The Collar, or "Hello Good Men"

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The Collar by Jonathan Englert starts out to be an exercise in objective journalism that seeks to trace the formation and decisions of five men involved in the process of discernment for the priesthood. The Seminary is Sacred Heart, which is said to specialize in "second-career" Vocations--that is, the return of older men to the Seminary. The span of time is a single year in the life of the formation and discernment process at the seminary.

The book focuses on five men and attempts to relate from the point of view of each the struggles and decisions that go into formation for the seminary. Interestingly and very probably deliberately, the five men seem to represent a cross-section of Church life. For example, two of the five start their vocations with the idea of changing the Church one to the "school of social justice," one to "reestablish the glory days." One is deeply aware of the call of God and a couple are less aware, but becoming all the more aware. I dare not give details because half of the fun of the book is to try to discern before they discern--who will make it, who will turn away. And yes, some do turn away.

The remarkable journalistic feat is the seeming objectivity of the reporting. Every candidate, no matter how "extreme" his views is presented in his own light. As I was reading, I tried hard to discern where the author stood in all of this, and mercifully I could not.

The book touches upon the pedophilia scandals and upon seminarians who had been involved. It even touches upon the events of 9/11.

According to the notes, the author started this exercise at two different seminaries before cooperation was withdrawn in the light of the scandals. All to the good, because where he ended up produces a superb story. It struck me as evidence of God's hand even in the creation of such a work.

The book is worth you time for several reasons--it is not sensationalistic. It does not seek to rake up scandal, but it does not avoid scandal when it is present and part of the life of the seminary. It attempts to tell the story of five men who think they are called, and who are all approaching the seminary for quite different reasons. It provides leaven and balance to the rather more overwrought work of Goodbye, Good Men.

Another point that the book emphasizes is that there IS a vocations crisis. It is not how many men go to Seminary that one should report on when countering the question of a crisis, but how many men actually end up ordained. In one passage of the book, relating the story of the father of one of the men, Englert notes that when this man's father entered the Senior Seminary, there were 40 men studying for the priesthood. The man chose to leave and go to college. By the time he completed college, only six men were left in the class and of those only about half were ordained. If these numbers hold true, then one can expect about 5% of the population of a seminary at any time to go on to the priesthood. This may be an underestimation, but because the priesthood is a discerned, sacramental vocation, it hardly seems unlikely that many might feel called while few indeed are actually chosen. On this matter, I can only share what the book reports, having no knowledge of what the graduation and ordination rates really are.

In all, a very fine, understated journey of discernment and exploration, detailing the intricate stories of five men as they look at the priesthood. Whether it reveals the reality of seminary life, I cannot say. But then, could anyone really reveal the complexities of life in any institution of extended learning. As I read the book, I thought, "What would be the shape of a book about five people in graduate school at Ohio State University?" (my own personal experience). I decided, whether completely accurate or not, the selected details were sufficient to give a sense of what seminary life was like, while truly highlighting what was, to the author, the point of this whole work--discernment.

Highly recommended to the lay person who is interested in what priestly formation is like. I don't know how seminarians or priests would view the work. I think that might be a very interesting perspective.

Later: Mr. Englert informs me: "I am speaking in Washington D.C. this coming Monday (1 May 2006) at Olsson's Bookstore in Dupont Circle at 7pm." For those of you fortunate enough to be in the area, this would prove well worth your time.

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If these numbers hold true, then one can expect about 5% of the population of a seminary at any time to go on to the priesthood.

Things were different then, perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worse. A *much* higher proportion of my Theology class received ordination from their diocesan bishop. That's not counting the ones who left for religious orders.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 28, 2006 9:17 AM.

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