Kenrick-Glennon Seminary has largest enrollment in 15 years
Mitchell Baer was an eighth-grader when he first received a pamphlet about a Come and See weekend at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. Growing up in an active Catholic household, the idea of one day becoming a priest was not far from his mind. During his sophomore year at Rockwood Summit High School, Baer decided to visit so he could learn a little more about seminary life.
Baer said he felt a sense of peace, as if he knew this is where he was supposed to be. Over the next two years, he became friends with several seminarians, whom he described as invaluable to his discernment. This fall, he entered as a freshman in the seminary's Cardinal Glennon College.
"I came to know that the seminarians all came from the same place I was at," said the member of St. Paul Parish in Fenton. "I started to be able to picture myself living my life at the seminary -- and even more so, as a priest. It was only after much prayer and meditation that I was able to come to a final decision. And even then, I know there is much prayer and study ahead before I can be prepared for life as a priest."
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Baer is one of 37 men entering Kenrick-Glennon Seminary this year. The seminary is boasting an overall growth this year, with 125 seminarians in the college, pre-theology and theology programs, the highest enrollment the seminary has experienced in the past 15 years. There were 102 seminarians enrolled at the end of the 2012-13 academic year, according to seminary officials.
Earlier this year, work was finished on a renovation of the 82-year-old seminary, including an upgrade to the old infrastructure, new safety systems and better accessibility. The project was funded by the "Faith for the Future" campaign, which was launched in 2009 to provide immediate funding for the updates and to increase an endowment for future needs.
"The Lord promises a future full of hope and we are tasting this hope presently with great gratitude," said Jesuit Father John Horn, president-rector of Kenrick-Glennon. "Especially after two years of moving, transition and stress. People are happy that the numbers have increased. How can you not be happy?"
One source of vocations
While it's difficult to pinpoint all of the reasons for the recent growth in enrollment, seminary officials can for certain credit the support of the archdiocesan Office of Vocations. Led by Father Christopher Martin, the office hosts various activities throughout the year -- such as Come and See weekends and Kenrick-Glennon Days -- for young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood. In 2012, Father Martin resurrected the St. Maximilian Kolbe House, a house of discernment for men considering the priesthood.
"Our job is to foster relationships," said Father Martin, who came to the office in 2011. "A lot of our programs are to support the relationships between pastors and the men (discerning priesthood), but also current seminarians and candidates. That kind of atmosphere makes it possible to develop healthy relationships with current seminarians."
This year, Father Martin is starting a new effort in which Cardinal Glennon College seminarians will adopt high school juniors and seniors who have expressed an interest in the priesthood, whether through personal contact with the Vocations Office or through discernment activities. The priest said he currently has a list of 39 men with whom the seminarians will maintain contact.
"They're going to pray for them and foster a relationship with them -- through personally inviting them to events," he said.
Jacob Schlueter, who entered Cardinal Glennon College as a freshman this fall, said that he wouldn't have discerned a priestly vocation without the support of the Vocations Office. The graduate of DeSmet Jesuit High School got involved with Kenrick-Glennon Days, first as a participant and later as a junior counselor, and at Come and See weekends.
Vocations events have "allowed me to have a network of friends who would help me during my discernment in high school," said the member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne Prairie.
Another trend emerging at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary this year is a growth in the presence of international seminarians. This year, the seminary is hosting 10 seminarians from other countries including Belize, Philippines, Vietnam and Nigeria. Some of them are studying for a religious community or another diocese, while others, God willing, will be ordained for service here in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Several other men from the Congo, Colombia and Vietnam are taking English as a second language courses this year, with the hope of entering Kenrick-Glennon Seminary next year. Several individuals at the seminary have pointed to Archbishop Robert Carlson's support for international seminarians, but others have come here from countries that have a longstanding relationship with the seminary, from Belize, for example.
Father Horn explained the presence of international seminarians is not all that unusual throughout the United States, especially on the East and West coasts. But here in the heartland, it's a reality that priests of previous generations have not witnessed to this degree.
"The international dimension that is growing at the seminary promises to be enticing and a great blessing," he said.
Msgr. Gregory Mikesch, vice-rector for formation, said during his time in the seminary in the 1960s and '70s, it was "very rare to have a student here from another country. We're especially seeing the generosity of Archbishop Carlson graciously welcoming seminarians from other countries."
Jonathan Dizon, a third-year theology seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., came to the United States from the Philippines 11 years ago. He entered the seminary after he completed degrees at the University of Kansas. While he said he's already used to the life and culture in the United States, he hopes he can serve as a bridge for other international seminarians just getting started.
"We've got two men from the Philippines this year, and I've already given them my email and told them to let me know if they need anything," he said. "I find this place to be very welcoming."
During orientation week late last month, seminarians met in Chapel of St. Joseph for evening prayer and a talk from Father Horn on what to expect during their seminary formation. He encouraged each of them to consecrate their dorm rooms to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. "It's good spiritual housekeeping," he said. "You'll see the fruit, you'll see the blessings that transpire."
Earlier that week, seminarians also listened to a talk by Msgr. James Shea, president of the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., who wrote a guidebook for seminarians discerning the priesthood. He pressed the men to understand that becoming a seminarian means having a greater level of commitment to the priesthood.
"He was using this beautiful imagery ... looking at this as a type of courtship where one is getting to know the Lord more intimately," said Father Horn. "The seminary is not a Come and See weekend. It can't sustain that. When you enter, you're being trained to be a priest. You may learn you're not being called to the priesthood. But you have to have this presumption you're going to be a priest. Your bishop has called you and ... in the Church, that means something significant has happened."
In a preface to Msgr. Shea's guidebook, Archbishop Robert Carlson, who serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, wrote that "vocation discernment is a work of the Church as a whole. By our prayer and our personal support for seminarians, we help individuals discover God's will for their lives."
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