Media Alert: Paulists InFormation

Quick post to let you know about a new video series being produced by the current crop of Paulist students.  It’s called “Paulists InFormation”  and it will be exploring what it means to be called to the priesthood.  The on-camera hosts will be interviewing various priests to learn about their vocations stories along with other interesting conversations.

The first teaser video is up (and embedded below).  You can follow this project on social media at:

CSPInFormation (Twitter)
PaulistsInFormation (Facebook)

— Dad


Back to School

200px-Logo_of_The_Catholic_University_of_America_svgThe Paulist students — along with a host of students from other orders and those preparing for diocesan ordination — headed back to school this week.  Ever wonder what (and where) they study?

St. Paul’s College is the formation house for the Paulist order and it’s located just a few blocks from Catholic University of America.

CUA is a private university and also a pontifical university.  This means that CUA has been approved by the Holy See itself and is authorized to grant degrees following the European system sacred faculties.  (More about that in a minute.)

The university mission statement nicely sums out what CUA is all about:

As the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States, founded and sponsored by the bishops of the country with the approval of the Holy See, The Catholic University of America is committed to being a comprehensive Catholic and American institution of higher learning, faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ as handed on by the Church. Dedicated to advancing the dialogue between faith and reason, The Catholic University of America seeks to discover and impart the truth through excellence in teaching and research, all in service to the Church, the nation and the world.

CUA was originally founded in 1887 and is the only higher ed institution founded by the U.S. Bishops.  When it began life in 1887 as a graduate research center, it was approved by Pope Leo XIII.  In 1904, it began offering undergraduate degrees and has been in continuous operation since then.

Its location — the Brookland neighborhood of DC — is sometimes called “Little Rome” due to the significant number of Catholic institutions located there.  (Some students jokingly refers to the area as the Catholic ghetto.)

The University offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees.  Evan and the other students are all working on their Masters degrees — specifically the Master of Divinity.  This is the typical path for those discerning the priesthood.  When I asked Evan to give me some taste of what he might be studying, he sent a list of some of the typical courses; History and Method of Theology, Pentateuch, Synoptic Gospels, Intro to Christian Moral Life, Theology of Sacraments of Initiation, Preaching, and Basic Supervised Ministry.

(Smart aleck that I am, I expressed the hope that this wasn’t the first time students had experienced “Into to Christian Moral Life.”)

The CUA web page for the M.Div degree gives a somewhat broader picture of the requirements:

The M.Div. degree requires a minimum of 90 credit hours of graduate courses distributed as follows: systematic theology (18), moral theology (12), biblical studies (12), and one course each in canon law, church history, liturgical studies, and spirituality (12), academic electives (12), pastoral ministry (18), and the ministry seminars (6). All students are ordinarily required to take six credits of Basic Supervised Ministry. At least one course must be taken in a non-Catholic ecclesial tradition through the offerings of the Washington Theological Consortium.

All students entering the program must take the following courses in the first fall semester: Proseminar for Masters Students, Introduction to the History and Method of Theology, and Foundations of Christian Moral Life. Of the 500 level courses, only some may be taken by M.Div. students in fulfillment of degree requirements.

This is the usual path for students in discernment.  There is, however, another.  Because CUA is a pontifical university, it is authorized to offer sacred faculty degrees.  Students can opt to pursue an STB degree; otherwise (confusingly) called the Bachelor of Sacred Theology.  Despite the name (confusing, right?) this is a masters degree in theology.  It offers more depth in theology and prepares students to pursue an STL (Licentiate of Sacred Theology) and an STD (Doctor of Sacred Theology).

CUA offers a combined M.Div and STB program for students who want to pursue a more academic track.

Evan started his classes this week and seems to be enjoying them.  It sounds more-or-less like a typical grad school experience.  He’s in classes with a wide variety of students; some of them from other orders, some of them pursuing diocesan ordination.  It’s a good mix and he’s enjoying the intellectual challenge.

On Thursday they had a school-wide Mass at the Basilica in DC.  The students from all of the various orders showed up in the clerical garb appropriate to their order and Archbishop Donald Wuerl celebrated.  A significant number of priests con-celebrated and Evan said it was quite the experience.

And…to my mind…it seems like a great way to kick off an M.Div program.

News from the Web

Global-Network-iconComing to you from around the globe via the world-wide-web, it’s News from the Web!

