New seminary rector brings ‘very unique gifts’

| July 20, 2018 | 0 Comments

Father Joseph Taphorn of the Archdiocese of Omaha brings more than 20 years of priestly ministry experience to his new role as rector of the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. He visited the seminary July 16 to meet with faculty and staff. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Father Joseph Taphorn will be building on two decades of rich priestly experience when he assumes the role of rector of the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in January.

Ordained a priest in 1997, Father Taphorn served in a variety of pastoral and administrative assignments in the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska, before being named to his present assignment as director and pastor of the St. John Paul II Newman Center in Omaha, which serves students at local colleges.

Father Taphorn, 47, was one of three finalists who emerged from a broad search process that began in late April when Msgr. Thomas Richter, who had been slated to assume the rector position in June, was unexpectedly recalled to assume new responsibilities in his home diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota.

Sixty names were submitted in response to the request for recommendations. Archbishop Bernard Hebda said that he was edified that “so many priests, religious and faithful of the Archdiocese [of St. Paul and Minneapolis], as well as seminarians, alumni, seminary faculty and bishops of our province took the time to not only suggest names but also to express their views on the qualities essential for the next rector.”

Father Taphorn college friends with Bishop CozzensFather Joseph Taphorn will have the opportunity to strengthen a longtime friendship when he becomes rector of the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul in January.

In the early 1990s, before being ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Omaha, he attended Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where he forged a friendship with an upperclassman from Colorado, Bishop Andrew Cozzens.

The two met at daily Mass on Father Taphorn’s first day of school.

“We both discovered that we had a lot of things in common, and wanted to grow in our faith,” Bishop Cozzens said. “Together, we did a couple of different things. We started a small, charismatic prayer group on campus called the Spirit of St. Benedict prayer group. There are actually about nine priests who came out of that prayer group.”

They also started a pro-life group on campus called Ravens Respect Life, which still exists. They arranged for students to go to the annual March for Life in Washington and organized protests at abortion facilities For Father Taphorn, the journey to the priesthood started during his high school years in Omaha.

“I began to take my faith more seriously, I began to pray every day, began to go to Mass every day,” he said. “I began to develop a love for the Eucharist and Scripture, and I just really began to see relationship with Christ as preeminent in importance.”

Thoughts of priesthood were further nurtured in college, where he made friends with people like Bishop Cozzens, who was two years ahead of him in school.

“We’re great friends,” Father Taphorn said of Bishop Cozzens. “We were both at each other’s ordinations [in 1997], and I was a deacon at his first Mass. He’s been a priest one week longer than I have. … He likes to hold that over me — that he’s a priest of Jesus Christ forever, for one week more than me.”

— Dave Hrbacek

From those names, three candidates were invited to participate in a process that Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who served as chairman of the search committee, called “very intensive.” They were each questioned by the same three teams of interviewers, drawn from seminary board members, faculty members and staff and the members of the search committee.

Bishop Cozzens noted that all were impressed by Father Taphorn.

“It’s certainly true that I knew Father Taphorn from my own history, and I knew that he would be a good candidate,” Bishop Cozzens said. “But, it was really the search committee that saw his gifts and skills, and recommended him to the archbishop as their No. 1 candidate.”

Father Taphorn brings some “very unique gifts” to the table, Bishop Cozzens said, including “vast experience in working with priests,” strong intellectual ability and recognition of the importance of lay formation.

On top of that are personal attributes, such as humility, authenticity and holiness. Bishop Cozzens noted that Father Taphorn “wasn’t afraid to show that he’s a person who has weaknesses and has learned to grow from those weaknesses.”

Another member of the search committee, Deacon Ramón Garcia of St. Stephen in Anoka, is excited to have a rector who is proficient in Spanish. He noted that Father Taphorn spent time in his hometown of Cuernavaca, Mexico, and studied Spanish there.

Deacon Garcia called the appointment of a Spanish-speaking rector “a Latino moment.” He also believes that a rector who speaks Spanish and is familiar with the culture and people can help foster vocations within the Latino community.

“He has a compassionate heart, and [that] will be very, very important for the Spanish [speaking] community,” Deacon Garcia said. “Almost half of the Catholic Church is Hispanic, so we’ll be the future [of the Church]. And now, here in Minneapolis-St. Paul, we have a rector in the heart of formation [who knows Spanish]. … Knowing the Hispanic family is a tremendous blessing for us.”

Search committee member Therese Coons of St. Anne in Hamel wrote in an email to The Catholic Spirit that Father Taphorn will be a “joyful Catholic leader of our seminary.” She was struck by his “many gifts” and noted that he has a strong desire to serve lay students. The seminary has 62 lay students enrolled in its degree programs in theology, pastoral ministry and religious education. Plus, it is home to the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute, which offers a two-year program for hundreds of students every year.

“Father Taphorn has a pastoral heart committed to the formation of both seminarians and laity,” she wrote. “In the interview process, Father Taphorn spoke enthusiastically of the importance of the laity and their complimentary role in ministering to God’s people. He told personal stories of how valuable the laity has been in his own ministry.”

Being selected for the job “was very humbling and nothing that was on my radar,” Father Taphorn told The Catholic Spirit. “But, I believe the Lord desires this, and the doors have been opened. … It seems like this would be a good fit, so I’m excited about the opportunity.”

Sensing a call to the priesthood, Father Taphorn entered seminary shortly after graduating in 1993 from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He studied at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, earning a Master of Divinity degree and a Master of Arts degree in theology before his ordination. Subsequently, he earned a licentiate in canon law at the Gregorian University in Rome.

After serving in a variety of both parish and administrative roles in the Archdiocese of Omaha, including moderator of the curia, chancellor, judicial vicar and vicar for clergy, Father Taphorn became the founding pastor and director of the St. John Paul II Newman Center. He helped to plan and develop the center, which opened in 2016 near the campus of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The center offers housing for up to 164 students and serves the spiritual needs of students at UNO and other nearby colleges.

Father Taphorn will continue directing the Newman Center until January. To ease the transition, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Father Jake Anderson, will minister in Omaha at the Newman Center for 11 months, beginning Aug. 1. He currently is parochial vicar of St. Odilia in Shoreview.

“I will miss Omaha; I love what I’m doing there,” Father Taphorn said. “But I also see a great opportunity here to serve the Church, and maybe in a different way and maybe even in a larger way, in a certain sense. Priestly formation is very important, obviously, in the life of the Church. And so, it’s really a great privilege to be invited to participate in that.”

Father Taphorn said he believes the St. Paul Seminary is a strong and healthy place for priestly and spiritual formation and he values the work that is already being accomplished there. “I don’t come in with any sense that I’m the smartest guy in the room or that I have all the answers, but I do want to learn,” he said.

When he takes on his new role, he plans to implement a vision that came out of his experience working with college students.

“A number of men with me at the Newman Center have applied to the seminary and want to be seminarians, so it’s kind of taking that formation to the next level,” he said. “So, having worked with students at the undergraduate level, this is kind of exciting to be able to work with students as they continue to mature in their vocation.”

At the core of his work will be helping the seminarians and lay students grow in their faith and their relationship with God, he said.

“Ultimately, [at the seminary] we’re ordered towards forming men after the heart of Christ,” he said. “And so, I think holiness has to come above all. It’s been said that the goal of priestly formation is intimate union with the Trinity. And so, I think that we have to put the spiritual life and that life of discipleship first.”

Father Taphorn replaces Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan, who was appointed rector in 2005 and who as rector emeritus will continue to serve the seminary in the areas of advancement and community relations. He will also serve the archdiocese as one of the ministers for clergy and as vicar for retired priests.

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