47 Seminarians Walk into a Chapel…
I spent my sophomore year of college on the campus of the University of Nebraska, so I have a high degree of affection for the Huskers and the Diocese of Lincoln. Their seminary program captured my interest, partly because my pastor, Fr. Robert Matya, was the Diocesan Vocation Director and partly because I had just left seminary formation for the Archdiocese of Omaha. As you can see from the photo below, shared on Facebook by St. Gregory the Great Seminary, the Diocese of Lincoln is doing something right.
What are they doing right, you might ask?
I can only offer my own observations, but here they go:
- Orthodoxy - The Diocese of Lincoln is one of the deepest roots in America’s growing Catholic orthodoxy movement. Furthermore, for a relatively small diocese, its reputation for orthodoxy is clearly well-known, even as far as the Vatican. A lot of orthodoxy-loving folks were a bit worried when Bishop Bruskewitz retired, but clearly someone was aware that the diocese’s momentum was something that must continue, and so Bishop Conley was called to the helm.
Traditional Liturgy - Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, didn’t really change a lot in the Diocese of Lincoln. Traditional-leaning liturgy was already the norm, and the Latin Mass was offered frequently and without special permissions for each occurrence. I know there are bishops and priests out there who doubt it, but a lot of young people out there are drawn to the Latin Mass and other traditional liturgy. Even dropping OCP would be a huge improvement in most quarters. I’ve known seminarians who left their own dioceses and switched to Lincoln just for the liturgy. The assurance of a lifetime of traditional liturgy is enough to attract vocations, even when those seminarians know they’ll be ordained in Lincoln’s tragically hideous Cathedral of the Risen Christ.
- Evangelical Catholicism - A faith that is alive and excited, that preaches without being preachy, and shares with the genuine diffusivity of love, such a faith attracts people. Lincoln’s priests are filled with such faith, and that witness plants seeds in the hearts of the men they meet. They look at these priests – at their joy and their peace – and say, “I want what he’s got.”
- Catholic Identity - The Diocese of Lincoln takes its identity seriously. It’s not a social justice organization. It’s not an educational conglomerate. It’s not a community management business. It’s the Church of God, the local chapter of the Communion of Saints, and the instrument of salvation in the lives of its people. The priests wear their clerics in public. There are processions in the streets. Then there’s stuff like this: right in the heart of Lincoln, on a campus that basically becomes Nebraska’s third largest city several Saturdays every football season, a Catholic fraternity. If you don’t think that will be churning out vocations, you’ve got another thing coming.
- Cassocks - When I was a seminarian, we weren’t allowed to wear our cassocks at the seminary I attended. It wasn’t our diocese’s policy, it was the policy of the monastery that ran the place. In spite of their Benedictine identity, many of them couldn’t shake a distaste for tradition. Those of us who had cassocks kept them in our closets. We’d look at them and think to ourselves, “one day.” We’d put them on in the privacy of our own rooms, just to feel close to our calling. Cassocks are, fashion-wise, basically awesome. In terms of Catholic identity, they’re a huge deal. Virtually all the seminarians I knew loved wearing them and were proud to wear them. When dioceses stifle the cassock, they stifle pride in the vocation.
- Proper pastoral placement - Bishop Bruskewitz wisely placed his Vocation Director on the campus of the University of Nebraska. With its enrollment of 24,000 and its very active Newman Center, the Diocese of Lincoln has there an enormous pool of potential vocations.
- Chivalry - Call it Midwestern manners if you like, but the men I met at the Newman Center in Lincoln were, almost without exception, very chivalrous. Any newcomer quickly picked up on it and found himself holding doors open for ladies, carrying things for ladies, allowing ladies to take the first seats at events and receive the first plates at meals. That might seem like a great way for men to get into dating and marriage, but it’s also a great way to promote vocations. Priesthood is ordination into Christ, the new Adam, the Bridegroom of the Church. Learning chivalry enhances and accentuates masculinity. It adds a sense of almost romantic attraction to the priesthood. When going to Mass, seminarians joke that they are out on a date with their girlfriend. They’re absolutely right. If they persist in formation, the Church will be their bride.
I’m extremely proud of the Diocese of Lincoln on their accomplishment. I’m also proud of the diocese where I now live, the Diocese of Shreveport, on their current number of 8 seminarians. After years of scant vocations, the number is starting to grow under the leadership of a holy and personable director, with the assistance of priests who build strong relationships with the young men in their spiritual care.
I hope this trend continues in many dioceses. The Catholic Church in America may look weak right now, in the midst of our current political situations, but Catholicism is always the future, because Our Lord stands at the end of time, calling us forward.