By Fr. George Welzbacher
December 9, 2012
As I look to the future of the Church in America, what gives me reassurance, despite ominous foreshadowings, is the quality of our younger priests and our younger bishops. When (at the age of eighty-four) I speak of our “younger” priests, I’m thinking primarily of those who range in age from the middle and late twenties to the late forties and early fifties; and for me the “younger” bishops would be those principally in their fifties and sixties. Principally, not exclusively. Some of our older bishops, still young at heart, like our own beloved Archbishop Emeritus Harry J. Flynn, were fighting the good fight against the enemies of Christ’s truth at a time when many of their colleagues seemed (at least to me) to be but little short of the embodiment of well-intentioned folly, if not of outright accomodation to the radical left. Among Archbishop Flynn’s most enduring and far-reaching achievements will surely prove to be his strong encouragement of Eucharistic adoration and his transformation of the St. Paul Seminary into the stronghold of Catholicity that it is today.
Conspicuously absent in today’s younger priests is the compulsive itch for rebellion against the Church’s moral teaching that was endemic in my generation of priests and among those younger by a decade or two. This itch, however, still stirs unappeased among a diminishing, aging remnant of priests still active in ministry today, who seem forever to remain in the revolutionary mind-set of the 1960’s.
In witness whereof once could scarcely do better than to cite Father Michael Tegeder, pastor of Mother Cabrini Parish in Minneapolis (and before that, of St. Edward’s in Bloomington), whose latest letter to The Star Tribune called upon Archbishop Nienstedt to resign. Father Tegeder has made a career of touting the legitimacy and supposed benefits of contraception and, more recently, the “sweet sweet” quality of love that he perceives to be inherent in “gay” marriage.
Unlike Father Tegeder, most of the priests, who were outspoken exponents of the need radically to reform, i.e. to deconstruct, the Church’s age-old structure and doctrine, a structure and doctrine that come from Christ our Lord, have long since abandoned the priesthood. They do tend, however, to emerge now and then from the shadows, exploiting their previous status to endow themselves with credibility as they once again decry this or that teaching of the Church. Witness the recent manifesto, given maximum coverage in the local press, and signed by over a hundred aging, no longer functioning priests—”Graybeards Enraged” you might call them—who voiced vehement opposition to the proposed amendment to our state’s constitution that would define marriage—O unthinkable horror!—as between a man and a woman!
In dramatic contrast our younger priests see with perfect clarity that the kind of church for which the “Gray Beards” still yearn is something simply not worth dedicating a lifetime to. But with 20-20 vision they also see that the real Catholic Church, as Christ designed it and as He and the Holy Spirit will sustain it until history’s work is done, is something very much worth a lifetime of service, of committed, zealous, and, yes, celibate service. And for that kind of church and that kind of service they’re signing on. At this moment the St. Paul Seminary has 46 candidates studying for service to our archdiocese; St. John Vianney Seminary (on the campus of the University of St. Thomas) has 21, and 3 are studying at the North American College (at the graduate level) in Rome.
I have been blessed in coming to know a considerable number of our younger priests. Some of them I know very well. A good many of them I have taught . And the quality of zeal and intelligence that they bring to the priesthood is high. Equally encouraging is the fact that the number of zealous and intelligent candidates for the priesthood is growing. Six months from now, God willing, ten such candidates will be ordained to Christ’s priesthood for service to our archdiocese. Please keep these men in your prayers.
Other dioceses, too, are enjoying a “Second Spring”. My good friend (and for many years a former colleague at the University of St. Thomas) Father Arthur Kennedy, now Bishop Kennedy, Bishop Auxiliary to the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, has served in recent years as rector of Boston’s archdiocesan seminary, St. John’s. While he has now been given new responsibilities, he leaves behind as an estimable legacy a seminary so overflowing with candidates as to tax its capacity to provide them all with housing.
May I share with you here an account of the “problem”—O blessed problem!—now facing St. John’s Seminary in Boston.
* * * * *An Overflowing Seminary in Boston
The Wanderer, From the Mail
November 15, 2012
It is now ten years going on eleven since the clerical sex abuse scandal in the United States exploded at ground zero—the Archdiocese of Boston—with repercussions that vibrated across the United States.
Many could be forgiven for thinking that this would be the death-knell for the Church in Boston, but ten years later there are signs of the Church’s unique resilience…. Boston Magazine’s Patrick Doyle reported in the November 12 issue on the astonishing revival of St. John’s Seminary, which is attracting “good men” to study there for the priesthood, and is now at capacity.
Doyle’s feature article centers on one newly ordained priest, Eric Cardin, a native of the Boston Archdiocese who went to Harvard, where he seriously considered a vocation to the priesthood, then to St. John’s Seminary, where he studied for two years before returning to Harvard to study medicine. He then returned to St. John’s, convinced he did have a vocation after all.
When the scandal, thanks to The Boston Globe [a subsidiary of The New York Times], erupted in January 2002, wrote Doyle, it “couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Archdiocese of Boston. The Church, already facing a clergy shortage, was struggling to find enough priests to deliver [sic] weekly Mass at all of its local parishes, and the priests it did have were rapidly aging. An average of 18 were retiring each year, yet in 2002 the archdiocese managed to ordain just five replacements—and soon after, St. John’s Seminary, which for decades had been training undergraduate students to become priests, was forced to close its college program because of low enrollment.
“[Sean Cardinal] O’Malley’s task as he took control of the archdiocese was to prove to the world that the evil had been excised, that the Church was still pure and good. That meant rebuilding the archdiocese’s reputation from the ground up, finding and training a new generation of dedicated, intelligent, and trustworthy young men to minister to a traumatized flock. To do that, though, O’Malley was going to have to find the answer to a difficult question: Who on earth, to say nothing of Boston, would want to become a priest right now?...
“For Cardin, it [the sex abuse scandal] had the opposite effect. The scandal was a CHALLEGE TO BE OVERCOME, an opportunity to prove his faith. He could be part of a NEW wave of priests that would help lead the Church back to glory.”
Today, reports Doyle, the seminary has more students than it has had in twenty years, and the Archdiocese is scrambling to find space to house AN OVERFLOW. [Emphasis added].
* * * * *Even in this, the “noisiest” culture the world has ever known, there still are those who hear and who are willing to follow the call of Christ. Deo gratias!
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