Lessons from the Seminary

The always excellent Word-on-Fire recently posted an essay by Diocesan Seminarian Joe Heschmeyer titled 10 Things I Learned in my First Year of Seminary.  The whole essay is worth reading, but I wanted to share his tenth point because I found it particularly encouraging.

Perhaps nothing exposes one’s lingering faults quite like seminary. It is a group of Christian men who are serious about sanctity, and have cultivated an attention to detail. Furthermore, we are encouraged to engage in “fraternal correction,” on the theory that iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17), and we have a moral duty to look out for one another. But fortunately, God is there through all of this. Where I succeed, it is due to His grace. Where I fail, He stands ready to pick me up again. No matter how big my failings, faults, and sins, God’s Mercy is always bigger. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux is said to have said, “everything is grace.” 

The first year was quite a journey, but it’s one that I was humbled and thrilled to take.

I don’t know if Joe’s experience is universal for seminarians, but I have to imagine that a year spent in prayer and contemplation with a focus on spiritual growth couldn’t help but bring about a change.  And, even more encouraging is Joe’s reminder that God is always there to pick us up when we fall.

— Dad (Evan)


Closing Doors, Opening Grace

doorsOne of the comments we hear most often when we tell people about Evan’s discernment is, “That’s quite a commitment.”

Yep.  Sure is.

I’ve got to admit, though, that I often have a less-than-charitable (much less) reaction.

Marriage is quite a commitment, too.  The Church makes this clear in the Catechism when it notes:

Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.

The phrases “can never be dissolved” and “henceforth irrevocable” don’t leave much room for interpretation.  Marriage — properly considered — is a life-long commitment.

I’m not arguing that the religious life is easier than — or even equivalent to — marriage.  Both states have their challenges and blessings.  God’s grace is all that gets any of us through either of them.

What really bothers me about that comment, though, is the modern notion that commitment is a bad thing and maybe he ought to keep his options open.  I don’t think that’s the way God intended things to work and the research backs me up.

I stumbled over this study while preparing a presentation called “Hacking Your Happiness to be more Relaxed, Resilient, and Resourceful.”  The premise of the presentation is that there are simple things we can do to “hack” our own emotional states for the better.  One of the simplest is making choices.

Behaviorist and research Dan Ariely conducted research on making choices using materials you probably have around the house — undergraduates from MIT and a door simulation program that pays real cash awards.  Okay, you probably don’t have those things around your house, so I’ll just give you the lowdown from a New York Times article.

In the M.I.T. experiments, the students should have known better. They played a computer game that paid real cash to look for money behind three doors on the screen. After they opened a door by clicking on it, each subsequent click earned a little money, with the sum varying each time.

As each player went through the 100 allotted clicks, he could switch rooms to search for higher payoffs, but each switch used up a click to open the new door. The best strategy was to quickly check out the three rooms and settle in the one with the highest rewards.

Even after students got the hang of the game by practicing it, they were flummoxed when a new visual feature was introduced. If they stayed out of any room, its door would start shrinking and eventually disappear.

They should have ignored those disappearing doors, but the students couldn’t. They wasted so many clicks rushing back to reopen doors that their earnings dropped 15 percent. Even when the penalties for switching grew stiffer — besides losing a click, the players had to pay a cash fee — the students kept losing money by frantically keeping all their doors open.

Ariely explains the phenomenon this way:

“Closing a door on an option is experienced as a loss, and people are willing to pay a price to avoid the emotion of loss,” Dr. Ariely says. In the experiment, the price was easy to measure in lost cash. In life, the costs are less obvious — wasted time, missed opportunities. If you are afraid to drop any project at the office, you pay for it at home.

“We may work more hours at our jobs,” Dr. Ariely writes in his book, “without realizing that the childhood of our sons and daughters is slipping away. Sometimes these doors close too slowly for us to see them vanishing.”

