E-mail and a Note about Discernment

This week a lovely note landed in the Seminarian Parents inbox.  It came from the Mum of a seminarian who…well, since she graciously offered permission to share her letter, I’ll let her tell the story.

Three years ago our 19 year old son entered a Diocesan seminary.

While not shocked – we were initially quite surprised and unsure that this was a good idea for someone so young.

At the time my husband and I tried to encourage him to ‘live’ a little before he entered. Maybe gain a bit more maturity, and life experience.  To his credit he was not to be deterred by our initial reticence and lack of enthusiasm : he was sure of his decision. He proceeded initially to ‘pre-seminary’ for a year and then the national  seminary.

And of course we supported him, loved him and were proud of him.

As parents we have always tried to support our children (he has an older brother & sister) – and when necessary offer guidance – in their life choices. University, and overseas travel for the others was a more familiar path for us  – but the seminary and priesthood was an altogether different scenario – and one I assumed other people’s sons would follow – not ours!

I desperately wanted to talk to someone in my situation who understood what I was going through – another mother of a seminarian. There seemed to be no one around – I assumed that they must all be very holy – too busy praying and going about the Lord’s work – and would have no understanding of my feelings, fears and worries for my son and his future!

I quickly became aware that the role and relationship of parents and their seminarian son is at times different than that of our other children. (Not better or worse – just different)

Because of this unique role, the opportunity for the parents and families of our seminarians to meet and get to know one another (for both support & friendship) is important.  Whether the family are heavily involved in ‘church’ – or not at all – the procedures, processes and emotions are usually uncharted territory for everyone. But nothing seemed to exist – at a local level or online.

Towards the end of last year, our son decided to leave the seminary  – I didn’t want him to enter – but now I found I didn’t want him to leave! More uncharted waters – and once again, another parent to talk to would have been great.

While he has learnt a lot in these 3 years in the seminary – I know we as parents have as well.

In immersing himself in all things ‘Catholic’ – much has also been absorbed by us too. There have been many conversations as we talked with him before he entered – and in holidays when he was home

(I am a ‘cradle Catholic’ though I think the term ‘cultural Catholic’ would have been a better description. I loved the culture and familiarity of being catholic – the nitty gritty of my faith was largely ignored. )

For me I know my knowledge of catholic ‘stuff’, liturgical matters, seminarian studies and subjects, canon law, has increased – but above all this superfluous information, my Faith has deepened and (I think) matured. For that I will always be thankful and grateful to my son  – for testing my understanding of my faith, challenging my assumptions and encouraging me to seek and develop a more personal relationship with God.

This letter was encouraging to all of us.  We recognized our own questions, fears and concerns in this mother’s story.  Cathy and I chuckled at her assumption that the parents of prospective priest must somehow be above-average on the holiness meter.  We certainly aren’t, but we are trying to improve our relationship with God.

One of the concerns she had was her son’s age.  Cathy shared that concern and … well … I’ll let her explain:

Worry about Evan being too young was a big concern of mine as well. I spoke to the formation director of his order and he offered me an interesting perspective. He stated that they encourage men to explore the priesthood as early as possible (as soon as they hear the call). If it doesn’t work out there are no hard feelings, on the contrary, they often remain friends of the group for life. If they discern that the ordained life isn’t for them, they are still young enough to enter into the secular life and have a full career. If they wait till their late 30’s, for example, they are in their forty’s when they go back to their careers and it can be difficult.

All of which brings me to a brief point that I’d like to make about the discernment process.

Discernment is a process.  Some people think that discernment is sitting around, praying for Divine guidance and getting a lightning bolt from the sky in response.  Prayer is definitely important, but prayer needs to be accompanied by action.  A great post over at Verso L’alto talks about the danger of “passive discernment.”

People tend to talk about a priestly vocation as if entering seminary is a final decision with ordination as a foregone conclusion.  That isn’t the case at all.  You might as well start making wedding plans the first time your son takes a girl out on a date.  Yes, it could lead to marriage, but it might not.  It’s important to live through the process — it’s a journey, not a destination.

When young people perceive a call to religious life, they should explore it.  That means investigating seminaries and talking to vocations directors.  It probably means entering the seminary.  Whatever happens — that time in seminary is part of the journey.

