September 10, 2010

Dramatic growth: Seminarian enrollment is at a 25-year high at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology

Aaron Foshee, left, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City studying at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, helps Archdiocese of Indianapolis seminarian Anthony Hollowell, right, move his belongings into the southern Indiana seminary on Aug. 26. The seminarian enrollment at Saint Meinrad is at a 25-year high this year. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Aaron Foshee, left, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City studying at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, helps Archdiocese of Indianapolis seminarian Anthony Hollowell, right, move his belongings into the southern Indiana seminary on Aug. 26. The seminarian enrollment at Saint Meinrad is at a 25-year high this year. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

ST. MEINRAD—Beams of late afternoon sunlight poured into St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology.

Nearly 140 seminarians from across the country and around the world had gathered for Mass on the day most of them moved into the Benedictine-operated seminary nestled in the hills of southern Indiana for the 2010-11 academic year.

They were tired from traveling and lugging their belongings into their dormitory rooms. But now they were doing what they were really there for—giving praise and thanks to God and allowing him to form them for ordained ministry in the Church. (Related: See a photo gallery from move-in day)

Jerry Byrd, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, played the organ at the back of the chapel during the Mass. When he first arrived at Saint Meinrad four years ago, less than 100 seminarians were enrolled there. But on Aug. 26, nearly 40 more men filled the chapel.

“Seeing the numbers go up is great,” Byrd said after the Mass. “Seeing the number of international students go up is great, too. It lets me see that what’s happening here at Saint Meinrad—in the middle of nowhere in the hills of Indiana—is going to go out into the universal Church.

“It’s going to go to Vietnam. It’s going to go to India. It’s going to go to Korea and the Bahamas and everywhere. That’s amazing to me.”

In 2006, when Byrd became a seminarian, there were 94 men studying for the priesthood at Saint Meinrad. That number increased by only one in 2007.

But in 2008, there were 109 seminarians. Last year, 121 men were enrolled there. And now there are 136 seminarians from 35 dioceses and religious communities, including some from India, Korea and Vietnam.

There haven’t been this many seminarians at Saint Meinrad since 1985.

Such growth has amazed seminarians like Byrd, and even surprised Benedictine Father Denis Robinson, Saint Meinrad’s president-rector.

“The first year, it was quite startling to see the number,” said Father Denis. “New dioceses and new seminarians and new applications just kept coming in and coming in.”

According to Father Denis, there are several reasons for the growth in seminarian enrollment at Saint Meinrad—improved relationships with dioceses, strengthening of its priestly formation program, support given by the alumni of Saint Meinrad, a re-alignment of enrollment in seminaries across the country, and the closing and consolidating of some smaller seminaries.

He also noted that there has been a general increase in the number of seminarians nationwide in recent years.

Beyond the causes, however, the growth at Saint Meinrad has forced its administrative staff to rearrange its housing, classrooms and even its chapel seating.

For the seminarians, the increased enrollment has been a blessing.

Witnesses of growth

“It’s exciting,” said transitional Deacon Dustin Boehm, who came to Saint Meinrad in 2006. “I’m sure it’s always an exciting time to be in seminary. But I think there’s something unique about this situation.”

Deacon Boehm expects to be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis next June.

Byrd, who expects to be ordained a transitional deacon next spring, first arrived at Saint Meinrad with Deacon Boehm in 2006.

“It’s crazy,” said Byrd of the growth. “I didn’t think that it would grow so quickly. But here we are. We’ve got like 136 guys, which is great.”

One of the unique aspects is the international nature of the seminarians at Saint Meinrad. They come from 14 countries on five continents. Some are affiliated with dioceses or religious communities in the United States. In some cases, dioceses and religious houses from other countries are sending men to Saint Meinrad for priestly formation.

Deacon Boehm said getting to know seminarians from three dozen dioceses and religious orders helps him in his formation for the priesthood.

“It’s constantly putting things in the back of your mind about what might work here in Indianapolis and what might not,” he said. “You get so many guys from all over the Church in the United States and beyond. They share their own walks [of life] and what’s going on in their dioceses, what they’re excited about.”

Byrd said having additional voices and instrumentalists for liturgical music ministry at Saint Meinrad is an advantage.

But seeing how the formation staff at Saint Meinrad helps prepare him and the multicultural seminarians for the priesthood is far more important to him.

“[The growth] proves that it’s working,” Byrd said. “It really shows that what they’re doing here at Saint Meinrad is producing good results. Because if it wasn’t, bishops wouldn’t want to be sending their guys here.”

Views from vocation directors

The bishops who are sending seminarians to Saint Meinrad often do so through the collaboration of their vocation directors.

Father Eric Johnson, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, said Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein made a “conscious decision” several years ago to send the vast majority of the graduate-level seminarians to Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology after having sent seminarians to three or four seminaries in the past.

“The main reason for that is fraternity,” Father Johnson said. “The fraternity within the priesthood and within priestly ministry is so important for priests to have. And the place that that happens [first] is in the seminary. It’s harder to build that once you’re out and living on your own.”

