Sunday, August 26, 2007

today's seminarians and tomorrow's priests

When I wrote about this summer's Presbyteral Assembly a couple months ago, I noted I wanted to share with you some of Fr. Knott's presentation which focused in one part on what today's seminarians "look like." Following is an article I wrote for The Record that satisfies this desire and also encourages our fellow laymen... er, laypeople... to promote vocations from a proper understanding of aforementioned seminarians.

A look at today’s seminarians and tomorrow’s priests
Matthew Hardesty
Matthew Hardesty attends St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore.

It was my honor recently to join the priests of the Archdiocese of Louisville for their annual presbyteral assembly. As a seminarian for the archdiocese, I was glad to have the opportunity to join their discussions, liturgies and fraternity. This year’s assembly centered on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ program for promoting a culture of vocations, “Fishers of Men.” (Mt. 4:19-20)

I was excited to see what the bishops’ program had to offer and how I could work with our priests to promote vocations in our archdiocese.

At the assembly, Father J. Ronald Knott — who is on the St. Meinrad School of Theology faculty — gave a presentation on “Caring for the Calls We Get,” which dealt with the “process of welcoming new priests into a presbyterate.” I have his permission to share with you some excerpts from that presentation that focused on what today’s seminarians “look like.”

As he said, “To reach them, you have to know and understand from where they are coming.”
Most of our priests have this information from Father Knott, but I would like to pass it on to you as well so that we laypeople can join them in this most important work. As our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, reminds us in his document on priestly formation, Pastores Dabo Vobis:

‘I hope that we
laypeople can
move forward to
promote vocations
using methods that
will inspire today’s
young men to discern
and follow the
call to priesthood.’

“The priestly vocation is a gift from God. … The church, therefore, is called to safeguard this gift, to esteem it and love it. She is responsible for the birth and development of priestly vocations. Consequently, the pastoral work of promoting vocations has as its active agents, as its protagonists… every part of the People of God.”

Before Father Knott began, he warned us that seminarians “do not all fit into one stereotype,” and “there are, of course, many atypical exceptions to the trend.” The presentation did not necessarily represent his personal opinions but rather the findings of two studies: one from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate and the other from the research of Father Paul Stanosz of Milwaukee.

That said, Father Knott explained that seminarians today “arrive with a radically different set of needs, presumptions and expectations than in the past,” and “for many of them, priesthood is definitely a counter-cultural lifestyle.”

Also, in reaching out to them, Father Knott said he has “worn more collars, attended more eucharistic holy hours and quoted Pope John Paul II more since I have come back to the seminary (as a professor and administrator) than I have since my ordination.” This gives us a glimpse into the sensibilities of today’s seminarians.

Father Knott noted that “many have been away from the church for years before having a conversion experience at a religious retreat or youth rally.”

I have found that this conversion often brings with it extensive reading and research, a zeal for apologetics, a love for the church and fraternity with other like-minded young adults. We should keep our eye on young adults who have these experiences and traits and not hesitate to invite them to the priesthood. All of these come together to grease the wheel of intellectual, spiritual, pastoral and human formation.

Upon ordination, today’s new priest “identifies strongly with Pope John Paul II, owns a cassock, has a strong devotion to Mary, never misses a papal youth rally, favors traditional piety and prides himself on his theological orthodoxy,” Father Knott said. The seminarian is also “drawn to theologies that exalt the status and distinctiveness of the clerical role and often consider the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a primary source for clear answers.”

They are also passionately pro-life and personally “healthy and open to learning.”

Who and what encouraged them to join the seminary?

  • Most were influenced by Web sites and EWTN rather than commercials, radio, billboards or other vocation advertising.
  • Most were encouraged by priests, friends, parishioners or mothers. Parish contacts gave more encouragement than family members. Personal invitation was very important.
  • Most were involved in parish ministries, especially as servers or lectors.
  • Among parish programs, retreats and devotions were most effective, followed by youth ministry, then Boy Scouts, Knights of Columbus, campus ministry and pro-life activities.

Father Knott concluded by saying, “Personally, I found most of them fascinating. This year’s class seemed to be outstanding in the eyes of the staff.”

On a personal note, I am thankful for Father Knott’s courage and excitement toward calling men to the priesthood. Armed with his example and the research, I hope that we laypeople can move forward to promote vocations using methods that will inspire today’s young men to discern and follow the call to priesthood.

Join us in promoting a culture of vocations by calling Father Jeff Shooner, associate vocation director for the archdiocese, at 636-0296. Please pray for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life and for our nine seminarians. In addition to myself, they are Michael Wimsatt, Stuart Priddy, David Carr, Chris Rhodes, Steve Henriksen, Chris Lubecke, Shayne Duvall and Nick Brown.

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