I’d be so bold as to say that active discernment is good practice for all of us.  If you think God is calling you to something — a ministry in your parish, some task in your neighborhood or your workplace, or even more prayer and study — don’t sit back and think about it.  With openness to the Spirit, jump in and listen to God through your actions.


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)

What is a Spiritual Director?

Mid-remodel. Yes, it is a mess.  Thank you for noticing.It strikes me as funny that we Americans often take a “do it yourself” attitude to spiritual development.  By contrast, we are willing to pay vast sums of money to small armies of consultants, advisors, and coaches.

When Cathy and I remodeled our home, we hired professionals to hang the cabinets, update the wiring and connect the plumbing.  (Safety pro tip: Never – EVER – enter a building where I have personally done any of the wiring or plumbing.)

When we remodeled, we were concentrating on the interior of our house — taking what we already had and improving it.  We wanted a more functional space and a more comfortable life.  I guess you could say that we wanted our house to be more of what we knew it could be.

It would be a mistake to reduce the work of a spiritual director to a mere remodeling of the soul, but there are some useful similarities.  As St. Josemaria Escriva said, “You wouldn’t think of building a good house to live in here on earth without an architect. How can you ever hope, without a director, to build the castle of your sanctification in order to live forever in heaven?”

William A. Barry, SJ, clarifies a bit in his book The Practice of Spiritual Direction when he notes that spiritual direction is “help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.”

The work of a spiritual director is done in a series of private meetings between the individual seeking direction (sometimes called a “directee”) and the the director.  An article on the OSV website explains the process this way:

Since the goal of spiritual direction is to deepen your connection and commitment to Our Lord, sessions are always deeply personal. In general, you will meet with your spiritual director on a regular basis, be it weekly or monthly, but not less frequently than every two months. In your session, you will talk about your desires and struggles in the spiritual life — not confessing sin per se, unless your spiritual director also happens to be your confessor — and trends and tendencies in such areas as prayer and self-control. Your director will make suggestions for reading or devotional exercises, and help you find answers to your spiritual questions. Often you will end the session by praying together.

A spiritual director is a guide to interior growth and renewal, not counselor or therapist.  The discussions center on the relationship between the directee and God.  The Ignatian Spirituality website lays out four key points about spiritual direction:

Spiritual direction focuses on religious experience. It is concerned with a person’s actual experience of a relationship with God.

Spiritual direction is about a relationship. The religious experience is not isolated, nor does it consist of extraordinary events. It is what happens in an ongoing relationship between the person and God. Most often this is a relationship that is experienced in prayer.

Spiritual direction is a relationship that is going somewhere. God is leading the person to deeper faith and more generous service. The spiritual director asks not just “what is happening?” but “what is moving forward?””

The real spiritual director is God. God touches the human heart directly. The human spiritual director does not “direct” in the sense of giving advice and solving problems. Rather, the director helps a person respond to God’s invitation to a deeper relationship.

All seminarians — in fact all religious — are required to have a spiritual director.  All of the Paulist Novices and Students have one.  As do all sisters, brothers, priests and deacons.  Interestingly, while all religious are obliged to have a spiritual director, spiritual directors themselves are not obliged to be religious.  In fact, Saint Pope John Paul II’s first spiritual director was a tailor by the name of Jan Tyranowski.

More importantly, anyone can have a spiritual director.  Anyone who is seeking to improve their relationship with God, to better carry out the mission of their Baptismal call, or to deepen their spirituality can engage the assistance of a spiritual director.  Fr. John C. McCloskey reminds us:

During his pontificate, Benedict XVI several times urged faithful Catholics who desired to pursue holiness and grow closer to God to make use of a spiritual director: “We always need a guide, dialogue, to go to the Lord. . . .We cannot do it with our reflections alone. And this is also the meaning of the ecclesiality of our faith, of finding this guide.” By this means, he explained, we can avoid being limited by our own subjectivist interpretations of God and what he might be calling us to do, as well as benefiting from our guide’s “own supply of knowledge and experiences in following Jesus.”

