Posted March 23, 2005
What Advice Would You Give
to Seminary Personnel Today
Taken from Grace Under Pressure: What Gives Life to Priests
The seminary played an important role in shaping the priests in this study. They expressed a mixed reaction to their own formation for priesthood and a highly, though not completely, critical view of today’s seminarians. They are concerned about today’s seminaries which are training a new generation of priests.
Speaking of their own experiences on the positive side, a number of priests praised the fine academic background that the seminary provided. Roy, a Southern priest, was grateful to the seminary for “teaching me to think: and for giving him “an excellent academic approach to things.” Dick, a Southern priest said, “I can truthfully say that a lot of what I am as a priest is due to a wholesome, happy and good seminary training.” What made it good, he said, was integration ---- “our academic formation was linked together with our spiritual formation.”
Good modeling by priests was also significant to these men when they were seminarians. Gary from the Midwest is grateful for the people in the seminary who had a good sense of balance and perspective “about what’s important in life and what’s not important, what is a catastrophe and what isn’t a catastrophe.” Fred from the West talked about the seminary as his first exposure to really competent priests. The rector in particular was a model for him. Fred described him as “an eloquent speaker, his own person, not just a good institutional person. He allowed a lot of creativity and life to happen, allowed a lot of humor. It was like a buffet of life was spread out.”
Dick remembered a significant experience as a novice: “One of our jobs was to take care of the bedridden monks as they died. This was difficult but wise, because as we began, we were in touch with the end. We became attached to them and heard their stories and realized that someday we’d be doing the same thing, telling our stories to some young monk.”
Gary said, “I’m grateful to the people I encountered in the seminary who gave me a love for the Church . . .that you are here to be part of a larger project than your own little thing ... and a belief that the Church is a force for good and even miracles in the world.” One priest mentioned that the Benedictines taught him the beauty of the liturgy and the beauty of prayer; he saw this as a real contribution to him and to the diocese.
Many of the priests cited valuable friendships as a positive experience of seminary formation. John from the West remembered the significance of an institute that took place prior to leaving the seminary and starting his first assignment; it dealt with sexuality, relationships, moving into a new system, living in rectories, and so on. “I found it invaluable,” he said, “to have some place to process stuff that was happening to us in that period of change in moving out of the seminary. It was also a process whereby guys who had lived together for years were able to bring closure on some angers and hates and fears and things that had happened over the years.”
John mentioned the Vietnam War period as extremely formative in that “there was a lot of energy and decision towards a radical conviction for the Gospel that really forced people to get involved.” Roy thought studying in Canada helped him get a more pluralistic approach to theology, culture, worship, and different types of spirituality.
Peter from the South told a colorful story to indicate what the seminary taught him: “A little sparrow delayed a little too long in leaving the north and flying south to get out of the cold weather. And the cold front came through and as he is flying, his wings begin to ice up and he falls to the ground and he lies there covered with ice and gets ready to die. As he is laying there, a cow walks by and drops a cow pie on top of him. And, of course, the cow manure is very warm. It melts the ice. It warms him up. He begins to feel great and he starts to sing. And as he starts chirping away, a cat passing by hears him and grabs him, pulls him out of the manure and eats him.
“There are three morals to the story and that is what I learned from the seminary. First of all, everybody who craps on you is not your enemy. Secondly, when you are in crap up to your nose, don’t sing about it. And thirdly, not everybody who rescues you from crap is your friend.”