BELMONT, N.C. (CNS) — The Diocese of Charlotte is establishing a college seminary in response to growing interest in priestly vocations.

The St. Joseph College Seminary will be what the Catholic Church calls a “minor” seminary, as its focus is undergraduate men considering the priesthood, one step before enrolling in a “major” seminary where they receive more specific priestly formation. It will give these men the opportunity to live closer to home, continue their college studies while in community together, and interact regularly with diocesan vocations staff.

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On March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, Charlotte Bishop Peter J. Jugis formally announced the creation of the college seminary during the bishop’s Lenten youth pilgrimage at Belmont Abbey College.

Starting this fall, the college seminary will be temporarily located on the campus of St. Ann Church in Charlotte, but there are plans to build a permanent home on or near the campus of the Benedictine-run college.

Bishop Jugis’ announcement greeted with cheers and applause by the youth at the pilgrimage.

He encouraged young people to listen and see if God is calling them to religious life.

“If you think that God is calling you, you are not alone,” he said. A growing number of young people in the Charlotte Diocese are discerning vocations to priestly or consecrated life, he said. “God is calling. God is indeed calling, and the Holy Spirit is at work.”

He also asked the youth to ask St Joseph and Mary to pray for us, “to help each one of us know our vocation.”

Bishop Jugis, a native of the Charlotte Diocese, played an active role in selecting the name of the college seminary. Placed under the patronage of St. Joseph, the name also reflects the heritage of the diocese. When it was carved out of the Diocese of Raleigh in 1972, its first bishop was Bishop Michael Joseph Begley.

Already, nine men are expected to enter the college seminary for the 2016-17 academic year, attending classes at Belmont Abbey College while living temporarily in the former St. Joseph Monastery on the St. Ann campus. The building was the home of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, who moved to Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama, last November.

Enrolled in the diocese’s seminarian program, the men will work toward an undergraduate degree in philosophy at the top-ranked Benedictine college in Belmont. While attending classes, they will live in community, apart from the rest of the student body, and will follow a “rule of life” appropriate for this level of seminary, including daily Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, the rosary, spiritual direction and conferences.

Father Matthew Kauth, chaplain of Charlotte Catholic High School and an instructor at Belmont Abbey College, will be the rector of the college seminary, living in community with the men.

The college seminary is designed as a place for the human, spiritual and pastoral formation of local, college-age men, Father Kauth told the Catholic News Herald, the diocesan newspaper.

“We’re seeing a lot more college-aged men desiring to enter into formation for the priesthood –- specifically, those who are in high school looking to enter into a college situation,” he said.

Unlike a major or graduate seminary in which men study theology — earning a master’s degree — and receive more specific pastoral formation for the priesthood, Father Kauth noted, college seminary is a time to equip the men with the undergraduate philosophy studies necessary before going to a major seminary. The program also will focus on the formation of the virtues necessary for a life of priestly service, he said.

The college seminary also will enable the men to be part of a lively Catholic college environment and engage with other young adults, as well as with the Benedictine monks of Belmont Abbey, he said. In turn, the men will offer a vibrant Catholic witness that could inspire others at Belmont Abbey College and elsewhere to consider a religious vocation.

The diocese hopes to invest in a permanent home for the St. Joseph College Seminary on or near the Belmont Abbey campus. The first phase of the project includes procuring the land and constructing a building of approximately 18,000 square feet to house at least 20 men. The building also will include a chapel and administrative and study areas.

Diocesan officials have been working with Michael G. Imber Architects of San Antonio to design an American Gothic-style building to mirror the architecture of Belmont Abbey College. Imber recently won a religious architecture award from Faith & Form for his design of the college seminary.

The cost for the first phase of the project is estimated at $7.5 million –- comprised of $5 million for the building, $1 million for the site development, and $1.5 million for furnishings, equipment, design-related services and other project costs.

Donors from across the country already have committed more than $4 million, diocesan officials said.

Donor support for the college seminary has been enthusiastic, they noted, as word of the plan has spread through the Catholic community both locally and nationally.

Retired Army Lt. Col. John Spinetto, a member of St. Bernadette Parish in Linville, is one of the supporters of the college seminary and the diocese’s seminarian program.

“We often refer to the church as the body of Christ with all of us as members of the body,” Spinetto said. “If I look at the ‘members,’ I see every possible occupation and vocation, but there is only one that is truly focused on helping me to stay on the path to heaven: the priesthood.”

“Good priests help us stay on the path and focus on the reason we are here,” said Spinetto, who has eight children and 13 grandchildren. “I want more good priests, and the seminary provides a cornerstone to make that happen.”

St. Joseph College Seminary would be among just a few of its kind in the Southeast, besides St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington, St. Joseph Seminary College in Louisiana and St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami.

Young men currently studying to be diocesan priests of the Charlotte Diocese are at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, or at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

The new college seminary is part of the Charlotte Diocese’s ongoing efforts to foster interest in religious vocations, particularly as the Catholic population in western North Carolina has skyrocketed to an estimated 400,000 from 35,000 in 1972, when the diocese was new.


Howell is senior reporter at the Catholic News Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte. Contributing to this story were Patricia L. Guilfoyle and David Hains.