(Imagine that read in an urgent, nasally voice accompanied by twitchy black-and-white film footage and you’ll get the idea I was shooting for.)

This week we ran across several interesting items on the web that seemed to be worth sharing in this space.  The first is a blog post by Amy V who is the mother of a seminarian.  In part she writes:

When he was in middle school, priests would ask him if he had ever thought about being a priest someday. He hated when people asked him this and from about 8th grade until 11th grade he started saying, “No way!” He loved Jesus though, and the Lord was always leading my son more deeply into a relationship with Him. My son also loved being Catholic, and since he attended a public school, was always looking for ways to defend his beloved faith. So, right before his senior year in high school, my son felt very strongly that the Lord was confirming in his heart a call to discern the Catholic Priesthood with a deliberate and an intentional heart.

There’s quite a bit more to the post and it’s worth your time to read the whole thing.

Next up, a reflection by Paolo Puccini on his experience of the First Promises Mass.

Making my first promise to the Paulists is much like making a down payment to “buy the field.” I was led here from my encounters with the treasure that is the Kingdom of God alive in my family and my experience of church throughout my life. Though I didn’t exactly sell my possessions because the Paulists don’t make a vow of poverty, I did have to leave behind my family, many close friendships, and a job I really enjoyed in Houston.

The whole post gives some great insights into Paolo’s journey to the Paulists.

Speaking of the journey to the Priesthood, the Los Angeles diocese posted a great article about discernment and the care which is taken in identifying appropriate candidates.

The challenge for us in the Office of Vocations is to be cognizant of an ever-present reality — the need for both quality and quantity of candidates for the priesthood. Certainly we have a great need in the archdiocese for many, many more priests. 

But what the Church does not need is just anyone to become a priest. Rather, we need those who are truly called by God and recognized by the Church to have an authentic priestly vocation. 

Our previous article, “Priestly Formation and the New Evangelization: The 4 Pillars of Formation” (July 4), dealt with the four essential dimensions of priestly formation in the seminary. We need well-rounded, holy men of prayer and study and learning who demonstrate the capacity to serve God’s people well as parish priests. Thus, while a great quantity of new seminarians is a primary goal, the quality of each candidate is also of supreme importance.

Although the article is specific to the LA diocese, it is good reading for anyone contemplating a vocation.

Finally, over at The Word on Fire, Fr. Robert Baron and his team released a short film called Heroic Priesthood.  Fr. Baron explained his motivations for the project:

My goal with this film is to reach as many people as possible—certainly priests and seminarians, but especially young Catholic men. I want them to see that holiness is heroic and that Jesus Christ’s invitation to the priesthood is an invitation to an extraordinary life.

It’s a terrific film; well shot and worth twelve minutes of your time.  And — even for a sports illiterate like me — the basketball theme still worked.

— Dad

Minor Orders

320px-StMarysWestMelbAltarThe holidays are over and it’s time to get back to ordinary time — which, for me, includes blogging.

While Evan was home (we had him for the better part of a month) we spent some time talking about the seminary and what’s he’s been learning and doing.  Among other things, this past fall he was working at drop-in shelter/soup kitchen.  When they found out that he could bake, they set him to work making cookies and pies and such — anything that didn’t need to rise to be cooked.  We also spent a little time talking about how religious formation has changed over time.

This might sound a bit esoteric, but it actually gives an interesting peek inside the history of the church in the post Vatican II era.

Prior to 1973, candidates for the priesthood went through several well-defined steps during their training.  It started with the tonsure — a ceremonial haircut to mark the candidate’s entry into religious life.  Think of the bowl cut you associate with Friar Tuck or Brother Cadfael.  It was considered a sign that the candidate no longer cared about worldly fashion.  By the middle of the last century, though, the bowl cut had given way to a ceremonial clipping of five tiny tufts of hair as the points of a cross on top of the candidate’s head.

During formation, the candidate would go through the four minor ordersporter, lector, exorcist and acolyte.  The progression through the minor orders was a bit like gaining rank in the military, each of them brought the candidate new responsibilities.  None of them were Divine or Apostolic in origin and they were added to the church at different times.

Formal ordination began with the order of the subdeacon.  As the name implies, the subdeacon shares in some of the responsibilities, but not the full authority of an ordained deacon.

Candidates then — and now — go through ordination to the deaconate before making their final vows as priests.

