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


Catholics and Mormons Working Together

This past week, a small film premiered in Salt Lake City.  What’s remarkable about the film is that it was created as a collaboration between Paulist Productions and Covenant Communications.  The local news featured a short segment highlighting the event and introducing some of the people behind the project.

What’s cool about this is that it so fully expresses the Paulist commitment to ecumenism and the use of modern media to “reveal God’s presence in the contemporary human experience.”

The film is called “Christmas for a Dollar“.  It tells the tale of a poor, Depression-era family that is seeking to find joy in a (forcibly) non-material Christmas.  It’s the sort of story you expect to see at Christmas and I imagine it’ll play well when it runs on the UP Network on December 15, 2013.

Cathy and I were excited to hear about it because the current President of Paulist Productions — Fr. Eric Andrews — is the President Elect of the Order.  Even if it was a brief glimpse of him on the news, it was nice to see and hear him.

— 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

Promises, Promises

Evan is back from his week long retreat in New York.  He had a wonderful time of prayer, liturgy, contemplation and relaxation.  This retreat — like the others he’s been on — energized him and further confirmed his commitment to the Paulist Community.

St__Paul's_College_(Washington,_D_C_)A few days ago, Michael Hennessy, made a very public commitment to the Paulists.  Michael was the entire novice class in the fall of 2012.  Evan had a chance to get to know him last summer at the 2012 Paulist Plunge.  At a July 27, 2013 Mass at St. Paul’s College in Washington, DC, Michael made his first promise to the Paulists.

The idea of a “first promise” might sound a little strange — particularly to those who are more familiar with the idea of religious vows.  The Wikipedia entry on the Paulists explains:

The Paulists are a Society of Apostolic Life, meaning they do not take the traditional vows of consecrated life; rather, by means of promises they are supposed to pursue their mission through living in community and developing holiness in their lives.

A better explanation shows up on the St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Community (Los Angeles) web page:

As a fully approved congregation in the Catholic Church, the Church looks on the Paulist Community in a very particular way. We belong to a group of congregations called societies of the apostolic life. Only 15 religious congregations have that status today. These communities do not take the three traditional vows that characterize consecrated life, but instead concentrate on their mission. The Church sees three dimensions to a society of the apostolic life.

  • Our primary purpose is our mission
  • We accomplish our mission through living in community
  • We seek holiness through living our mission and common life

The Paulists, therefore, are not like Benedictines or Dominicans or other great Orders whose lives are grounded in the three vows. Rather than taking vows, we take a promise to obey our Paulist Constitution that lays out our mission, our pursuit of holiness, and our living simply, obediently and chastely. Fr. Hecker and the other early Paulist founders felt that taking a promise reflected more directly the way things are done in North American society.

Like a vow, the promises are an important step in the formation of a Paulist.  By making the first promises, Michael Hennessy has stepped away from the title of Novice and is officially a member of the Paulist community and a seminarian.  At various stages of their formation, the seminarians make additional promises until they reach the final promise which is the penultimate step before ordination.

Each of these promises — as momentous as they are — is but a milestone on the journey toward God.  All of us are on that same journey and we each have our own milestones.  For me, one of those milestones was Evan’s revelation that he felt called to the priesthood.  Certainly it was an important part of his journey, but more than that, it caused me to reflect on my own faith — on the promises that I had made at my Confirmation.  Had I lived up to them?  Could I do better?  What role was God expecting me to play in my son’s lives now that they had become adults?

Honestly, I don’t have all of the answers to those questions; I’m not certain I even have complete answers to any of them.  What I can say is that the very act of seriously asking those questions has deepened my faith and brought me closer to God.  I expect that the promises the Paulists make do much the same for them.



Ignatius_LoyolaEvan is at Lake George, New York this week, participating in the second Paulist Plunge.  The Plunge is a week-long discernment retreat for “men 18-35 who are interested in exploring the possibility of a religious vocation, and who want to get to know the Paulists better.”  He will be attending with another of this year’s novices and other men who are exploring whether or not they are called to a religious life.