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis currently has 16 seminarians enrolled at Saint Meinrad.

Father Denis said other bishops have also chosen to send more of their seminarians to just one seminary.

Saint Meinrad is now the primary graduate-level seminary where Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran of Oklahoma City sends seminarians.

But the Oklahoma City archbishop hadn’t sent any seminarians there from 2000-09. Now there are seven seminarians from there at Saint Meinrad.

Father William Novak, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City’s vocation director, said that Saint Meinrad has historically prepared men well for priestly ministry in the Midwest, and continues to do so as the ethnic makeup of the faithful Church in that region changes.

“Over the past 10 years, Saint Meinrad has developed a very good program for Hispanic ministry, taking into account the [needs of the Church in the] Midwest,” he said.

Father Novak was also drawn back to Saint Meinrad because of its celibacy formation program, “Together in One Place.”

“The [celibacy] formation program that they have there is top-notch,” Father Novak said. “I’ve not seen anything like it in any other school.”

Too much growth?

As happy as many people connected to Saint Meinrad are about its current upswing in seminarian enrollment, there are questions on the horizon for the seminary.

“I think it’s important for any seminary to be honest with itself,” said Father Johnson, “and [ask], ‘How large can we be and still do the work that we do as effectively as we do?’ ”

Father Denis said that question is “almost in our daily conversation” for him and his staff.

“We’re never going to be a megaseminary,” Father Denis said. “We would never be above 200 or 180 even. We’re very close to what we would see as our optimal enrollment.”

Seth Gogolin, a seminarian for the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., in his third year of theological formation at Saint Meinrad, doesn’t think the larger number of men who are filling the chapel in the seminary has had a negative effect on their formation.

“The formation staff here is large enough that they can take care of it,” Gogolin said. “What I find amazing about Saint Meinrad is that the staff … has the ability to spend time with the guys. Sitting with us at meals in the dining room is a huge thing.”

Scrambling to find space

The dining room at the seminary has enough room for its increasing enrollment. Housing, classrooms and even the seminary’s chapel, though, have needed rearranging to fit the current number of seminarians.

Benedictine Father Godfrey Mullen, Saint Meinrad’s vice rector, supervised that process, which had to be done quickly.

Father Godfrey said he didn’t have firm numbers for this year’s enrollment until the end of July.

“It’s because discernment is a slippery process,” he said. “If a guy comes in March or April, most vocation directors, prudently, are going to move as quickly as they can.”

The growing seminarian enrollment has forced Saint Meinrad to dedicate some of the residence rooms used for guests and weekend students in its lay degree programs to the seminarians.

Makeshift rooms in the seminary’s library have been arranged to fit larger class sizes that older classrooms cannot accommodate now.

And the seminary staff was forced by the increased enrollment to return the orientation of the St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel back to the way it was before a renovation during the 1960s. It was refurbished for a second time less than a decade ago when the enrollment was expected to stay far below its current level.

“The renovation we did several years ago was beautiful,” Father Godfrey said, “but we outgrew it.”

Saint Meinrad is now in the process of raising funds to renovate St. Bede Hall, which, when completed, will provide additional residence rooms and classrooms.

The changes to accommodate the larger number of seminarians was a bit surprising to Gogolin when he returned to Saint Meinrad. But he liked the meaning behind the changes.

“Moving the chapel around, [and] using old guest rooms might seem like, ‘Oh gosh, what’s happening?’ ” Gogolin said. “But it’s great because what that means is more guys are coming in, and we need to change to facilitate that.”

(To learn more about Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, log on to To learn more about the seminarians of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, log on to

Dioceses and religious communities of seminarians at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology:

  • Diocese of Biloxi
  • Diocese of Busan, South Korea
  • Diocese of Davenport
  • Diocese of Des Moines
  • Archdiocese of Dubuque
  • Diocese of Duluth
  • Diocese of Evansville
  • Diocese of Green Bay
  • Archdiocese of Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Archdiocese of Indianapolis
  • Diocese of Joliet
  • Diocese of Knoxville
  • Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana
  • Diocese of Lexington
  • Diocese of Little Rock
  • Archdiocese of Louisville
  • Diocese of Memphis
  • Archdiocese of Mobile
  • Archdiocese of Nassau, Bahamas
  • Diocese of New Ulm
  • Archdiocese of Oklahoma City
  • Diocese of Owensboro
  • Diocese of Palayamkottai, India
  • Diocese of Phoenix
  • Diocese of Pueblo
  • Diocese of Sioux City
  • Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau
  • Diocese of Springfield-in-Illinois
  • Diocese of Toledo
  • Diocese of Tulsa
  • Abbey of Maria Einsiedeln, Switzerland
  • Assumption Abbey
  • Conception Abbey
  • Glenmary Home Missioners
  • Monastery of the Incarnation, Togo, Africa

Countries of birth of seminarians in formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology:

  • Bahamas
  • Colombia
  • Dominican Republic
  • India
  • Kenya
  • Mexico
  • Nigeria
  • Philippines
  • South Korea
  • Switzerland
  • Tanzania
  • Togo
  • United States
  • Vietnam

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