Catholic Spirit editor Joe Towalski interviewed Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan, rector-vice president of St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, on Sept. 11. Excerpts of the interview follow.
Q: The theme of a new springtime comes up a lot in regard to the St. Paul Seminary. How do you see the seminary experiencing a new springtime?
I would say the experience in recent history of Pope John Paul II’s desire for a new evangelization, to get out and spread the word, is maybe at the heart of this new springtime that we’re experiencing.
He gave the call, he gave the example — with such great determination and strength — with all of those World Youth Days, and we’ve seen his successor so gloriously calling young men and women to think about religious life and to be strong in building up families. I think that’s at the heart of what the new springtime is.
The men who come here to prepare know that they have to take that Gospel and the word of God, make it their own and enflesh it in their own lives so that they can proclaim it to others. We see it in their prayer and their devotions. We see it in the desire for “lectio divina,” we see it in so many ways today.
Q: How would you describe the men who are in formation here?
They’re coming with a real strong and determined desire to respond to a calling to serve the church, to serve the Lord. They’re coming with a willingness to do whatever they have to do, so there’s a certain courage that comes from that. To respond to a call at any time, but most especially today in the call to priesthood, takes some courage because they’re going to say yes to the Lord and no to other things.
They want to be men of the church. They have a love for the church. They don’t know as yet all about what their responsibilities or calling will be in that church, but that’s what formation is. They love the church, and they somehow want to respond to the call to serve the church.
Second, they want to be gentlemen, and we want to help them to be just that. We pray in the Mass for vocations for ardent, but gentle, servants of the Gospel. . . .
We’ve had so many examples of what that means. From the time I came here, and for the first years I served here, we had Archbishop [Harry] Flynn. He’s the quintessential gentleman. He just knows how to touch the hearts of people. All the leaders that I’ve had the good fortune to serve with, and now Archbishop [John] Nienstedt, that’s a hallmark of their ministry. They want to be men of the church and gentlemen. They respect [other people].
Then, they have to be men of the Eucharist. They have to have a love of the Eucharist because that’s at the heart of what we do. . . . We have eucharistic adoration every morning here. It’s optional from 6 to 7, but the majority of the men are there praying in the morning because they know that’s where they’re going to get the grace and the energy they need to do the work they’re called to do.
Then, they have a desire, which becomes more and more apparent, to have a devotion to our Blessed Mother. Who better than Mary could help them understand the Lord they’re going to serve.
Q: What do you think brings men here to discern whether priesthood really is the vocation for them?
I think for most people — and it’s been the history of the calling from the time the Lord began to call — it’s somehow a response to an invitation. So often, like the Lord himself when he called the Apostles, some person — whether it be their priest or the encouragement of their family or parents or their teacher or a nun — planted the seed.
Then, it’s the good example they’re teaching them. In my own life, it was my old pastor, an Irish priest whom I served from the time I was in the third grade. My brother and I served every day, and just seeing that old man struggle at times to just say Mass, you knew that was the most important moment of his day . . . and it never left me. . . .
For the majority of these men [at the seminary], the only pope they knew was John Paul II. And he had a strong influence in their lives. And so many of them, either by word or by action, have indicated that somehow he had a major influence in what they were going to do.
Then, in this local church in the last 13 years or so, Archbishop Flynn was the shepherd and his heart and soul was seminary work, and his priority was to encourage an increase in vocations. And the numbers we’ve had, I think, are phenomenal.
In his time as archbishop, he ordained close to 100 men. Between this seminary and [St. John Vianney College Seminary], we have more than 65 seminarians. Just look around the country, and that is a special grace. So there’s the influence of the shepherd. If you talk about the pope, and the archbishop and then priests who are promoting vocations, grace builds on nature, and these men are doing it.
Archbishop Nienstedt, since his arrival here, has come out once a month, and he’s had Mass here, and he has lunch with the seminarians. He is always concerned and interested in knowing about the life of the seminary. That makes it easier for me in a way knowing that you have your shepherd right there with you in this work of formation.
Q: After the clergy sexual abuse scandal came to light, there was a renewed focus on seminary formation. How has seminary formation changed over the last decade or so?
Not that it wasn’t there before, but I think there’s a dogged determination to highlight the importance of leading a virtuous life, and how important and essential the virtues are to one’s life, not only as a human being, but most especially as one who is going to be a leader or a priest.
Both from the point of view of spiritual direction and human formation, the priests who are involved in formation are trying to help the men develop a truly balanced life and to grow in holiness. If we do that, and do that in a very deliberate way and with the help of psychological assistance and all those things modern medical science tells us, I think we’re well on the way. . . .
And then there is the church itself. We had an apostolic visitation, which was to help strengthen the formation program that we have. We also have the most recent edition of the “Program of Priestly Formation” put out by our bishops, and we use that to guide our work so we’re not just pulling it out of the air.
Q: In addition to forming men for the priesthood, does the seminary contribute to the archdiocese in other ways?
We’re the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, so we’re forming and preparing lay people — men and women — to be collaborators with their priests in this mission of preaching, teaching and sanctifying in their own roles, and to help build up the body of Christ. Right now we have 74 lay students among our four degree programs here. Sixteen new students joined us this summer.
And then we just launched the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute with our interim director, Jeff Cavins. We’re excited about that because we have 150 people signed up for it. It’s not only to help enrich their faith and grow in the faith, but it’s supposed to be one of these areas where we reach out into the local church, local parishes and communities to help people strengthen their knowledge of the faith, and then to become leaders in announcing the Word.
We have a scholar-in-residence program. We’re delighted in having Dr. Janet Smith, who’s such a renowned personality. On the teaching of morality, on the teaching of John Paul II, on “Humanae Vitae,” she’s one of the outstanding people in our country. That’s been a real blessing for the seminary. The first class that she had was standing-room only.
I’d like to envision, if you will, [the seminary] as eventually a center for formation — both for the ordained and for those who are not ordained but who work in ecclesial service in the archdiocese. In many ways we’re moving strongly in that direction. The Catholic Spirit