After.  Much nicer, isn't it?If you are interested in finding a spiritual director, a good place to start is with your parish priest.  Not that he would necessarily become your director, but he probably knows you well enough to steer you in the right director and he should be familiar with the resources available in your parish and your diocese.  Once you’ve identified a director, you’ll begin to meet with them to pray and discuss.  You may have a defined “trial” period to see if the relationship is a good fit for both of you.  You will certainly be introduced to new readings and (possibly) new devotions.

Along the way — if you are open — God will be speaking to you and helping you grow to become more of what He knew you could be.

— 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.

Seminarian Brewers?

There are folks who think of the seminary as a sort of monastery where silence reigns and every moment is taken up with prayer and contemplation of the mysteries.

There’s certainly a place in the seminary life for that kind of thing, but there are also moments when the parts of the community comes together to share their talents.  Seminarian Mike Hennessy is using his love of brewing beer as a springboard for evangelization.

An article on the Michigan Live website fills in the details:

If you like good beer and drinking deep of spirituality, chances are you will enjoy an upcoming class Hennessy is teaching at the Catholic Information Center. “Holy Brew: Trappists, Monks and the Catholic Tradition of Brewing Beer” is being offered at the CIC next week. A third night was added after the Tuesday class filled up.

Small wonder. The CIC is run by the Paulist Fathers, an order of priests whose prime mission is evangelization. If you want to evangelize in Grand Rapids, good beer is a surefire way to get people in the door.

In this case you won’t find a better evangelist than Hennessy. A Paulist seminarian attending Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., he is also a home brewer for his fellow seminarians there and an avid appreciator of craft brews. When he was assigned to spend this summer in Grand Rapids, he cheerfully offers that it was “most likely the Holy Spirit” at work.

There’s more if you’d like to swing over and read the whole story.

Still the Father


Last Sunday I was sitting at the computer when my phone rang.

It was Evan.  Unusual for him to call on a Sunday.

“Hi,” I said.  “What’s up?”

“I need an exit.”


“I’m lost in DC and need help getting back to the college.”

“Ah…where are you?”

“Ummm…Ord and…hang on…there’s a cross street coming up…4th.”

“Okay…stand by…”  I called up Google maps and felt a little like an air traffic controller in one of those disaster movies.  Here I was, thousands of miles away, guiding Evan in with my voice.  “Got you.  Tell me the next cross street.”

“Okay.  Here is comes…45the Place.”

“Bingo.  You’re headed west.”  I asked Google for directions to St. Paul’s college and it obligingly tossed up a cheerful blue line tracing a path across the city.”

“Okay.  I can guide you in from here.”

So I stayed on the line, giving directions, tweaking the route when real-world road conditions didn’t match my tidy-bird’s eye view, and easing Evan back home.  While he drove, he filled me in on just how he’d come to be in an unfamiliar part of the city.

As part of his training, he is encouraged to attend other churches.  In his novice year he’s attended services in churches where English is never spoken, he’s taken some of his classmates to a Mormon ward meeting, and he’s developed a particular fondness for the spirituality of the Eastern Rite churches.  This past Sunday he went to a Ruthenian church.  Like many of the Easter Rite churches, it is considered to be in full communion with Rome.  The rites are different, though, from those you’d find in the average Roman Catholic church in the U.S.

Evan enjoyed his visit, but got turned around on the way out and needed a little help finding his way.

Which reminded me that — even a continent away — I’m still the Dad.

Both of my sons still seek my advice on matters small and large.  (They don’t always take my advice — that’s the beauty of asking for advice.  Just because somebody gives it to you, you don’t have to accept it.)  While he was an undergraduate, Evan frequently asked me to review his papers and make suggestions as I saw fit.  Ian has sought my advice on school projects, his novels and various job situations.  And, at various times, I’ve served as their personal OnStar.

(Aside: I don’t blame Evan for getting lost.  Out here where Evan grew up, the cities are laid out in nice, square grids.  Addresses tend to be things like 550 East 300 South.  If you know the city and the E/W and N/S coordinates, it’s almost impossible to get lost.  Especially if you know that the Wasatch Mountain range lies to the east.  If your destination is to the east, drive toward the mountains.  South?  Keep the mountains on your left side.  By contrast, the roads of Washington DC appear to have been laid out after a night of heavy drinking by contractors who were unclear on the concept of “the shortest distance between two points.”  Of course, that could just be my western bias.)

