It’s a late summer ritual at every college and university in the country and that includes seminaries, such as St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood.
Late August means the return of students for the new academic year, but most especially new students either for their undergraduate college years or, in this case, some for graduate theological studies.
The first day at St. Charles this year was Tuesday, Aug. 23, and you could easily pick out the new men by their brand-new black suits and ties, as opposed to the cassocks worn by returning seminarians.
Other than that it was much the same as moving-in day at any college with proud parents and other family members along to help with the unpacking and to say goodbye.
(See a photo gallery of moving-in day at St. Charles Seminary, here.)
This year St. Charles will be home to 160 seminarians — an increase of about 13 percent over last year — and 18 of the new arrivals will be studying for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“We are blessed with another enrollment increase here with 45 new men,” said Bishop Timothy C. Senior, rector of St. Charles. “We are amazed by the action of God, by the grace of God for these young men to come here to discern their vocation to the priesthood. It is a miracle especially in this culture today that doesn’t support religious vocations as much as perhaps it once did.
“The young men are talented and could easily be pursuing other vocations, but God has worked in their lives and discerned in their hearts and they are coming here.”
One of the young men coming directly from high school was Robert Bollinger of St. Agnes Parish in Sellersville, but he won’t be among total strangers.
“It’s great, my older brother (Michael) is here too; he’s in Fourth College,” Robert said. “It’s been on my mind since beginning high school.”
Anthony Albanese, of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Parish in South Philadelphia, already has his undergraduate degree from Villanova and his master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania behind him, and has been teaching Spanish for the past five years.
“I’ve been discerning for the past years,” he said, “going on retreats and other things. Now I feel this is the place I should be and I’m excited. We’ll see what happens.”
His parents, Tom and Debby Albanese, were equally proud, although Debby admitted, “It’s going to be a little hard to share him with others, but I’ll get used to it.”
One person all of the new arrivals studying for Philadelphia are already acquainted with is Father Stephen DeLacy, the director of the Vocation Office for the Diocesan Priesthood. He has seen them through their struggles with the idea of the priesthood and witnessed God’s grace as they make this act of faith by coming to St. Charles.
“We have a beautiful bond,” he said, “and we will still have a connection.”
The work of encouraging vocations is never-ending but does produce results. “We already have five men planning to enter next year. It’s a great start,” Father DeLacy said.
In addition to the men studying to become priests for Philadelphia, other seminarians represent 10 dioceses around the country and four religious congregations.
For example, Father Gregory Finn, of the Oblates of St. Joseph, was at the opening day with candidates of his congregation.
”We serve on the West Coast and here in the Diocese of Scranton,” he said. “I’ve brought two young men here, Jose Batista Castillo and Victor Espinoza.”
Seminary years are both a period of priestly formation and a period of continued discernment. It is almost a given that not every man who entered St. Charles on Aug. 23 will continue to ordination.
Some may decide that theirs is the lay vocation or perhaps they need more time to consider. Some who leave may reenter at a later date or enter another seminary.
For example Vincent Levito of Visitation B.V.M. Parish, Trooper, entered the Mercedarian Friars after graduation from La Salle College High School. Ultimately he left that order and worked various jobs for four years while still discerning his future.
Now he has chosen to come to St. Charles to study for the priesthood for Philadelphia.
“I think I have a calling to the priesthood and I can’t see myself anywhere but here,” he said. “I hope to enjoy every moment of my time here.”
Ben Speranza of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, Warrington, is entering straight out of Archbishop Wood High School. The second of six in his family, his older brother is at De Sales University, according to his dad, Mike Speranza.
“We are very blessed Ben is following this path,” he said. “He has been wanting to be a priest since second grade.”
“I’m proud of him,” said Ben’s mother, Christa. “He has been the peacekeeper in our family and he is following that role. It is a long way, but we will see what happens.”
“I’m excited, I think it will be different, but I’ll be fine,” Ben assured his parents.
A long way is not just a metaphor for Pong Le. At 39, he came to America from Vietnam at age 16 with his parents Quyen Le and Anna Nguyen. A college graduate and a pharmacist, he is entering the post-college Spiritual Year program.
“My parents are happy for me, but nervous,” he said.
“I’m happy and I’m not surprised,” his father said.
Mike Lorello, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Manoa, worked for a time while discerning and will now be in First College. He is the youngest of seven in his family.
As to his decision to enter, “I’m not surprised and I’m proud of him,” said his mother, Jeanmarie Lorello.
During their journey toward ultimate ordination, if that is God’s will, all of these young men will be guided along the way by St. Charles’ dedicated faculty.
Among those on hand to greet them this first day was Father Joseph Shenosky, the vice rector for the College Division and the director of admissions for St. Charles.
