January 18, 2019

Seminarians inspired by example of faith in SEEK attendees

Archdiocesan seminarians James “JJ” Huber and Andrew Alig, front left and right, lead the procession for the opening Mass of SEEK2019 on Jan. 3 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archdiocesan seminarians James “JJ” Huber and Andrew Alig, front left and right, lead the procession for the opening Mass of SEEK2019 on Jan. 3 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Archdiocesan seminarian Charlie Wessel stood on the stage at the front of a quarter-mile long cavernous hall in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis and looked out at a sea of 17,000 young people prepared to worship together in a celebration of the Eucharist.

It was the opening Mass of SEEK2019 on Jan. 3, a biennial conference sponsored by the Denver‑based Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), and Wessel was an altar server during the liturgy.

The moment humbled Wessel, a senior at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary and a member of St. Simon the Apostle Parish, both in Indianapolis.

“Being able to stand there up at the altar before all these people—who I am to stand here? How did I get here?” he said. “I haven’t done anything to get to that spot. Wow. What a blessing that I can be here and partake in this wonderful Church.”

Wessel was one among nearly 300 seminarians from across the country to attend SEEK.

Father Eric Augenstein, archdiocesan vocations director, described seminarians attending SEEK as a “double opportunity.”

“On the one hand, the participants in SEEK are the peers of a lot of our seminarians—similar in age and situation,” he said. “And so our seminarians are able to be there as a part of a peer group that are all trying to seek Christ, to grow in their faith and to discern their call.

“On the other hand, the seminarians are able to be a witness for their peers of seriously considering a particular vocation.”

Attending SEEK reminded Wessel of the importance of living out the faith he is called to offer other young adults.

“I need to be on my game and really stick to my prayer life, really stick to all of the commitments that God’s calling me to, because this is the Church that I want to serve. I don’t want to just slack off and not be present to this.”

At the same time, the conference encouraged seminarians from across the country in their priestly formation.

“It’s so thrilling and inspiring to see so many young Catholics so eager to learn more about their faith and to deepen their faith,” said Jordan Sanchez, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M. “It really inspires me to give myself to the Lord all the more.”

In 2016, archdiocesan seminarian Bobby Vogel was inspired at a FOCUS conference to open his heart to a possible call to the priesthood. Three years later, including two spent as a FOCUS missionary at Eastern Michigan University, Vogel has entered priestly formation and assisted at all the liturgies during SEEK in Indianapolis.

“Being asked to help make liturgies happen was the highlight of the conference,” Vogel said, “because I was helping bring Christ to the 17,000 attendees so that he could encounter them, personally, just as he did so with me three years ago.”

Like Vogel, Joe Culligan, a seminarian for the Diocese of LaCrosse, Wis., was previously a FOCUS missionary. His experience of helping college students enter more deeply into the Catholic faith helped him discern a possible call to the priesthood.

“Being in a community [of people] who are striving for Christ ignited something within me and caused me to desire more intimacy with Christ,” Culligan said. “The more I encountered people on fire for God, the more I desired to be on fire for God.”

He added that SEEK had been “monumental” in his discernment.

“The first time that I [attended] was the first time that I really encountered Christ in the Eucharist,” Culligan said. “That’s where I really fell in love with prayer and with the Church. My desire for holiness really began there.”

Like Wessel, Isaac Doucette, a seminarian for the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, was present at SEEK’s opening Mass.

“People wanted to be there and wanted to do this,” Doucette said. “They know it’s an important thing in their lives. It spurs me on to keep being a good steward and putting in work for them to bring them closer to Jesus.”

While SEEK’s opening Mass was occurring in Indianapolis, the bishops of the U.S. were gathered on retreat about four hours away where Doucette receives his priestly formation—Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Illinois near Chicago.

The reality of the current clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Church gave Doucette an added motivation to attend SEEK.

“It’s a gut check in terms of where everyone’s at,” he said. “Are we meeting people where they’re at? Are we smelling like the sheep, so to speak? Are we going out to the peripheries? Hopefully, that’s what the bishops are focusing on, too. Are we doing what we need to be doing? That’s definitely a component of why we’re here.”

Standing on the stage during SEEK’s opening Mass along with Wessel, archdiocesan seminarian James “JJ” Huber also found hope for the Church, despite the challenges it is facing.

“The faith is still very much alive in the Church, regardless of everything that’s been going on,” said Huber, a member of St. Gabriel Parish in Connersville. “We shouldn’t be afraid. We should do what we can to fix things. But we shouldn’t be afraid.” †


Related story: Young adults embrace opportunity to deepen faith at SEEK2019

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