Seniority at the Seminary

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Reading The Collar by Jonathan Englert and found this rather interesting observation:

from The Collar Jonathan Englert

Seniority at the seminary was curious and certainly not the kind of thing found at schools with age-based grades. The diversity of ages and experiences at Sacred Heart turned this sense of the word "seniority" upside down. Nevertheless, a distinct sense of seniority existed at Sacred Heart. The men close to ordination tended to be looked up to and deferred to. More than that, they actually seemed to be more mature than the newer men. Indeed, some men who had been married and had children and grandchildren could seem younger than others who were decades their junior. It was as if upon entering the world of the seminary, bereft of the usual markers of a life, each man somehow betrayed his spiritual age and the distance he still had to go to become a parish priest. A man like Don Malin, a consummate example of the formation process, provided a yardstick again which these "younger" men could be measured and also could measure themselves.

Isn't this true of how many approach a priest in real life? Men who are decades or years younger than oneself are fonts of wisdom and those we go to to solve problems. From the description provided here it would seem that the formation process is a finishing school, a place where vocations are discerned and persons refined and "polished" to a high gloss. There are, of course, as many different kinds of priest as there are kinds of people, quiet, boisterous, wise, foolish, smart, and not-so-smart. From all of this one can discern what differentiates them all from everyone else--if properly formed, they have discerned and nurtured a vocation, a calling from God, in such a way as to prepare them (although I'm sure many would wish for even greater preparation) to support the people of God in all of their wanderings.

Or so it would seem from the course of the book. I don't know how many priests plan to read it. Although as professionals in their fields, I would suspect a great many would look at it as I would a book about palaeontologists--just to see if the author got the details right--whether or not it rings true. There are certainly things here that seem very sound and very well-grounded.

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When I was in seminary, most of the older students were indeed calm and quiet, and exuded a maturity that spoke most clearly when they were silently thinking.

However, I can't attribute it to the formation process, but to the process of weeding out those who lacked all self-discipline. A number of those approaching ordination, or even past it, encouraged some of the worst behavior in the newer students. Some of them openly scorned the breviary, and all things that required some self-discipline. I especially remember one who assured newer students that he would write a book on how to get through seminary without reading anything. Ours was considered one of the more academically rigorous seminaries, being of pontifical faculty; you can imagine just how challenging it really was.

Perhaps the saddest indication of how widespread was the refusal to face reality came at a meeting of the seminary. I forget the name, but we had one every quarter, and the purpose was to address matters of importance to the entire seminary and clerical community. In this instance, the rector told the seminary one day about interviews with recent graduates of the seminary who, in interviews after the fact, complained about how hard it was to carve out a life independent of the Church. The rector chilled the seminarians by condemning this attitude. "This isn't your job," he reminded us; "it's your vocation. The Church will be your family. A father can't have a life independent of his family, and you can't have a life independent of the Church."

I'm paraphrasing and misrepresenting an 8-year old memory, but I think you get the idea. I had just passed through a summer pastoral internship where the pastor considered his position to be like managing a large company; he took a day off once a week and (I quote) "I won't even talk to God on my day off." He had also been to a seminary of pontifical faculty, albeit a different one.

Dear Jack,

Your observations provide an interesting perspective. Largely, it sounds as though Priests, like all people, come in all manner and variety of personalities and temperament.

For example, I rather sympathize (at times) with remarks about the Breviary--not because it is not good and worthwhile, but because after a while it seems to become stiff and cardboard before thawing again. I go through spells where it is the hardest thing in the world to do the Liturgy properly, and other spells where it is my joy. In the former times, I might have said a thing or two that would reflect more upon me than upon the breviary.

But what you say shows Priests-in-training, particularly young priests in training, to be little different from anyone else. There is cockiness, self-assuredness, boasting, and swaggering. I know when I was younger I figured out ways to get through a lot of my classes without ever cracking the spine of a book (this as an English Major), and it was only in later years that I came to term with those texts. What a wealth of wonderful things I missed out on.

And all I can think is, what a shame of the Seminarian who thinks he can get through it all without openeing the books. We can only pray that in time they come to terms with those texts. (Although in some cases, it is perhaps for the better that the books went unopened. I've read a good deal of "theology" that I would have prospered better having never set eyes on.)

Any way, thank you so much for another insider's view. I wish more, priests and those who attended seminary and were ultimately called elsewhere would share more of their experiences ex post facto. In the chain of events, it is difficult to have any perspective at all on the matter.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 17, 2006 8:59 AM.

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