In 1973 Pope Paul VI issued the Ministeria Quaedam which changed the minor orders into ministries.  In doing so, he said:

Nevertheless, since the minor orders have not always been the same and many functions connected with them, as at present, have also been exercised by the laity, it seems fitting to reexamine this practice and to adapt it to contemporary needs. What is obsolete in these offices will thus be removed and what is useful retained; also anything new that is needed will be introduced and at the same time the requirements for candidates for holy orders will be established.

Two of the minor orders — Lector and Acolyte — have been retained as ministries in formation programs to mark the candidate’s progress.

Many of the tasks which had been reserved for those in training have been taken over by the laity.  This reflects the goal of Vatican II to encourage “full, conscious and active participation” by “all of the faithful”.

What’s interesting to me is that there are groups seeking a return to the use of minor orders.  They feel that we have somehow lost something important.  I wouldn’t want to interfere with anyone’s personal piety, but I think they may be missing the larger picture.  Minor orders were never dogma nor did they reflect core theology.  They were simply a process which reflected the needs of the church at the time.  I would even suggest that the minor orders made it possible for the laity to sit back in the pews and treat the church as something to be observed rather than experienced; an inactive religion that kept faith at a distance from life.

For myself, getting involved has helped grow my faith.  When you dedicate time to an activity — a job, a hobby, a cause or a religion — you naturally engage more fully in it.  You learn, you question and you grow.  Which, I guess, is my ultimate point.

The formation for Holy Orders is vital to the future of the church.  We need the religious to fulfill their particular roles.  But we’re fooling ourselves if we think that we shouldn’t be in constant formation as well.

— Dad

Reflection: Vocation and Discernment

Novice Prayer Service Wednesday October 23rd, 2013

On Discernment

God, come to our assistance. Glory to the Father. As it was in the beginning. Alleluia.

Psalm 25

Antiphon: Lord, allow your guiding spirit to enter our hearts.

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

Reading from Hecker’s diary, June 6, 1844

What would the spirit have me to do? To say? It seems to give me no rest, would it have me to be still, quiet and peaceful?

What is the work that the spirit is doing now within me?

The spirit draws me ever inward and will not permit me to read, think, or do anything else but attend to it. It is like a young bride; it would have me ever in its presence speaking of its charms.


Incline my heart according to your will, O God.

Incline my heart according to your will, O God.

Speed my steps along your path,

according to your will, O God.

Glory to the Father…

Incline my heart according to your will, O God.


We pray for all of us present, that we might discern where the Holy Spirit is guiding us.

Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for all earnest seekers to find where God leads them in life.

Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for the young men joining us this weekend who are discerning a life with the Paulists.

Lord hear our prayer.

We pray that all leaders, civil and religious, listen to the people and to God

Lord hear our prayer.

For what else shall we pray?

Our Father…

O God, who enlightens the minds and inflames the hearts of the faithful by the Holy Spirit, grant that through the same Spirit we hear in our hearts where you are guiding us. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life.
Let us bless the Lord.
And give God thanks.

— Novice

Question: Who Pays for Seminary?

stack of dollars

Not all the questions about the seminary experience deal with weighty theological issues.  Some of them are, in fact, pretty mundane.

Seminary — like most higher education — isn’t cheap.  So, who is paying for the training for the next generation of priests and religious?

The answer is: it depends.

As we mentioned a while back, there are two kinds of priests:  diocesan and order.  (Sometimes referred to as secular and religious priests — toss out that bit of trivia at a party and watch your friends try to puzzle out the difference.)  Among the other differences, diocesan priests generally draw a salary and are expected to pay for their own food, transportation, etc.  Order priests generally do not draw a salary and are dependent on their order for all of their material needs.  In practice, this means that diocesan priests need to be careful managers of their money as the salary isn’t that great while order priests rely on the order to balance needs the of the entire community.  As our previous pastor put it (with tongue firmly in cheek), “Order priests take the vow of poverty, diocesan priests live it.”

This is important because diocesan seminarians often attend seminaries which aren’t associated with the diocese and will be assessed tuition.  This responsibility may be picked up by the seminarian, their parents or the diocese or some combination thereof.  The Office for Vocations for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis addresses the question by saying:

How much does it cost?  Who pays?
Everyone is concerned about the high cost of education, including potential seminarians and their families.  In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the archdiocese will pay for the room and board cost of our college seminarians as a scholarship. This does not need to be paid back. In addition, the University of St. Thomas offers a 35% discount on tuition for seminary students. The seminarian and his family are required to fund the rest of the cost through regular scholarships, financial aid, and loans.

