she feels that her new job will put her in a position to help incoming students. “I want to give back some of what the Seminary gave to me,” she says. “I hope to reach out to more prospective students and show what Princeton is really about. It’s not only about academics. It’s an institution that cares about mission and equipping the future leaders of the church.”
In addition to her work in the Seminary’s Admissions Office, she has also been serving as a pulpit supply pastor, so she’s still preaching most Sundays. She also had the chance to preach at the PCUSA’s General Assembly in Minneapolis in July (her sermon can be read on the Seminary’s web site), which she described as “a great and humbling experience.” As she looks back over her journey she can barely believe where it has taken her. “You never know where you’re going to go,” she says, “but you always see God’s hand, guiding you every step of the way.”
William Boer, a senior at Arcadia University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, worked this past summer as an intern in the Office of Communications/Publications.