success stories

Posted September 2, 2003

A View of Tomorrow's Priests

By Father Eugene Hemrick

Sociological studies I have conducted and the scuttlebutt among older priests have been highly critical of today's seminarians. Many are considered rigid, pietistic, out of touch and clerical. Some label them a generation that "doesn't wash windows" or "pick up pennies."

Recently I had the opportunity to go beyond our sociological studies and live an entire month with our seminarians at the North American College in Rome. What I experienced were seminarians who were kind, talented, prayerful and down to earth.

One night at dinner I mentioned to the seminarians that I was looking for my grandfather's hometown in Italy. The next day some of them took it upon themselves to help me search for it.

One afternoon a seminarian showed me a detailed map with San Vincenzo where my grandfather was supposed to have lived. Having tried to locate this town myself via the Internet and other sources, I knew the enormous homework he expended to help me.

After four trains and five buses, I arrived at a small outpost high in the mountains called San Vincenzo. Ironically, it ended up being the wrong town. But as my grandfather so often taught me: "Genie, it is the thought that counts."

That seminarian's effort to help me was one of numerous thoughtful gestures I experienced during my stay at the North American College. It reassured me that tomorrow's priests are going to be very pastoral since thoughtfulness of this sort is at the very heart of being pastoral.

Not only were the seminarians thoughtful, they were talented. I sat with men who were civil lawyers, successful businessmen, technicians and talented musicians before entering the seminary.

It delighted me when I was with them that we truly listened to each other when sharing our experiences. Listening is another desired quality in a priest who is pastoral.

One evening, the seminary had an international food night in which students of various cultures prepared their traditional dishes. I have not eaten more delicious food! It occurred to me that these men not only will survive the solitude of living alone in rectories, they will thrive. No doubt they will use their cooking skills to bring friends together around their dinner tables -- yet another excellent pastoral skill and one that will help to dispel loneliness in the priesthood.

Among the seminarians I got to know were some who ventured out during Easter break to explore mountains they never had seen before -- another sign of their down-to-earthness.

Yes, our seminarians pray -- often! Without exaggeration, whenever I passed the chapel I found students making holy hours. It was a constant reminder to me that if I did this more frequently I would be a much better priest.

No doubt there are seminarians who overdo pious practices, who are into themselves more than into serving others, who have all the answers and won't give an inch. Times don't change. Back before Vatican Council II, we also had classmates like this.

But my personal experience with today's seminarians has proven to me that the Holy Spirit is still producing priests who hold great promise for the future.