For three seminarians who’ve known each other since high school, Cassock Day at St. Charles Seminary is an awesome experience

By George Gregory
Special to The CS&T

WYNNEWOOD – When Matthew Robinson, David O’Brien and Alessandro Giardini graduated from Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown back in June, they knew it was not goodbye. They would be seeing each other in August in the halls of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood. The summer months held a range of emotions for the three classmates as they prepared for a new chapter of discernment and formation in their lives.

“The summer months leading up to my entrance into St. Charles Seminary were filled with wonder, awe, excitement and hope,” said Robinson, who is a parishioner of SS. Philip and James in Exton, and one of six children. “(It) was a time where I began to expand my prayer life in order to know God at a higher level.”

Giardini, one of seven children and a member of St. Joseph Parish in Downingtown, echoed his classmate’s sentiments. “Leading up to move-in day, I was anxious, nervous and excited to begin my new life,” he said. “As I walked up the steps to the majestic college building, I couldn’t wait to see what God had in store for me.”

O’Brien, who belongs to St. Peter Parish in West Brandywine and is also one of seven children, said the experience of “taking the first step in any new direction in life can often be both frightening and exciting at the same time.”

“It is difficult to fully describe the emotions that were cycling through my mind before entering into the seminary community,” he said.

After they moved into St. Charles, the men along with all the other new seminarians, or “new men” as they are known among the student body, had to adapt to a regimented daily schedule. Most days begin at 7 a.m. with communal Morning Prayer, followed by the celebration of Mass.

After eating breakfast together, the seminarians attend their morning classes and any scheduled formation meetings. They then have lunch and prepare for their afternoon classes. Most students have a period of free time in the mid-afternoon, but the seminary community comes together again at 5 p.m. for communal Evening Vespers followed by dinner. Evenings at the seminary are usually a time for study and extracurricular activities such as sports and choir rehearsal.

The new seminarians for the first two months do not wear cassocks or clerical garb within the seminary community, but rather attend all functions in black suits and ties. An anticipated rite of passage for the new men is Cassock Day, usually celebrated at the end of October – the day their cassocks are blessed and worn for the first time among their brother seminarians.

“My first couple months here have flown by quickly, but at the same time, it seems like it took forever to reach Cassock Day,” Giardini said. “My faith life has grown since coming here, but I still have room for improvement, and when having a rough day and not feeling so great, it is always nice to know that I can go to the chapel and vent to God, who is full of love and cares for me.”

“After attending all obligations in formal business attire for two months, the cassock is meaningful because it invites us to be part of the brotherly fraternity as we move forward in our studies,” O’Brien said. “However, wearing the clerical apparel of a priest by no means puts the seminarian closer to the priesthood. (It) serves as a constant reminder that we are to die to ourselves, humbled to even be worthy of such a calling,” he added.

Thirteen Philadelphia seminarians and numerous seminarians from other dioceses received their cassocks Oct. 30.

“When I first tried on my cassock in August, I was immediately overwhelmed with a sense of unworthiness,” Robinson said. “With my mother’s eyes becoming filled with tears, it was evident that this was no ordinary uniform, but instead the cassock was the sacred exterior symbol of an even more sacred and holy interior priesthood.”

Cassock Day was the prelude to the Seminary community’s celebration of Forty Hours Devotion from Nov. 1-3, the feast day of St. Charles Borromeo Nov. 4 and the Seminary Appeal, during which the seminarians visit parishes the weekends of Nov. 6-7 and 13-14.

While the cassock represents a separation from worldly material connections, it also symbolizes lives that reflect hope, justice and compassion, and is worn with enthusiasm by the men in formation.

On the evening of Cassock Day, Giardini stated on his Facebook page, “Cassock Day was the best day ever!!!”

George Gregory is a parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.