I don't get invited out to social events too often. But the other day I received an offer that I couldn't refuse. How can you say "no" to a guy who says he reads my blog, Stella Borealis, as soon as he gets up in the morning to find the important news? Father Bill Baer, Rector of the St. John Vianney College Seminary at the University of St. Thomas, invited me to attend the festivities for "Moving In Day" at the seminary. This is before classes really start when new seminary students, whether Freshmen or Seniors, move into the seminary and begin processing and registering for classes and have a three day retreat as a group. Tomorrow starts with a three mile rosary procession to the Cathedral/Shrine of St. Paul.
SJV, as it is called (although there are other SJV seminaries, named after St. John Vianney, the Cure' of Ars, patron saint of priests), is the largest Catholic college seminary in the U.S. and attracts seminarians from 28 dioceses throughout the country. They come from far places like Savannah, Georgia, Biloxi, Miss., Denver, Lexington, Ken. and Tulsa, Okla., to closer places like Wichita, Omaha, Bismarck, Green Bay, Joliet, Ill., and Duluth, LaCrosse, New Ulm, St. Cloud and of course, the Twin Cities.
New dioceses sending seminarians this year include Lafayette, Ind., with seven, and Savannah with one. Other large contingents include Bismarck with nine, Denver with six, Duluth with seven, Green Bay with six, Joliet with seven, Lansing, Mich. with 20, New Ulm with six, Omaha with nine, Owensboro, KY, with six, St. Cloud with six , St. Paul-Minneapolis with 31, and Wichita with 15.
Fr. Baer, estimated that there would be 166 seminarians, 70 of whom would be new seminarians. He told me "I really can't get a final count until the last mom has left on Moving In Day."
The day starts with the 70 new men trickling in, as often as not accompanied by parents, brothers and sisters, godmothers and the usual baggage that young men need to survive. At five, a Mass was celebrated in the St. Paul Seminary chapel (the SJV chapel being way too small) with 350 in attendance. This was followed by a barbecued chicken picnic on the back lawn of SJV catered by Famous Dave's. Then came the main event of the evening when these seventy men introduced themselves to each other and to their families.
You know, some days when you read the newspaper or watch the news, some things on the worldly side of the Church are troublesome. The funeral in Boston this morning was one of them. But if you want to find inspiration, to find hope for the future, for confidence that the Holy Spirit is indeed guiding the Church, sit down at a picnic table and listen to seventy men embarking on their discernment voyage introduce themselves. The maturity and presence they possessed was stunning. Look forward to some great preachers and priests in eight years. And also some pretty good SJV football teams. Watch out, SPS! Father Baer and his staff will find a fertile field with these men.
Many were right out of high school, as would be expected. Some had a year or two of college and were transferring to SJV. Three of them came from the Vatican's own seminary, the Josephinum, in Columbus, Ohio. Some were majoring in engineering, one in "soccer" amd another in "cheerleading." One confessed to a dissolute life in recent years. Several had spent a year or more as national evangelization missionaries with Net Ministries in West St. Paul, part of the St. Paul's Outreach extended family. One had studied architecture for a couple years. Father Baer, a Georgia Tech Architecture grad before he entered the seminary, approvingly noted that "it was the proper way for someone to get ordained."
It was wonderful to have them introduce their families and express their gratitude and love for them. Listen up! It is true that the larger the family, the more likely there will be vocations. A dozen or more of them came from families with from five to 12 children.
Sometimes I have hidden being Catholic, perhaps out of shame, or maybe ambition. But I don't think that I was ever prouder than I was today when I witnessed this next class of God's holy priests embark upon their vocations.
When they graduate from SJV, these men will have completed all their philosophy requirements for entry into a major seminary, most with a major in philosophy. In the major seminary here, the St. Paul Seminary, also at St. Thomas, the concentration is on theology. Learning the rubrics and the words of the Mass, probably doesn't come until the last semester in their last year.
In this, the Year of Our Priests, declared by Pope Benedict, please pray for our priests, our seminarians, our deacons and our sisters. They are praying for us.