‘Hands for work, hearts for love’

| May 22, 2015 | 0 Comments

At the St. Paul Seminary, priest hopefuls learn what it means to be wedded to the Church and be experts in the spiritual life

Deacon Byron Hagan,  right, practices singing during a class at the  St. Paul Seminary. At far  left observing is Deacon  Jake Anderson. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Deacon Byron Hagan, right, practices singing during a class at the St. Paul Seminary. At far left observing is Deacon Jake Anderson. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

The seven men who will be ordained priests for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis May 30 will leave the St. Paul Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree, some also with a master’s degree in theology. They all will have completed four years of learning the ins and outs of parish life under the direction of a pastor at their teaching parish. And most will have traveled to Central and South America to help prepare them to meet the needs of Spanish-speaking Catholics.

But there are other prerequisites for the priesthood.

“You have to be a gentleman before you can be a priest.”

So says Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan, rector of the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. Of the seminary’s four pillars — human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral — it emphasizes the human pillar as the one that ensures future priests are healthy, balanced and fit for ministry — “men of God who can preach, teach and sanctify,” said Msgr. Callaghan, who has served as rector for 10 years.

This year’s ordinands and those who’ve come before them are wedded to the local Church, and the people are their primary love, said Msgr. Callaghan. As such, the seminary’s role is to facilitate that.

“I feel that seminary work today is preparing a new springtime for the Church,” he said. “It takes time and needs energy, but these men are getting the tools they need to be good shepherds.”

‘A bridge to Jesus’

Father Peter Williams

Father Peter Williams

From the start of seminary, each man is entrusted to a team that includes someone representing each pillar: a priest formator, an academic advisor, a spiritual director and a teaching parish supervisor.

Father Peter Williams, vice rector at the seminary, said there are expectations and an order to the men’s community life. Priest formators of all the men meet weekly to discuss each man in seminary, from first year students to those preparing for ordination.

“It’s about how people grow. That’s what we want these men to do,” Father Williams said. “We wouldn’t accept them in seminary if we were trying to ‘find them out.’ They don’t grow just by critique and challenge; they also grow by affirmation.”

The formation team also gathers annually to evaluate the men to see “what kind of priests are we saying we’re producing, and let’s back it up,” Father Williams said, adding that spiritual directors aren’t evaluating the men in any way, just serving their relationship with the Lord. The work of the Holy Spirit is apparent when the formators see the men take steps not just to be a priest, but to flourish as a priest.

“The work they do is hard,” said Father Williams, who went through the St. Paul Seminary from 2000-2004. “When seminary is working well, it’s a very therapeutic environment. Truly, it’s all about trust.”

The seminary looks for the men’s confidence in the activities they’re called to do as a priest and in their identity as a public person, and if they have a passion for the priesthood when they talk about it.

“They can’t really fake that,” Father Williams said.

Six months after Father Williams took the helm as vice rector, he added a psychologist to the staff, Paul Ruff, who serves as assistant director of human formation.

“That’s an extra benefit for us because he’s gifted at what he does,” Father Williams said. “I’m just convinced that given our culture [and] society, human formation has become that much more important. You can’t assume things.”

The men can choose to visit with Ruff, or the seminary staff can recommend they visit with him. Father Williams said Ruff’s work can help fill out the big picture of each man’s formation, although the seminary doesn’t completely rely on that information to gain perspective.

“We need to journey with them, even in counseling,” he said. “We don’t need to know every last thing they share in counseling, but we need to have some sense of how they’re addressing things and how they’re growing. It’s a very fine line.”

Because the men go through several screenings even before entering seminary, once they’re accepted, it’s the formators’ role to go deeper to learn more. Namely, Father Williams said, they ask whether the men understand their call in terms of serving the people of God and look at what their relationships are like at the parish and with fellow seminarians.

Paraphrasing Pope Francis, Father Williams said the seminary isn’t a refuge and that it’s essential for the seminary to root out a notion some men have that entering a religious vocation would provide shelter from the complexities of the world.

“The priest is a bridge to Jesus, and that means people have to actually be able to go through him to the Lord,” Father Williams said. “Msgr. Callaghan has this great line; he says: ‘Are there eccentrics in the priesthood? Yes. But as a seminary, we don’t have the luxury to cultivate them.’ So, a guy doesn’t get to be that kind of priest. He’s here to be converted so that he can actually be an effective, healthy instrument.”

A large part of that healthy piece is addressing celibacy, which is talked about from day one and revisited regularly, Father Williams said.

