I teach at my old high school, Cathedral Prep. It is a wonderful place. It has been almost 15 years since I graduated from the school. Even though I don’t feel old, this fact shows that time is starting to accumulate just a little bit on me. For example, it has been almost 10 years since I graduated from college. As the New Year begins, I find myself looking back and appreciating all of my educational experiences. But the place that I most credit for forming me into the person I am today is, without a doubt, the seminary.
I lived in two formation houses in my time in the seminary. I lived at St. Mark Seminary in Erie, PA for two years, and St. Vincent Seminary, Latrobe, PA for 4 years. Both places were excellent places to be. There was a lot of silly behavior at St. Mark’s. There was the time when I convinced some of my friends to put cassocks (traditional priest dress – think Neo in the Matrix) on the busts of past Erie Bishops outside of our Chapel. There was also the time that someone piled all the items in a guy’s room on top of his bed. The next part of that story is, well, too odd to be recounted on these webpages. Finally, there was the time when, on a hot April weekend, a seminarian dumped his garbage can (probably for the first time that school year) and failed to wash it out. He then put the can in a room that the sun shined into all weekend, and went home on Friday. Upon return Sunday night, the odor was, well, pretty horrific.
These were just some of the jokes of St. Mark’s Seminary. There were a lot of valuable aspects to St. Mark’s besides the jokes, of course. At St. Mark’s, I learned much about prayer, service, community, and vocational discernment. There was a good deal of basic human formation – how to be a gentleman. This was helpful. St. Mark’s was my first experience with the institution of the Church. It was my first close up look at priests from up close. Above all, there was a great sense of brotherhood with my fellow seminarians. We all had, more or less, common values and common goals. We were sharing the same experience together. Each of us were attempting to be led by faith. That was a valuable thing. I count as some of my closest friends the men that I lived with at St. Mark Seminary.
The Theology school that I went to, St. Vincent Seminary, was different than the college seminary, but just as valuable. St. Vincent exposed me to a broader experience. I was in school with men from Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. I shared formation with men who were going into the religious life as Benedictines. While still in state, I was outside of the Diocese. As all trips away from home, it took a little adjustment at first. But, St. Vincent Archabbey quickly became home, at least for 4 years’ time.
St. Vincent gave me depth. I encountered many wonderful priests and teachers who helped me to understand theology, liturgy, spiritual discernment, pastoral work, canon law, Sacred Scripture, and Church doctrine. Those years at St. Vincent really formed my understanding of all things Catholic. In addition, the atmosphere of the place was very formative. Being on the campus of a college, which was also at the same time a large Benedictine monastery and a parish, was interesting and exciting. There were always a lot of things going on in that enclosed Campus space, but it also remained a quiet, prayerful space as well. It was a very Catholic place to be.
Both St. Mark and St. Vincent Seminaries formed me into the person that I am today. I remember both places with fondness. I tried very much to soak in and observe everything that I saw, heard, or read in those years. I could tell that what I was receiving would be invaluable to me, should I ever become a priest. It has been. Take some time out of the business of the present moment today to recognize how the choices and places of the past have made you into the person that you are today. Pray that the bad of the past may be forgiven and healed, and that the good of the past may produce gratitude and a bit of wisdom in you as well.