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(Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part interview with Benedictine Father Denis Robinson, the new president-rector of Saint Meinrad School of Theology in St. Meinrad. Because of space constraints, some of Father Denis’ responses had to be edited. Read part one.)
Priestly formation is the primary mission of Saint Meinrad School of Theology.
But it is not its only mission.
The school also forms men for the permanent diaconate, including the 25 men who will become the first men ordained permanent deacons for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis on June 28.
Lay men and women are also trained through Saint Meinrad to become ecclesial lay ministers.
Benedictine Father Denis Robinson, the seminary’s new president-rector, reflected on the integration of these missions, the future of Saint Meinrad and other topics in a recent interview with The Criterion.
Q: You were a priest of the Diocese of Memphis before entering Saint Meinrad Archabbey. How do you think that your experience as a diocesan priest will help you in guiding your formation of future diocesan priests?
A: I know from my own experience and from my iformation the dynamics of priestly life in a diocese. I know what it’s like to work in a parish. I know how that has to play out in terms of work and prayer, and how those things have to be balanced.
Parish life is not a theory for me. It’s something that I do know intimately. And I certainly think that plays into everything that I do. Every class I teach continually refers to the living experience of the priest on the ground.
Q: Will you continue to teach in the classroom?
A: Oh yes. I plan on teaching at least three courses a iyear.
Plus, I will also be continuing to work in our lay formation program and in our deacon program because I do think that it’s important that the rector has his hand in all of that.
I’m just as much the rector of the deacon program as I am of the lay ministry program and of the seminary program.
Q: You’ve been highly involved in Saint Meinrad in the formation of the laity and of permanent deacons as director of continuing education. How do you think that these aspects of the ministry of Saint Meinrad School of Theology will continue to be important in the future, and how might they continue to develop?
A: The picture of ministry in the Church today is that ithreefold picture.
One, certainly the priesthood is the core. Then, the presence of permanent deacons continues to grow. [And] we can’t really think of the Church today without lay ministry.
In other words, it’s not an option to think of any one of these things as independent. We have to think of them in the same breath, as it were. That’s the picture of ministry today.
The challenge for ministry, though, in terms of its formation, is, one, we have to be able to articulate the distinctive nature of each of these vocations. Ministry is not something generic. It’s embodied in a particular ministerial role [and] ministerial identity.
So the priest and the deacon and the lay minister each have a particular ministerial identity. And that has to be very clear and articulate.
I think one of the problems we sometimes face in Church life today is that the roles of these different ministers are not clear, and so, therefore, there is confusion. There’s frustration. And if we don’t understand who we are, we can’t understand what we’re supposed to be doing.
But the other thing is, we need to find an appropriate way to help these ministries begin to learn how to work together and integrate together.
One thing that is positive about Saint Meinrad is, while we don’t have permanent deacons here on campus, for the most part—obviously our deacon programs are done in dioceses—the diaconate is very much in the minds of our seminarians because of our program.
While our lay ministry program is, for the most part, done apart from seminarians—in other words, in weekend courses—they very much have an understanding that, yes, lay ministry is a crucial component of the ministerial picture, that I, as a priest, will be going into.
And so even though we don’t have formal structures for … working these three ministries together, we do have, very much, the awareness of their presence and their importance in the life of the Church.
Q: What’s your vision of what Saint Meinrad School of Theology will be like five or 10 years from now?
A: Well, I do think that our seminary population will icontinue to increase. And I do think it will become more diverse.
Right now, we have 12 different nationalities represented in our student body. That’s not going to stop. That incredible multicultural vision, that world vision of the Church, is going to be foremost in the minds of young priests.
They’re not just going to be ministering in a very parochial environment. They’re going to have an awareness of the fact that there is a vibrant Church in Africa, in Korea, in Latin America, in Europe that they have a relationship with. They will have been formed with these people.
That’s an incredibly positive, hopeful image for ministry in the future.
I also think that one of the strengths of Saint Meinrad is the fact that we continue to find ways to show the significance of the Benedictine heritage and helping the Benedictine heritage to come to the fore in terms of providing a model for the priesthood.
Benedictines have always been at the service of the Church, and the service of the Church in parish life. That’s certainly something that I think we want to continue, that we want to see grow, that we want to see strengthened. And I think Saint Meinrad is a very good place to do that at.
The third thing that I think I’d like to mention is our Institute for Priesthood and Presbyterates, the program for helping priests once they’ve been ordained and move through those first crucial years of ministry. That program has grown just tremendously since its founding a few years ago.
That … will provide stronger priests for our dioceses because we’re not dropping them on the day of their ordination. We’re following through with them for seven years after ordination.
And that’s going to make them stronger priests. It’s going to make them more integrated into their diocesan setting, into their presbyterates. And it’s already showing the signs of what it can do, and this is [to] strengthen the priesthood throughout the United States.
Q: How do you see the relationship between the School of Theology and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in the years to come?
A: We are the archdiocesan seminary, in essence. We’ve always been the seminary for the archdiocese.
And I think that we know each other. We’re related to each other.
That’s our primary focus of service, helping our local Church to continue to strengthen the priests that are serving in it.
We serve other dioceses all around the country, and that’s certainly important. But I think we’re very committed to the Church of Indianapolis and have been for the past 150 years. †