There are (not surprisingly) many scholarships available to seminarians.  Often, there is also a distinction between those entering “college seminary” for the purpose of earning an undergraduate degree and those who have earned a bachelors degree and are moving to the next level of formation.  The Diocese of Des Moines outlines such a program:

How much will it cost to go to the seminary?

This depends on which level of Seminary formation you enter.  For those that enter as college seminarians, the cost will be the responsibility of the seminarian.  As would be typical for any other college student, you will fill out FAFSA forms for student loans.  The college seminary programs we use typically have reduced tuition for seminarians as well as scholarships that are available.  One college seminary program gives a scholarship that covers your full tuition.  Regardless, you can expect significant expenses for college, which will remain your responsibility regardless of whether you are ordained for the diocese.  The rationale behind this policy is that college is a pre-requisite for professional life in any capacity in our culture, and whether or not you become a priest your degree will serve you well into the future.  The Diocese does provide college seminarians with re-imbursement for books and certain travel required by the diocese, as well as a monthly stipend.  You are encouraged to work during the summer for extra spending money.

The policy is different for men that enter seminary for Pre-Theology (those with a college degree but in need of required philosophy before studying Theology) or Theology.  The Diocese will cover the entire amount of your tuition, room and board, as well reimburse you for books, certain travel required by the diocese, and will provide a monthly stipend.   These expenses do not have to be re-paid in the event you discern out of seminary formation.

What do I do if I have previous student loans that are not fully paid off yet?

The diocese, while it provides for much of your training as a seminarian, cannot offer assistance in paying off previous college loans. However, many loans can be deferred, some without accruing extra interest, until the time you finish seminary training and are ordained a priest, at which time you receive a salary and can pay off your loans.

As much as possible, Vocations Offices and Seminaries try to remove the obstacle of money.  And there are plenty of private donors who are doing what they can to aid in preparing the next generation of priests. An article on the Vision Vocation Network website notes:

Fortunately there are many benefactors who donate directly to seminaries or make funds available through scholarships or grants. Two Catholic organizations that have generously supported vocations are the Knights of Columbus (contact your local council) and the Laboure Society (

At the diocesan level, the Vocations Director would be able to provide better information for a particular case.

Seminarians who enter as part of an order, often have their training provided for (in whole or in part) by the order.  The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary uses a mixed approach:

How much does it cost to educate a seminarian?

he actual cost is about $22,000 per year. Most of this cost is paid through the generosity of our benefactors, who deserve our prayers every day. The cost that FSSP seminarians currently are responsible for is $7,000 per year for tuition, room and board.

What if I cannot pay for my annual tuition and room/board?

We ask all seminarians to do their best to pay everything they are able to pay. This includes actively seeking benefactors, running an ad in your home parish bulletin, asking priests for financial help, and applying for scholarships with various Catholic support groups. However, if you do not come up with all of the tuition money you will not be required to leave. Nor do we deny entrance to men due to an inability to pay these costs.

In Evan’s case, he was required to be debt-free (with the exception of his student loans) before he could be accepted as a novice.  His room, board, and training are all provided by the order and he is given a small stipend each month for incidentals such as toiletries, clothing, and personal transportation.  Living in DC (and having to switch for a college wardrobe of jeans and t-shirts to a wardrobe of business casual) the stipend is adequate, but not excessive.  Fortunately, two different Utah Councils of the Knights of Columbus (St. Olaf’s in Bountiful and St. Mary of the Assumption in Park City) have adopted Evan under the RSVP program.  He wasn’t aware of the program until they contacted him.  He was (and is) touched by their generosity.

— Dad

Question: What is the Paulist Mission?

Hecker1This past week the novices spent some time with Fr. Colgan learning more about the Paulist mission.  Seemed a good excuse to post a few words about what make the Paulists unique.

In short, the Paulists are a missionary order who work primarily in North America.

Their three-fold mission is:

— Evangelization, by giving the Word of God a voice “using tools of the modern age”

— Reconciliation with Catholics who have left the church

— Ecumenical outreach to build bridges with other faiths

All of this relates back to Fr. Isaac Hecker, a Redemptorist priest who was called by the Holy Spirit as a missionary to the people of North America.  This puts the Paulist priests out into the community as much as possible, finding ways to build bridges and understanding.

A couple of notable examples of this ministry include The Busted Halo and Fr. James DiLuzio’s Luke Live.