“It is inspiring to see them in this day and age,” Father Shenosky said. “It’s a sacred responsibility for those of us who work with them to form them into being the kind of person the Lord intends them to be.”
This year’s class of 18 new men, either college or post-college for Philadelphia, follows last year’s 20 new men, both considerably larger than new classes in recent years.
Total seminary enrollment at 160 is up a whopping 33 percent from two years ago. At this point there are 67 men studying for Philadelphia including 30 in the College Division.
Perhaps it’s too soon to do a victory lap, but judging from the enrollment increases, if the trend continues particularly for those studying for Philadelphia, the pendulum may be swinging back with future ordinations approaching replacement level for those who have gone before.
Pray for religious vocations — more priests means fewer parish closings.
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I pray they are better catechized than the priest of the last 40 years. Hopefully they will be immersed in Catholicism, not social justice theory. Also lets pray they learn and pray, the Tridentine Mass, the Mass of the Ages. That would be a first indicator of a good formation in the priesthood.
Just two months old in the Catholic priesthood and so the rigorous formation of seminarians is still fresh in my mind. May God give them the grace, patience and determination to cooperate with their formators.
This is really wonderful! God’s blessings to all of you as you move forward in your studies. The Church is grateful for your “yes” to God!
How wonderful to see these faithful young men turning to Our Holy Catholic Church and sharing their life and love of Our Lord and our Faith! How blessed are we, another Gift from God. God is watching them! God’s Richest Blessings Boys!
What we also need, which is even more difficult, is orthodox and traditional teachers of Theology – the only way to fight the enemy which is philosophical and theological modernism – or in other words the prevalent and ever-present Great Apostasy which has even decimated colleges in Rome! So when you pray for vocations – ALSO Pray for wholly orthodox and magisterial TEACHERS of the seminarians!!
Perhaps a look back to early church times when devote and pious persons (men/ women?) were chosen by their congregation to be presented to the bishop for ordination is the answer. There are numerous deacons who are devote and of known character who might be so advanced . Then there is the issue of like spirited nuns who could be likewise chosen. The concept that one cannot have a church or parish without a resident priest belies the history of the growth of Christianity. Where there is good will and faith, there are ways to trust in God’s care. Did Jesus not say, “Where two or more are gathered in my name , there I am in the midst of them !”
What exactly is your point? Are you trying to push the explicitly closed issue of women’s ordination (see Pope St. John-Paul II’s 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis) with a false narrative about early communities supposedly ordaining women?
By starting what could have been a useful conversation about how parishes could exist with out a sole dedicated priest with a red-herring you have derailed your own conversation.
Also I would note that while what you seem to have been getting at – that parishes (or Church communities) can and have existed without a resident/dedicated priest-pastor – in almost all such examples the situation has been temporary and addresses as soon as practical. Why? Because the Mass, which requires a validly ordained priest, is the source and summit of our faith. I mean no disrespect to the wonderful deacons/religious/lay who assist and sustain parishes and other Church communities – they are wonderful and a blessing – but while they are necessary, they are not sufficient, for a truly viable parish to exist on a long-term basis. No, we need to work to make our communities a source of dedicated, faithful young men who can serve as priests in order to sustain our communities.
I pray or vocations I am a happy divorced Catholic and I was helped by good priests. People used to ask me Where did I get my energy? I would tell them from the MASS and the EUCHARIST.. .
This is so encouraging. I often share my opinion with others that what we need to do in addition to pray for vocations, we also need to pray for the faithful. It is a matter of economics. If we as Catholics surge back to Mass, the sacraments, we will create a need for more priests. I get we need to pray for priests and for vocations, but we had numbers—once when people went to Confession monthly, attended Mass more regularly. Until that happens again, we will still have smaller numbers. We need as a community of believers to NEED an increase of vocations. God bless all of those priests dedicating their lives in helping to shape the seminarians.
I am pretty sure it is against Canon Law to close a parish based on availability of priests. The parish can exist without a priest, if the parish is viable.
No priest, no Holy Eucharist; no Mass, no parish. Care to cite the canons you had in mind?
Paul: We may have to rethink Christianity. Scripture would be a good place to start.
I find it hopeful that there are more priests entering formation but find the last line of the article to be at best, inaccurate, or at worst in poor taste: “fewer priests means less parish closings.” I thought parishes closed because of financial reasons.
From the time a young man begins college to when he is ordained a priest, assuming he does not discern out of the program, it takes 8-9 years. In addition if there are not adequate priests to support existing parishes, how do you keep them open even though there are adequate financial resources? You may be able to get some from other countries but that doesn’t always work out due to cultural differences.