Seminary turns away some for financial reasons

<p>Archdiocesan financial pressures have caused the St. John Vianney seminary to cut back on the number of accepted men, and this fall all seminarians will be housed in one building. (Kelsey Broadwell/TommieMedia)</p>
Archdiocesan financial pressures have caused the St. John Vianney seminary to cut back on the number of accepted men, and this fall all seminarians will be housed in one building. (Kelsey Broadwell/TommieMedia)

The St. John Vianney Seminary houses 131 students and is expecting 43 new enrollees this fall, including eight from the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

But because of financial pressures, Archbishop John Neinstedt wrote letters to eight dioceses telling them that the seminary could not take their candidates for the priesthood, said the Rev. Michael Becker, SJV rector.

This is the first year the seminary has denied enrollment to a few dioceses, Becker said. He estimated that the seminary will turn away about 10-15 men for the 2011-2012 school year.

“The archbishop decided we would cut back on our numbers so we could fit into one building while juggling some seminarians in Rome,” Becker said.

The seminary had to turn away English-as-a-second-language students and pre-theologian students, who have college degrees but haven’t taken the required philosophy classes, Becker said. Denying enrollment to these students does cut down on diversity.

“ELS and pre-theologians are outside the norm here each semester,” Becker said. “The ELS program here is outstanding. We have quite a few men studying. We are sad not to be able to offer that.”

About five years ago, a number of other dioceses started sending more seminary candidates to St. Thomas, Becker said.

“We rose up to a peak of a little more then 160 seminarians,” he said. “Two years ago our biggest incoming class was 70, and last year our biggest graduating class ever was 37.”

Changing class sizes have made it difficult for SJV to find housing for the seminarians. This fall, the seminarians will no longer rent the 2085 Grand Ave. apartment building. SJV used to house seminarians in two buildings.

“The decision to cut back on seminarians is ours, not St. Thomas’,” Becker said. “They are generous to let us use that building [on Grand Avenue]. But in order to cover their expenses, they needed to receive a just revenue for 56 men.”

St. Thomas pays for 35 percent of seminarians’ tuition, but housing costs are typically covered by seminarians’ home dioceses and seminarians’ families, Becker said.

SJV would have to pay for 56 men even if seminarians could not fill the building.

“The apartment buildings cost us $307,000 this year to rent, and if we had the building full with over 50 guys, then we would break even on the rent,” he said. “But because we only had 30, we lost some money on that.”

One suggestion was that the first floor house non-seminarians, but Becker said this would be uncomfortable for both parties and would make the building more of an apartment than a seminary. For now, SJV has to cut back on the number of seminarians from other dioceses until a different housing solution is found.

Seminarian life

Some SJV seminarians said other dioceses want to send men to St. Thomas because of SJV’s emphasis on brotherhood.

“The fact that we are pursuing priesthood just draws us all together,” sophomore seminarian Robert Storey said. “We have this bond and common footing. We push each other to excellence.”

Storey added that seminaries are challenging seminarians more after Vatican II, and SJV is moving in that direction as well.

Junior Ronnie Santana transferred into SJV and is studying for the Diocese of Owensboro, Ky. Santana said he had not planned on becoming a seminarian until college. Storey said he hadn’t considered the possibility, either.

“I was all set on entering the Marines and having 20 kids, all boys. But I really heard the church calling me,” Storey said. “I still have a desire to be a father and have a family, but my desire for the priesthood is just so much greater that it overshadows it.”

A seminarian’s discernment process primarily focuses on listening to God and trying to discover if he desires for them to be a priest, Becker said. SJV’s program is designed to help seminarians with this process.

All seminarians are philosophy majors, often with double majors or minors in Catholic studies, business, Latin or Greek, Storey said. Becker said seminarians have daily required prayer from 6:15 a.m. to 7:15 a.m., and daily Mass and evening prayer at night. On Sunday nights, they pray the rosary. They are also required to have 40 hours of combined class and study time each week.

“It is a fairly thick schedule,” Becker said.

Seminarians participate in many extracurricular activities on campus such as student government, sports, bible studies and the Knights of Columbus.

“Anytime you get 130 guys under one roof, it’s crazy,” Storey said. “Lots of wrestling matches. We’ve got a whiffle ball tournament going on now, and we had a basketball tournament earlier in the year.”

Many called, 35-40 percent become priests

But the seminary isn’t right for everyone. Typically, men discern out of the seminary, Becker said, and just 35 to 40 percent of seminarians will be ordained as priests. Sophomore Charlie Reinhardt is discerning out of the seminary because he said he needs more space alone with the Lord. He may or may not return, he said.

Reinhardt agreed that brotherhood is an essential part of seminarian life; after he discerns out he will miss the opportunity “to go knock on guys’ doors and just talk for a half hour about life,” he said. “It is just an open community feel.”

Eight seminarians discerned out during the 2010-2011 school year to be married or work in some other field, Becker said. After completing their undergraduate education, seminarians begin working toward their master’s of divinity degrees at St. Paul Seminary but don’t take the vow of celibacy until their third year, when they are ordained deacons, Becker said. During their time at SJV, seminarians “are encouraged to relate to women as friends and enjoy various activities with those friends, but not dating,” he said.

Seminarians are still attracted to women, Storey said, but they know to “guard their own hearts and guard the hearts of women.”

For many seminarians, including Storey, their time at SJV allows them to focus more on their faith.

“Now that I am in the seminary, I have fallen more in love with God and have become closer to him,” Storey said.

Katie Broadwell contributed to this story.

Kelsey Broadwell can be reached at