August 27, 2021

Forging friendships

Archdiocesan seminarians gather to build fraternity before returning to seminary

Archdiocesan seminarians Nathan Thompson, left, Randy Schneider, Samuel Rosko and Liam Hosty walk together on Aug. 10 at Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis. The outing to the state park was part of the annual convocation of archdiocesan seminarians in which the future priests have the chance to build up fellowship among themselves. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archdiocesan seminarians Nathan Thompson, left, Randy Schneider, Samuel Rosko and Liam Hosty walk together on Aug. 10 at Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis. The outing to the state park was part of the annual convocation of archdiocesan seminarians in which the future priests have the chance to build up fellowship among themselves. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

With a new year of priestly formation just around the corner, archdiocesan seminarians gathered on Aug. 8-11 at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House for a time of prayer, fellowship and fun.

This year’s convocation saw the most archdiocesan seminarians starting a year of formation—27—since 2013.

Seven new seminarians received a blessing from Archbishop Charles C. Thompson during a Mass he celebrated on Aug. 9 for the future priests.

The 27 archdiocesan seminarians come from 10 of the 11 deaneries of the Church in central and southern Indiana. Sixteen of them are enrolled at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad while 11 will receive formation at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary and Marian University, both in Indianapolis.

Father Eric Augenstein, archdiocesan director of seminarians, noted that the increase in seminarians for the archdiocese comes at a time when many dioceses in the U.S. have experienced a drop off in their number of future priests.

He attributes the growth in seminarians for the archdiocese to the change in November 2019 to a team approach to promoting priestly vocations. At that time, Father Michael Keucher was appointed archdiocesan vocations director and several priests across central and southern Indiana began ministry as associate vocations directors.

Father Augenstein said that the associate vocations directors have been “able to maintain contact with men who are discerning the priesthood a little more easily, even during COVID, because they’re closer to where people are.

“When vocations is on the mind of a lot of people in a lot of different places,” he said, “you’re naturally going to see more people responding, more people being able to think about and answer the call.”

Emiliano Enriquez De Alva was one of the new seminarians who responded to God’s call.

A member of St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour and an incoming freshman at Bishop Bruté, he was glad to begin building relationships with his fellow seminarians during the convocation.

“It’s been amazing and a blessing to get to see these guys dedicate their lives to God as much as I will too,” De Alva said. “I’m looking forward to learning a thing or two from these guys, because they’ve learned a lot and had experience. I will eventually, too.”

Learning from each other, sharing meals, praying together, taking outings as a group, supporting each other—all of this happens during the seminarian convocation. It is a way for them to begin building up the fellowship that will be vital when they, God willing, are ordained and become part of the archdiocese’s presbyterate.

Father Daniel Bedel knows the importance of that fellowship from experience. Ordained in 2014, he reflected on the importance of the seminarian convocation on Aug. 9 at Fatima during a cookout for current and future archdiocesan priests.

“I forged friendships with guys that were way ahead of me in seminary, or behind, and those friendships have lasted into the priesthood,” said Father Bedel, who recently begin serving as director of spiritual formation at Bishop Bruté.

The convocations, he said, “helped lay a foundation” for priestly fellowship for him.

“In the priesthood, it gets expanded, of course, because you know in ministry that another priest has that shared experience,” Father Bedel said. “They know where you’re coming from. You can relate to them and talk to them about things going on in your parish. Those foundations were instrumental for the priesthood.”

In an interview with The Criterion after his Aug. 9 Mass with the seminarians, Archbishop Thompson said building fraternity can’t wait until after a man is ordained; it must start in the seminary.

This fellowship, he also said, isn’t just important for the priests, but for the whole Church.

“If our Church is going to be healthy and our parishes are going to be healthy, we first need healthy priests. Healthy, happy priests lead to healthy, happy parishes and dioceses.”

At the heart of fellowship among seminarians and priests is Christ, Archbishop Thompson told the seminarians in his homily during the Mass.

“The focus is not on ourselves, but on Christ,” he said. “He’s always present in our midst. Keep that focus whether there’s suffering or joy. … Always keep the proper focus and do not lose sight of who we are as God’s children. Keep Christ at the center of it all.”

New seminarian Thomas Day experienced the importance of fellowship among those discerning a life of service in the Church when he was previously in formation as a member of the Order of Preachers, commonly known as the Dominicans.

“One of the ways we get to know the love of God is by seeing it in our brothers and by learning to love our brothers,” said Day, a member of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis. “I think [fellowship] is going to be an incredibly important part [of my formation]. I’m really going to have to invest myself in it.”

It’s been an important part of the priestly formation of transitional Deacon Michael Clawson, who is entering into his final year as a seminarian before being ordained a priest for the archdiocese next June.

“I enjoy being here with all of the guys, hanging out with them, the fraternity,” said Deacon Clawson, a member of Annunciation Parish in Brazil. “It’s exciting to realize that I’m so close to the goal that I’ve had for the last eight years.”

Deacon Clawson likened the seminarian convocation to spring training for Major League Baseball.

“Everybody gets together after a couple of months off from the season,” he said. “They get back in shape and get to meet all new guys.”

And, of course, there were more new guys to meet at this convocation.

“It’s been good, really exciting to realize how well the archdiocese is doing with vocations,” said Deacon Clawson. “Over the summer, I was trying to encourage as many guys as I could.”

Father Augenstein has hopes that more new seminarians for the archdiocese are coming down the road.

“We’re already starting to work on next year,” he said. “I’ve had two guys already starting applications for next fall.”
 

(For more information about a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit HearGodsCall.com.)

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