“Celibacy has to be treated as something positive,” he said. “It never is not a sacrifice. But the sacrifice becomes just a fraction of what it all is. Celibacy is a gift. It’s a way to love like Christ.”

Men of many hats

Deacon Jake Anderson takes a moment to pray before Mass at the St. Paul Seminary chapel. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Deacon Jake Anderson takes a moment to pray before Mass at the St. Paul Seminary chapel. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From bridge-builder to fundraiser to school administrator, priests take on many roles in the parishes they serve. But priests don’t leave the seminary knowing everything about what it takes to run a parish. Father Williams said administration is best learned after they’re ordained and when it’s an “impending reality.”

“They have so much that’s required of them here,” Father Williams said. “At this point, it’s not that they’re not thinking about becoming pastors, but they’re just becoming priests. They’re going to have to get out there and learn how to say the Mass, their rhythm of preaching, the other sacraments. . . . So, we focus on it, but you’re limited because of the nature of seminary.”

Father Patrick Hipwell, pastor of Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul, said in his roughly 20 years as a teaching parish supervisor, he’s observed men of prayer who bring unique gifts that manifest themselves in the ministry.

Spending Wednesdays and some Sundays at their teaching parish, seminarians learn the daily life of a priest — the responsibilities and the schedule, which, Father Hipwell said, “might be a little shocking to see.” Over the years, the seminarians have different concentrations.

“Basically, they’re exposed to all the different aspects,” Father Hipwell said, adding that the key is giving seminarians enough experience to establish a foundation they can build on. “It’s important for the mere fact that they see how the education from the seminary is applied in the parish.”

While priests don’t need to be experts in everything, Father Williams said they do have to be experts in the spiritual life in order to help people find God.

“We’re not forming administrators,” Father Williams said. “That’s why parishes have a professional staff. We’re forming fathers and brothers and shepherds.

“To be a good pastor, surround yourself with good people,” he continued. “And they’re all there. If you get the right people who are committed . . . good things happen, and you just shepherd.”

Hitting the books

Sister Katarina Schuth, a Sister of St. Francis who has taught at the seminary for 24 years, said the seminary uses two important documents in forming its priests: the “Program of Priestly Formation” from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and “Pastores Dabo Vobis” (“I will give you shepherds”) by St. John Paul II.

Teaching in the areas of pastoral ministry to primarily first-year seminarians, Sister Katarina said their coursework begins with understanding the concept of evangelization and culture in ministry. To prepare them further, she gathers statistics from the dioceses where the men will serve and has them complete a project based on a relevant issue, from parish mergers and school funding to promoting vocations and the Latino community.

“This has been more urgent in the last 10 years,” Sister Katarina said. “There’s a necessity of understanding cultures and backgrounds.”

Because approximately 75 percent of parish workers are women, according to Sister Katarina, she said she considers her work with seminarians “extremely important and necessary that they gain knowledge, and also understand how to work with women.”

“It’s really a privilege, and I hope that it does some good,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to convey some spirituality.”

Deacon James Stiles, center, walks to the main building at the St. Paul Seminary with Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan, rector of the seminary, and Father Scott Carl, a faculty member. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Deacon James Stiles, center, walks to the main building at the St. Paul Seminary with Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan, rector of the seminary, and Father Scott Carl, a faculty member. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Ongoing formation

Monsignor Callaghan said formation doesn’t stop with ordination. The seminary has in the works programs for young priests to share the progress, challenges, struggles and joys in their ministry.

In any profession, ongoing education is expected, Father Williams said, and the Church is aware of the need to find ways to foster its priests. As for the seminary, it needs to find ways to carry the four pillars into each man’s priesthood.

Any program “will never be as rigorous as seminary — it shouldn’t be,” Father Williams said. “[The priest] is out to serve. But how does it stay fresh? How does his relationship with the Lord stay fresh? How does he keep learning? How does he become a better preacher? If we build something really good there, it’s actually going to just relieve a little pressure of seminary.”

Father Williams said that in the archdiocese, every priest is expected to make an annual retreat and take sabbaticals. Many priests are part of fraternal groups.

“But we can always do more,” he said.

Because strengthening their friendship with Jesus is at the core of everything else the men learn at seminary, the most important takeaway is becoming more authentic disciples of Jesus, Father Williams said.

“In some ways, that’s the thing that the man will always have to go back to, and that will be the thing that carries him wherever he’s assigned and however difficult it gets,” he said.

“I marvel at how God can mold and form these men,” Msgr. Callaghan said. “I’m delighted these men will be dynamic, energetic and joyful instruments of the Lord. That’s what I see in each one of them — hands for work, hearts for love.”

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Category: Ordinations