Reader Mail: What to Do about Poor Seminary Options?
I truly enjoy your writings. Just wanted to get your thoughts on priests that struggle with sending young men into a seminary that is not fruitful. They have even been talking about starting their own seminary. The past and current bishops think everything is fine and do not feel a need to rock the boat. I know they (priests) want to send the young men to Nebraska but feel a certain obedience. Your thoughts please.
When I was in formation, I also had to attend a seminary I didn’t feel was great in itself or for me. My vocation director chose to send me to an institution that did not offer Latin at my level, I can only guess why. I made do with what I had. The school offered Biblical Greek, so I took that instead. I am the better for it, particularly as a Scripture teacher. The school also employed a few less-than-orthodox professors. We students actually formed an underground support group to help us all get through the program. We called our group the Calx Mariae, the Heel of Mary, which spiritually crushes the head of the ancient serpent. It was a fitting name, as Genesis 3:15 was emblazoned in Latin above our altar and a Gothic statue of Mary stepping on a serpent was on display in the apse. Some of our number were thrown out of seminary for trumped-up “formation issues.” One was even dismissed because he wasn’t “social” enough, despite the fact that he was quite social with the orthodox students. Sometimes seminarians have to keep their heads down, find trustworthy friends, and take the opportunity to learn obedience (without cooperating in evil). This is probably the best advice I could give to seminarians who are already in formation or are entirely intent on studying for their home dioceses.
To those who are not yet in formation, I would offer different advice, if they’re willing to take it: a year after I left formation – my own decision – I heard of another young man in my home diocese who insisted that he be able to attend the seminary of his choosing, or else he would walk. This might be an option worth looking into.
A man has the right to feel confident that he’s getting a solid education. It’s not unreasonable for a student to voice his thoughts about different colleges while he still has the freedom to do so. Your priests may have their concerns about the diocese’s seminary of choice and may even feel like they are getting nowhere with the bishop, but they’re already ordained. They can’t very well stick it to the man and I’m glad they don’t, since they owe him their obedience. If potential vocations, on the other hand, began to dwindle and there were a track record of young men requesting a specific seminary and being turned down and transferring to other dioceses, then the cause of the vocation drop should become apparent. If any of the young men wanted to go this route, I would suggest that they politely but confidently make a strong case for their request, based on the good it would do the diocese, rather than their own tastes or preferences. I would also warn them, however, that there is a good chance it could burn bridges, even with other dioceses.
If starting a new seminary – which would be preferred under Can. 237 §1 – were to become an option, it would require the bishop’s approval, so it seems an unlikely option. Even if the bishop became dissatisfied with the current seminary, it would almost certainly be more cost effective to send seminarians elsewhere than to establish a new institution – unless, that is, he felt it could be done profitably. That would probably require that other dioceses send their men, which, in my opinion, would in turn require a positive reputation of the diocese among its neighboring bishops. In the Church’s current climate, orthodoxy and tradition would be the best way to accomplish this.
The vocations crisis in America is starting to see a sharp turnaround. I expect it will continue to do so, as long as we learn lessons from our observations. Orthodoxy wins hearts. Tradition wins hearts. If you win enough hearts for Christ, there are bound to be blooming vocations. I wish you and your diocese the best of God’s blessings in the years to come.