Q: Archbishop why SOS—Support our Seminarians?
Some 75 years ago the Seminary of St John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs was established. Five young men offered themselves to a process of discernment at the Mount.
From 1943 till 1984, the number at the seminary rose steadily to a high of 24 seminarians. From 1984 to 2009 it declined steadily to a low of one seminarian. We are now climbing steadily again and have nine in formation for Trinidad and Tobago at our seminary today.
Archbishop Pantin used to say, frequently: “The seminary is the heart of the archdiocese”. If this is true, we had a heart attack! The seminary was closed at the end of 2010, albeit “temporarily”. Archbishop Harris courageously opened it again in January 2017. This past academic year, 15 men from the region were discerning their vocations at the seminary.
But, we still face particular challenges. At present, eight priests are in their 80s, 18 are in their 70s and 28 are in the 60–70 age bracket. Many of our older priests make an invaluable contribution to our diocese: they assist with Masses, hear Confession and offer support when a parish priest is on leave.
Within 15 years, 28 priests now in active diocesan service will retire and become ‘support’. We now have over ten parishes without a resident priest. It takes seven to eight years for a man to discern his vocation and be ordained. These are the facts! We have a crisis.
Our current level of intake into the seminary will not supply the priests we need to run this archdiocese over the next 15 years. It costs roughly TT$75,000 per year to educate and form a seminarian. Hence, SOS—a campaign launched by Archbishop’s Appeal.
We need families, schools and parishes to propose the discernment of vocation as a vital option for every young Catholic. Some will find and follow their vocation in marriage, some in religious life and the priesthood, and some in the single life. Each one of us has a vocation. We need to become a community that constantly discerns God’s call.
What is a seminary?
The word seminary is derived from the Latin root, seminarium, which literally means seed-plot or nursery, a place where seeds take root and grow into mature plants. It is the seed of vocation that is being grown here: the seed of openness and response to God’s Word.
There is a misconception that a young man comes to a seminary to become a priest. This is not true. A young man enters a seminary to discern his vocation. In the process of discernment he may become convicted that God is calling him to priesthood. Then, he needs the freedom and support to nurture this seed of God’s word to full flowering in ordination. The formation he receives during his time in the seminary contributes to his overall growth and development as a man of God.
Who should enter?
Many young men have an existential itch they cannot get rid off, a nagging question about life and its purpose that they cannot put aside. They know God is asking something of them and they need to answer. Considering a vocation to the priesthood is traumatic for some young men, bringing upheaval in their lives. For others it is the most natural and ordinary step.
Recently I appointed Fr Matthew d’Hereaux Vicar for Vocations and Priestly Formation. He is ensuring we have programmes to assist discernment of priesthood at every stage.
For those who are in the early stages of discernment, there are groups that meet a couple times a year. For those a bit more advanced on the journey, retreats and other supports are in place.
For men who believe they have a vocation but are still unclear, we have begun an aspirancy programme so young men can enter into deeper discernment. They live together, pray together and participate in a formation programme that deepens their discipleship and missionary commitment. Eight men are in this programme at present.
After the period of aspirancy, which will last six months, the men will be invited to discern more deeply. They then give up their jobs and enter into formation full-time through a process of prayer and discernment, for a further six months. At the end of this time if the young man believes he has a vocation and if we agree with him, he is invited to apply to enter the seminary.
Seminary formation is broken into three phases. The first is philosophy, lasting two years; the second is theology for three years; and, in the third phase the men are sent to parishes, with a concentrated focus on pastoral formation.
The whole programme, from early discernment to priestly ordination, rests on four pillars of formation—human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. Each of these allows the young man to mature into a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ, a man of prayer, of generosity, of depth and pastoral compassion. At each stage the candidate discerns and we discern with him the clarity of God’s call in his life.
Seminary of St John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs, Mt St Benedict.
Key Message: The whole Church has a responsibility to call forth, pray for and support men who are discerning their vocation. Families, schools and parishes need to make vocation discernment, in its widest sense, part of what our community does. We all have a responsibility and need to play our part.
Action steps: Open the question of vocation—broadly speaking, to include marriage, religious/priesthood and single life—with all young single people.
If you sense God’s call or are wondering, contact Generation S and begin a process of discernment.
As individuals, families and parishes, I am asking you to support a seminarian or aspirant to the priesthood through your prayer and financial offering.
Your financial contribution can be made through Archbishop’s Appeal by contacting them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 622-2691.
Scripture: 1 Samuel 3:1–10; Mt 4:18–22.