As year begins, enrollment up at St. John’s Seminary

BOSTON -- Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley celebrated Mass in Brighton Aug. 27, opening the new academic year at St. John’s Seminary, whose enrollment has grown to more than 90 men studying for the priesthood.

It was appropriate to hold the Mass on the Feast of St. Monica, who was the mother of St. Augustine who prayed for so many years for the conversion of her son. Augustine explored the philosophies of his day and he struggled with many temptations of the flesh, the cardinal said. “But, it was Monica’s tears that watered the seeds of his heart.”

Then, looking out to the pews filled with seminarians, many dressed in white shirts and dark suits, the cardinal told them: “There are many Monicas praying for us.”

The cardinal advised the seminarians to accept the routines now imposed on their lives. “In this American culture, so addicted to entertainment, we can be swallowed up by television and the Internet.”

Fidelity to the rules gave him the space needed for prayer and the interior life necessary for his constant re-conversion to the cross as practiced by the Benedictines, the cardinal said. For the seminarian, it is in the cross that he finds his formation. “The cross is the only sure way to become the priest he wants to become.”

Before Mass the cardinal met with members of the faculty, said Father Arthur L. Kennedy, the seminary’s rector. “He expressed his gratitude for the work they had done and made them aware of his vision for the school, especially in light of the archdiocese’s pastoral planning for the future.”

After the Mass, there was a cookout with hot dogs and hamburgers in the Marian Courtyard, which was bathed in sunlight against the Roxbury puddingstone walls of the school’s main building.

“The two pivotal days in the life of a seminary are the ordinations and when the new men arrive,” said Father Christopher K. O’Connor, the school’s vice rector. “This opening Mass brings us 25 new men with the 40 men who are already here. There are an additional 25 members of religious orders studying here, but living at their own houses.”

The seminary is becoming a regional seminary for other dioceses. The regionalization is part of the cardinal’s plan to reach out to his brother bishops and encourage them to take advantage of the institution.

One sign of the increased regionalization is the partnership with the Fall River Diocese. One of its priests, Father David Pignato, is studying theology in Rome in preparation for joining the faculty at St. John’s, said Father O’Connor.

Another sign is the return, after a two-year absence, of students from the Worcester Diocese. That diocese sent 10 students this year, Father O’Connor said. There are also students from the dioceses of Springfield and Providence, as well as Vietnam.

“From Hanoi to Holliston, it runs the gamut,” he said.

It is important to remember that the seminary is more than a graduate school, said Father Kennedy. The seminary is the place where men become unified with Christ and become the celebrants of the sacraments for the people and parishes of their archdioceses.

Father Kennedy said the increased enrollment gives the school a vibrancy and gives confidence to God’s people that there will continue to be priests to serve them and their communities. “The prayers of many people have been answered.”