August 21, 2015

A call to serve: Seminarians pay tribute to Cardinal Ritter, visit Mount St. Francis during annual pilgrimage

Archdiocesan seminarians Casimiro Samano-Reyes, left, Charlie Wessel and Nick McKinley kneel in prayer on Aug. 11 during a Mass at St. Mary Church in New Albany. The liturgy was part of a one-day pilgrimage that 23 archdiocesan seminarians took to the New Albany Deanery. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archdiocesan seminarians Casimiro Samano-Reyes, left, Charlie Wessel and Nick McKinley kneel in prayer on Aug. 11 during a Mass at St. Mary Church in New Albany. The liturgy was part of a one-day pilgrimage that 23 archdiocesan seminarians took to the New Albany Deanery. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

MOUNT ST. FRANCIS AND NEW ALBANY—“Be brave and steadfast, for it is the Lord, your God, who goes before you” (Dt 31:6).

These words of Moses were proclaimed during the first reading of Mass on Aug. 11. Some two dozen seminarians from across central and southern Indiana heard that reading while they were on a one-day pilgrimage to the New Albany Deanery. (See a photo gallery from the pilgrimage)

They had just visited the birthplace and boyhood home of Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter in New Albany, then heard those words proclaimed in the nearby St. Mary Church, where the former archbishop of Indianapolis was baptized.

They had learned at his home how Cardinal Ritter had, in the face of opposition from the Ku Klux Klan and many other opponents, desegregated schools in central and southern Indiana in 1937—17 years before the U.S. Supreme Court made school desegregation the law of the land in the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Father Eric Augenstein, archdiocesan vocations director, reflected in a homily on the source of Cardinal Ritter’s bravery.

“He knew that it was the Lord who went before him,” Father Augenstein said. “It was not his own decision, his own desire, his own strength that led him to do what he did. It was the Lord who guided him.”

Father Augenstein then exhorted the seminarians to walk in Cardinal Ritter’s footsteps.

“It’s not easy being a seminarian or a priest today,” Father Augenstein said. “Everything about our society and culture tells us that the life that we are discerning or living—set aside in service and in love and holiness—is one that is wasted.

“It’s not easy to stand for the truths of our faith. It’s not easy to persevere in a life of holiness. But for us who are discerning and answering this call, we are brave and steadfast because we know that the Lord goes before us.”

The seminarians who heard these encouraging and challenging words go now into a new year of priestly formation, some for the first time, others for the last time before they are ordained priests next June.

Twelve seminarians are enrolled at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology; 10 at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis, where they are also enrolled at nearby Marian University; and two at the Pontifical North American College (NAC) in Rome.

Six of the archdiocese’s 24 seminarians are transitional deacons, scheduled to be ordained priests next summer.

Father Augenstein noted how the deacons show leadership among their fellow seminarians.

“The new seminarians look to the older guys to set the example of what it means to be a seminarian,” he said. “And we’ve got some really good examples of seminarians leading good and holy lives and discerning the priesthood.”

Seminarian James Callahan, a recent graduate of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis who will be a freshman at Bishop Bruté this fall, said spending time with the more experienced seminarians during the convocation was helpful for him.

“You get to know them one-on-one,” said Callahan, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis. “It really helps you get into the mindset of prayer. You can get into a more personal relationship with God, and into the habit of prayer and discernment to help you figure out whether or not the priesthood is truly your calling.”

At the end of the pilgrimage, the seminarians had time for prayer and the opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of penance during a visit to Mount St. Francis, the home of Conventual Franciscan friars of the Province of Our Lady of Consolation.

Father Augenstein included Mount St. Francis on the pilgrimage to introduce the seminarians to the Conventual Franciscans during the Year of Consecrated Life.

Conventual Franciscan Brother Bob Baxter, who oversees the friary at Mount St. Francis, explained its history and the varied ministries in which the friars are engaged both in the archdiocese and beyond.

The seminarians absorbed that history, just as they did the historic and holy life of Cardinal Ritter.

Deacon Matthew Tucci, who is entering into his final year of priestly formation at the NAC, said he views Cardinal Ritter as an example for priestly life and ministry.

“He’s a guy that’s in the history books,” said Deacon Tucci, a member of Holy Family Parish in New Albany. “But he was also a very holy man and a very holy priest. He’s someone to look up to and emulate.”

Seminarian Nick McKinley, who will be a junior at Bishop Bruté in the fall, learned about the good example of the former shepherd of the Church in central and southern Indiana while he was a student at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis.

“Being in the place where he grew up, I feel close to him again,” said McKinley, a member of St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis. “I always enjoyed hearing his story and have a great respect for him.

“He shows me that, in my time in the seminary, it’s important to stay strong and never give up when things are tough. I need to keep moving forward with the Lord and persevere. The grace will eventually be given to you to keep striving for the best way for you to serve Christ, wherever God leads you.”

(For information about a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit

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