All of which got me thinking about my relationship with God.  You know, God the Father?

(To be clear — and to avoid giving offense — I’m not suggesting that I’m God or even particularly God-like.  The situation just gave me pause to think.)

When we call out to God for help, it’s usually because we’re lost somewhere.  We’ve gotten stuck or confused or overwhelmed and need to find a way back home.  And God is still the Father.  Still there.  Waiting to give us guidance and advice.

Even though I don’t follow that advice as often (or as closely) as I should, I still find the fact of God’s presence comforting.

— Dad


For a more elegant exploration of this idea, I suggest you click over to the Ignatian Spirituality blog.


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

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 (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

Question: Can You Talk To Evan?

Phone_numberpadThis past Wednesday we took Evan to the Salt Lake airport at an early hour. (Did you know there’s a five in the morning now?)  As I’ve been talking with my colleagues and telling them that he’s gone to the seminary, one question keeps coming up over and over:

Can you talk to him?


In fact, on Friday he took a few moments out of his day to call and wish my mother a happy birthday.  On Saturday, he gave us a call to update us on his first three days at St. Paul’s College.

All along, he’s been swapping texts with his older brother and we’ve been able to send him e-mails.

I think the reason the question keeps coming up is that many of my colleagues are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — Mormons — and they speak out of their experience of sending children off on religious missions.   Although it is not required, young Mormons are encouraged to serve a voluntary mission.  During the time that these young people are away from home (two years for men, eighteen months for women) they are not permitted to call home except on Christmas and Mother’s Day.  Beyond that, Missionaries are encouraged to write a letter home once a week.  In recent years, these letters have come in the form of weekly e-mails.

Since many of these missionaries are young and serving in distant lands, parents are understandably concerned and eager to hear that their children are safe and well.

And, perhaps, some of my colleagues are confusing seminary with a cloistered order in which all communications are strictly controlled.  To be fair, there are seminaries which are more strict and seminaries which are less so.  The Paulists seem to be interested in having their seminarians engaged with the world and so Evan is readily available to communicate with us.  When he was away at college, he called us once a week to chat.  I expect that will continue so long as he’s available.

While we’re on the topic, let me share a few highlights of Evan’s week.

I asked Evan how he was doing and he admitted that it was a lot to absorb in just three days.  He was looking forward to this week’s opening retreat at Lake George.


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.


So Many Questions

In the two-and-a-half years since my wife and I became aware of our son’s vocation call, it’s been interesting telling people about it.

I remember telling some good Catholic friends about it the December after he told us. Their first response was surprise, followed closely by something that looked almost like sympathy.

We’ve seen that look over-and-over among our Catholic friends. They are all pleased, but they also understand the level of commitment that comes with the vocation.

“Is he old enough?”

That’s an interesting question. When I was his age, I was newly married. I’d made a lifelong commitment of fidelity and obedience and no one seemed to mind overmuch. It would be wonderful to believe that everyone knew how mature I was for my age and that I’d make a wonderful husband. It would be wonderful…and inaccurate. Nobody really knew what lay ahead for me — for us — but I guess we trusted in God’s grace.

As an aside, it is interesting that many people perceive priestly vows as more binding and difficult than those of marriage. Perhaps this is because a priest is taking a vow of service to God. Or, perhaps it is because people don’t fully understand the rewards of the priesthood.

Whatever the case, God has blessed Cathy and I with a long and satisfying marriage.

We approach our son’s vocation with the same faith. (We try to, at least.) His period of discernment has already lasted longer than our engagement and he has quite a bit of time yet to go. If he continues on this path to the point of ordination, he’ll be blessed with the ontological change which occurs in all priests.

Is he young? Yes. But so were we when we got married. So were thousands of priests. All any of us can do is put our trust in God and move ahead.

Of course, this isn’t the only question we’ve been asked. There have been lots of others. We’ll be addressing them in future posts. If you’d like to ask us a question, feel free to post in the comments or e-mail us at SeminarianParents@gmail.com