Busted Halo is a far reaching ministry designed to reach out to the young who have questions of faith.  (Although those of us who are “older” can learn a lot there as well.)  Among the tools of Busted Halo you’ll find a comprehensive and frequently-updated website, a daily radio program on Sirius XM, and a variety of podcasts which include homilies and a more-or-less-weekly Q&A show with Fr. Dave Dwyer and Fr. Steven Bell.

Luke Live is a parish mission in which Fr. James brings his considerable vocal and theatrical talents into play to illuminate and instruct around the Gospel of Luke.  We’ve been privileged to have him bring the mission to our parish twice now and both visits were remarkable and uplifting.

And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two of their more well-known ministries; Paulist Press and Paulist Productions.  The first of these is a publishing house and the second a film production company.

One last note, this week Evan will be meeting with a Sulpician priest.  I had never heard of the Sulpicians and was surprised to discover that they are an order which is dedicated to the formation of priests.  Kind of neat that such and order exists.  I look forward to hearing more about them in the future.

— Dad

Sad News

Tuesday, while busy at work, I received an unexpected call from Evan.

“Hi Evan, what’s up?”

“My friend Doug died.  They just called to tell me.”

That morning on the news, I’d heard about an accident at Utah State, but the student’s name hadn’t resonated with me.

The media reported his real name — Eric — not the name he’d been given by his circle of friends — Doug.

“We called him that because we decided there were too many Erics in the world and he looked like the cartoon character,” Evan explained.

Doug was part of the group that Evan ran with at Utah State.  They were close friends who supported one another through school and life and developed a tight bond.  And now one of them was gone.

Evan felt the loss deeply and had already been given permission to return for the weekend for the funeral.

“You’re part of a community back there,” I said.  “Embrace them and let them support you.”

And the Paulist community did, indeed embrace Evan.  They modified the retreat to include a prayer service for Doug (from the Paulist prayer book).  They have supported Evan and helped him with ground transportation.

Once Evan had the time for the funeral, we set about arranging his air travel.  Given that it was the Wednesday before a holiday weekend and Evan had to leave from Albany and return to New York, I was not optimistic about finding available seats.  Praise God, Expedia coughed up a flight that matched Evan’s scheduling and geographical requirements.  We booked it and sent him the confirmation.  He’ll be arriving late tonight and leaving early Monday.

This experience, too, is part of Evan’s formation.  I’ve been reading Just Call Me Lopez (a sort of novel that serves as an introduction to the life of St. Ignatius and Ignatian Spirituality) and I was struck by this passage from the introduction:

Miracles so often happen in the midst of brokenness, inadequacy, and failure. In fact, those experiences would seem to be God’s preferred location for the work of transformation.

So I pray.

I pray for Eric and his family.  I pray for Evan and all of Eric’s friends and ask God to use this experience to let them feel the embrace of His love.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. Requiescat in pace.

Edit: Forgot to mention.  Please join us in praying for Eric and his family and, if you want to express your condolences please click here to access the obituary and guest book.


Philosophy? Why?

Renee Descarte - Would you wager with this guy?

Here’s a little game I’ve enjoyed playing for the past couple of years.  Whenever talk turned to children and someone asked about my kids, I’d point out that one was a Starbucks CoffeeMaster and the other was a university student.

“Oh?  What’s he studying.”

“Philosophy,” I’d deadpan back.

The usual response was a furrowed brow and a hitch in the other person’s voice.  I could almost see them thinking, Crud!  What am I supposed to say now?

I understood their confusion.  After all, isn’t the formal study of philosophy something of a joke?  Never mind that some very successful people have degrees in philosophy.  Never mind that it can be the gateway to many careers.  Philosophy seems to be the sophisticated equivalent of underwater basket weaving.

It wouldn’t be fair to leave the other person hanging, so I always said, “Go ahead.  You can ask.”

No one — ever — replied “Ask what?”

They all knew “what.”

And they all asked.

And I always told them of his intent to enter the seminary.  It turns out that philosophy is a great background for a priest.

Evan explains it this way:

“Philosophy served as a ground work for theology and it was a good way for me to see if the priesthood was what I wanted to do,” said Cummings, adding that two of his professors at Utah State were Catholic.

You can find that quote (and some other interesting information including a mention of St. Wikipedia) in an article in this week’s Intermountain Catholic.  If you have a minute, click over there and read it.