It’s that sense of loss, I think, that people are expressing when they talk about the commitment inherent in pursuing a vocation.  And, there’s truth in that.  Choosing a life built on promises does limit your options.  But, as Ariely demonstrated in his experiment, we can experience greater rewards by committing to a choice.  In the final analysis, making a choice and moving ahead in God’s grace is the path to satisfaction.

— Dad


A lovely post over at the Happy Catholic blog captures the truth of this better than I did.  Read it here.


Watch Dan himself explain his research.

Life’s full of tough little choices, isn’t it?


A quick post with a couple of updates from St. Paul’s college.  If you’re looking for deep insights today, wander on over to the Catholic channel on Patheos.com.  Today’s post is just a metaphorical postcard from DC.

First up, this past weekend the college held a “Come and See” weekend retreat for men contemplating a vocation.  Evan reports that it went well.  If I understood him correctly, there were about fifteen men in attendance.  I pray that in calling those whom He will, God invites many new members to join the Paulist community.

The other news is that Evan will be travelling to Austin, Texas later this week to serve his Lenten Apostolate at St. Austin Catholic parish.  As part of the novice year, the novices spend Lent working in a Paulist parish.  This gives them a taste of pastoral work away from the rarified air of the seminary.  While he’s there, Evan will be giving a presentation on (I think) food and spirituality.

Have I mentioned that Evan is a great cook?  This past week when the snow was thick on the ground and folks couldn’t get in to prepare meals, he was called on to fix the evening meal.  He made kebabs with a strawberry sauce.  He says they were good and well received…and promised to make them for us on his next visit.

We’re looking forward to hearing about his adventures in Austin and are already grateful to the priests and parish there who will be part of his formation.

— 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 (www.labourefoundation.org).

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

My Baby’s Face

Every 8-23-05- 1901new mother loves taking photos of their baby. That new face inspires a fascination that never goes away, no matter how old they are. This week my baby’s face was added to the Paulist website under novice and student bios. I think he is the most handsome face on the page but I allow myself some personal bias on that point. Evan’s favorite food -Indian- a no brainer, his saint -St. Michael- of course, the call to the Priesthood: he had expressed all that to us a long time ago. Then t I took a moment to read all the other novice and student bios. Reading all the info on all the other students and novices was eye-opening. All the different ways that they came to hear and respond to God’s call in their lives. God really meets each of us where we are. It made me feel how they are all someone’s baby and that In the bigger picture, we are all God’s babies. Looking for Christ in the face of everyone we come across is easier when you realize how we are all truly the children of God.

— Mom

Question: What Does A Novice Do?

The first few weeks of Evan’s Novitiate have been somewhat busy, but things are beginning to settle down.

In addition to the initial retreat, his unexpected trip back to Utah, and his brief stay in New York City, he’s had the privilege of attending Jimmy Hsu’s Final Promise Mass and Mass of Ordination as a Transitional Deacon.  The participation of the entire Paulist Community in DC in these events underscores the deep commitment these men have to the order and their connectedness and it was — by all accounts — a joyous celebration.

With that past, the novices are beginning to settle into the routine that will serve them in their discernment during the coming months.  I’m going to share (as best I can) a snapshot of that life.  If I miss something, I’ll ask that the novices be generous and gentle in correcting my errors.

7:45 a.m. — Morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.  (If you’re interested in sharing that experience, you can find out more at Universalis.com and DivineOffice.org)

Breakfast after prayer

9:30 a.m. — Conference with other novices.  This may be discussions of the texts the novices have been reading, current issues facing the Church or the order, events of the day, explorations of different forms of prayer and spirituality, and theology discussions.  From what I gather, this is sort of an updated version of the old academic notion of a colloquy or seminar.

Noon — Lunch, like all meals, taken in common with the community.

The afternoon is free time during which the novices engage in personal prayer and study as they seek to enter into a deeper relationship with God.  They have all been given a number of books — some of which are mandatory reading and some of which they selected themselves.  The mandatory reading includes 101 Questions and Answers on Paul and the biography of Isaac Hecker (founder of the order), among other books.  For the self-selected reading, Evan just finished a book on Native Meso-American Spirituality and Dan (another novice whom I have gotten to know through Facebook) is reading Where the Hell is God?

