By Fr. George Welzbacher
October 28, 2007
"Ask and you will receive" (Matthew 7:7) is the promise of our Lord. And the prayers offered by many a parish, our own included, for an increase in priestly vocations (and for a generous response from those to whom God's call is given) are being answered, and answered very visibly right now. I am referring to what is happening at the St. John Vianney Seminary, so overflowing this year with candidates for the priesthood that for a sizable number of the seminarians lodging has had to be found off campus. For that matter, under the demanding, unabashedly orthodox and very capable leadership of Monsignor Aloysius Callaghan, the St. Paul Seminary, the archdiocese's Major Seminary and theological graduate school, is flourishing, too, exulting now in a "Second Spring" after-let him who reads understand- a prolonged, harsh and dispiriting winter.
May I share with you a report that appeared in a recent issue ( October 18 ) of the official newspaper of the Diocese of La Crosse, The Catholic Times, edited by Dan Rossini, son of St. John's parishioners Dante and Mary Jo Rossini.
* * * * *Twin Cities College Seminary Bursting at the Seams
By. Maria Weirling and The Catholic Times Staff
St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul [on the University of St. Thomas campus) has increased its housing, its staff and what it demands of its students. And the men keep coming.
The seminary's numbers are at an all-time high, with an enrollment of 154 men from 28 dioceses, making it the largest college seminary in the United States. It has more than doubled in size in the last six years....
Students at college seminaries are typically in their late teens and early 20s, studying for a bachelor's degree and gaining a background in philosophy, the prerequisite for enrollment in a major seminary, where seminarians study theology and related disciplines. Not all of those in major seminaries have attended a college seminary.
'There is a strong heroic sense of calling among these young men," said Father William Baer, St. John Vianney's rector since 1998. "They have a love for the Church and the Catholic faith that strikes them as a mission, a battle, an adventure."
It's no secret that life at St. John Vianney Seminary is challenging. The men attend a 6 a.m. Holy Hour daily; they fast from the Friday midday meal; they undergo room inspections and maintain a tightly ordered schedule. They're encouraged to embrace difficult studies with prayer, and to grow in fraternity with the other men, get in shape and face their social fears.
And the men rise to the occasion, said Father Rolf Tollefson, who is called a "formator." He is a spiritual director and lives with the seminarians.
"The men don't want to live a life of mediocrity," he recently told The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Matt Kuettel, 19, a freshman seminarian from Maternity of Mary Parish in St. Paul, said that seminary life is an adjustment.
"They throw a lot at you at once, they expect a lot of you," he said. "A lot of times you're more busy than you think you should be. But, if I had to do this all over again, there's no doubt in my mind that I would ... they give you the skills and they give you the help to accomplish more."
If the seminary were easy, a healthy man would leave because he wasn't challenged, added Father John Klockeman, who also serves at St. John Vianney.
It sounds "too strong for some, but that's exactly what young men and women want," he said. 'They want a faith to die for. They want a faith for which to live. And they want a God that is real."
The local seminary's enrollment upturn mirrors national trends, which indicate an uptick in the number of Catholic seminarians in undergraduate college programs, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, based at Georgetown University in Washington.
Father Baer attributes the seminary's growth to an increase in students coming from other Midwestern dioceses. The Diocese of La Crosse has long utilized dioceses. The Diocese of La Crosse has long utilized the seminary and has several priests who are alumni....
This year 35 of St. John Vianney seminarians are from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
This is the largest group of archdiocesan seminarians there in at least 25 years, Father Baer said. It's also the largest number of college seminarians from any single diocese in the United States.
He credits the increased number to the support and dedication of archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the work of archdiocesan vocations director Fr. Tom Wilson, as well as parishes and families encouraging vocations.
"There is a renewed commitment to the Catholic faith by high school and college students," Father Baer said, attributing the phenomenon to events such as World Youth Day, with more young people participating in Eucharistic Adoration, and with vocation directors and bishops actively promoting vocations.
Although some dioceses are encouraging men to finish their regular college degrees and then go into a major seminary, a college seminary provides an environment that fosters growth in character and in Catholic identity, Father Baer said.