Given that tomorrow (July 31) is the Feast of St. Ignatius, it’s fitting to take a moment and talk about retreats and to point you to a couple that you can take right where you’re sitting.

Several websites define a retreat as “A retreat is a withdrawal from ordinary activities for a period of time to commune with God in prayer and reflection.”  That’s a good place to start.  It is worth noting that there are many different kinds of retreats which serve many different purposes.  Cathy and I participated in a Engaged Encounter retreat as part of our marriage preparation.  Prayer and contemplation were an important part of the experience, but so were periods of reflection (both individually and as a couple) regarding our future.  We cannot recommend the Engaged Encounter enough and have even encouraged many non-Catholic friends to send their children when they were contemplating marriage.

Years later we attended a Marriage Encounter weekend, which was another kind of retreat.  Again, there was prayer and scripture and reflection.

The idea of a retreat, a time away for prayer and reflection is ancient.  We can point to Jesus’ sojourn in the desert as a New Testament example of a retreat. The early religious who withdrew to the desert or to monasteries are examples of individuals called to permanent retreats.

It took St. Ignatius of Loyola (that handsome fellow at the top right of this post) to formalize the idea of retreats in the 1500s.  As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes:

The Society of Jesus was the first active religious order in which the practice of the retreat became obligatory by rule.

It goes on to point out:

The Society of Jesus did not reserve these exercises for its own exclusive use, but gave them to communities and individuals. Blessed Peter Faber in his “Memoriale” testifies to having given them to the grandees of Spain, Italy, and Germany, and used them in restoring hundreds of convents to their first fervour. A letter of St. Ignatius (3 Feb., 1554) recommends giving the exercises publicly in the churches. In addition, the houses of the Society often contained rooms for priests or laymen desirous of performing the exercises privately. Ignatius, having sanctioned this custom during his lifetime, one of his successors, Aquaviva, exhorted the provincials to its maintenance in 1599. In studying the spread of this practice we must not neglect the influence of St. Charles Borromeo. The cardinal and the Jesuits co-operated in order to promote this sort of apostolate. A fervent admirer and disciple of the “Spiritual Exercises”, St. Charles introduced them as a regular practice among the secular clergy by retreats for seminarians and candidates for ordination. He built at Milan an asceterium, or house solely destined to receive those making retreats, whose direction he confided to the Oblates. The zeal of St. Charles was effectual in encouraging the sons of St. Ignatius to adopt definitively the annual retreat, and to organize outside collective retreats of priests and laymen.

All of which brings us back to the Paulist Retreat House in Lake George, New York.  As part of their mission, the Paulists operate a number of retreats on their Lake George property.  Some are related to the arts (the Singer/Songwriter Residency Program and the Artists’ Residency Program), some are more contemplative (Restful Waters/Couples’ Retreat and Praying Your Life) and some are very focused like the Paulist Plunge.  This will be Evan’s second year at the plunge.  He attended the retreat last year and came back energized and renewed.

It’s pretty amazing what a few days of prayer and contemplation can accomplish.

If the idea of a retreat appeals to you, but you can’t possibly get away due to various life commitments, there are plenty of opportunities to take retreats — small and large — just where you are.

At the beginning of July, The Busted Halo published a Virtual Outdoor Retreat.  This handy, printable guide gives you a chance to get back to nature in prayer and contemplation.  The perfect thing for a summer Sunday afternoon.

If you don’t live anywhere near nature (you poor person!) and want a more technological retreat, you can take advantage of Fr. James Martin’s e-book Together on Retreat: Meeting Jesus in Prayer.

If you’re really pressed for time, but want a few moments of peace each day, consider the 3 Minute Retreats from Loyola Press.  You can access them via the web, in your e-mail or through an inexpensive app.  A few minutes of prayer can set a great tone for your whole day and each of these brief reflections will give you something to contemplate.

Whatever you choose, a retreat is a great way to reconnect with God and to strengthen your spiritual life.