4:50 p.m.  — Prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the Blessed Sacrament chapel.

5:15 p.m. — Mass in the adjacent St. Paul chapel.

5:45 p.m. — Pre-Dinner Social.

6:15 p.m. — Dinner, again taken with the community.

7:30 p.m. — Communal prayer, led by the novices.  Each day (in rotation) one of the novices selects the prayer.  Sometimes they pray the Liturgy of the Hours for the evening, sometimes other prayers.  Evan chose the Chaplet of St. Michael last week when it was his turn.

In addition to the daily routine, there are certain special days during the week.

On Wednesday, the schedule is altered to accommodate Mass at noon in the Holy Spirit Chapel and the evening prayer at 5:15 is led by the students.  (Once a candidate complete the novice year and make his first promise, he is considered a student.)

On Friday, Mass and prayer are at 7:30 a.m. and the novices have the rest of the day free.  Evan has been using his time to explore DC a bit and spent last Friday visiting the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian.

Saturday is the work period for the novices when they are assigned chores such as cleaning and mopping.

Evan also tells me that a Paulist Father (Tom Ryan, I believe) has generously allowed the novices to participate in his class “Body, Mind and Heart” which connects Christian prayer to the meditative practices of yoga.

They novices are also being trained for their apostolates.  These involve the novices working the local community and parishes to help out.  I don’t have a clear idea of what Evan will be assigned yet, but once I do I’ll be back with another post.

As always, questions are welcome.

— Dad

It’s A Date!

So, now we have a date.  A letter of instructions arrived for our son yesterday and, among other things, it gave August 21, 2013 as the start date for his Novitiate.

(I’m tempted to call that a “report date”, but that seems a little too militaristic for someone entering a religious vocation.)

It’s a little odd to think about him moving across the country in less than two months.  I’m excited for him and proud, but it will be something of an adjustment for all of us.  I imagine that any parent with a child moving far away would feel the same.

He is part of a class of four new novices and the Paulist Vocations office has asked for prayers for all of them.

Almighty and ever faithful God, you spoke your Word to the world in your Son Jesus Christ, and commissioned Saint Paul to bring your word to all nations and to the ends of the earth. Your Spirit led Servant of God Isaac Hecker to proclaim your word in North America using tools of the modern age.

We ask you to call new missionaries in the line of Saint Paul and Father Hecker.

May they burn with passion to give the Gospel a voice so that all may know the mystery of your love. May they follow the Lord Jesus with the zeal of Saint Paul and Father Hecker as they carry on the mission of the Paulist Community.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, we ask this through Christ our Lord.


You can learn more about Paulist vocations on their website or by following them on Facebook.


Text Message


I've been accepted to the
Paulist 2013 novitiate class!!!!!!!!!!

The text message from my son arrived mid-afternoon last Wednesday.  He’d just been called by his vocations director with the news.  For my part, I was meeting with my boss and trying to puzzle out some particularly confusing federal figures.  I’d know the message was coming … one way or another … but I hadn’t known when.

It was latest milestone in a journey that we’d shared with him for over two years.  He’d started his college career in Engineering and had, after a couple of years, begun the discernment process and changed his major to philosophy.

During that time, he found himself drawn to the Paulists and their particular charism.  He’d gone on discernment retreats and worked toward the day he could submit his application.

And now…he’s been accepted.

He’ll be leaving in the late summer to begin his novice year.  My wife and I are very proud (of course) and happy that he will be moving into this next phase of his journey.  We are also curious and apprehensive and thrilled and worried.  All, I suspect normal emotions for parents of children who are taking any big step.

We thought this blog might be a way for us to record and process the experience and, perhaps, hear from other parents who have experienced this particular road.  (If you’re out there reading this, we’d love to meet you in this space.)

— Dad