August 26, 2022

Growing number of seminarians build fraternity at annual convocation

Seminarian Isaac Siefker, a member of St. John the Apostle Parish in Bloomington, throws an axe on Aug. 9 during an outing of archdiocesan seminarians to Anarchy Axe Throwing in Indianapolis. The outing was part of the annual convocation of archdiocesan seminarians. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Seminarian Isaac Siefker, a member of St. John the Apostle Parish in Bloomington, throws an axe on Aug. 9 during an outing of archdiocesan seminarians to Anarchy Axe Throwing in Indianapolis. The outing was part of the annual convocation of archdiocesan seminarians. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

As newly-ordained Father Matthew Perronie rode up the drive to Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis, memories filled his mind.

He was travelling there on Aug. 8 to take part in a cookout for seminarians and priests that is a part of the annual archdiocesan seminarian convocation.

The possible future priests for the Church in central and southern Indiana gather for a four-day meeting each year before they begin a year of priestly formation at their respective seminaries. (Related: See a photo gallery from the convocation)

Father Perronie, ordained on June 4 and now serving as the parochial vicar of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, attended eight such convocations during the years he spent in priestly formation.

The convocation, which took place this year at Fatima from Aug. 7-10, was the first he attended as a priest.

“I think back on all the years, playing board games late at night, talking around campfires—just that opportunity for fraternity,” Father Perronie said. “Community and fraternity start now.”

‘In the heart of the Church’

The community of archdiocesan seminarians at the convocation was bigger this year than in the recent past. There are 29 seminarians starting priestly formation this month, with nine in college seminary and 20 in graduate seminary. The seminarians come from parishes in nine of the archdiocese’s 11 deaneries.

The last time the archdiocese had this many seminarians was in 2012.

Six new seminarians—four enrolled at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad and two for Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis—used the convocation as a chance to become acquainted with the other men in priestly formation for the archdiocese.

“There’s a good atmosphere and fraternity that I had heard about,” said new seminarian Aidan Smith. “To be part of it is really nice. It’s very welcoming.”

Smith, a member of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus, is entering his first year of formation at Bishop Bruté.

New seminarian Seth Hickey, a member of Mary Queen of Peace Parish in Danville, is beginning priestly formation this month at Saint Meinrad. After doing much discernment by himself, he’s glad to be continuing his consideration of God’s call in his life “in the heart of the Church.”

“It puts me more at ease because, up to now, there’s been a temptation for me to take the driver’s seat,” Hickey said. “I’ve been doing it on my own. Now the Church and the community is going to take a more active part in that. I trust the Church. It’s done this with a lot of guys before. They’ve been doing this a lot longer than I have.”

‘An awesome responsibility’

The seminarians don’t just build up fellowship with each other during the convocation. Archbishop Charles C. Thompson also takes part in the meeting to get to know better the men who may assist him in the future as priests.

He has a meeting with all the seminarians during the convocation, celebrates Mass and blesses the new seminarians.

“My responsibility as archbishop, as their shepherd, is to know them and show my care and concern for them,” Archbishop Thompson said. “It’s wonderful to bond with them and be with them. We have a wonderful group of young men here.”

Spending time with the seminarians at the convocation and on other occasions throughout the year is an important way for the archbishop to carry out a duty he takes very seriously.

“The Church makes very clear that the bishop has the ultimate responsibility about who he accepts into the seminary and who he accepts into holy orders,” he said. “That’s not a responsibility that I can surrender to the vocation director or a [seminary] rector.

“That’s an awesome responsibility that a bishop has in the care of his people.”

For his part, seminarian Samuel Rosko appreciates Archbishop Thompson spending time with him and his brother seminarians at the convocation.

“You hear from him his expectations, and that sets the tone for the year,” said Rosko. “You really try to be in union with him on that.”

Rosko is a member of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis and in formation at Saint Meinrad. This summer has been a busy one for him as he’s been a student chaplain at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. In fact, he was only able to spend a day at the convocation because he had to return to the hospital.

“It’s almost like a little vacation,” said Rosko of the convocation. “I have time to be with my brother seminarians and have that fraternity before the school year starts.”

Archbishop Thompson recognizes the importance for fellowship at events like the convocation.

“The fraternity that we cherish as priests doesn’t begin at ordination,” he said. “It has to begin in the seminary. They come together to start enhancing their fraternity in prayer, in the sacraments, in their shared focus on the call to ordained ministry.”

A welcoming community

The seminarians forged fellowship during this year’s convocation in part through an outing to Anarchy Axe Throwing in Indianapolis.

With the sound of axes hitting wooden targets and the seminarians’ laughs and cheers in the background, Father Eric Augenstein, archdiocesan director of seminarians, spoke about the men who are entering into priestly formation this month for the archdiocese.

He noted that, because there are more seminarians this year who already have completed a number of years of formation, their fraternity is already strong.

“They’re settled into the program and community,” said Father Augenstein, who is also pastor of Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Parish in Indianapolis. “That makes it a little bit easier for new guys to come in when you already have a well-established community. I’ve seen especially this week the leadership of the veteran guys being able to welcome in the new guys.”

He’s looking forward to the new year of priestly formation starting this month because he said it will be the first time that “everything about seminary formation is back to what we might call normal after the COVID years.”

Father Augenstein said that COVID has had a negative effect on priestly formation as seminaries were forced to greatly limit or even temporarily postpone altogether pastoral ministry formation in which seminarians serve in parishes, hospitals, nursing homes and other locations.

He noted that this summer one archdiocesan seminarian was ministering in a parish for the first time.

“Normally, over the last two academic years, he would have gone out into parishes or other ministry settings,” said Father Augenstein. “He lost a lot of that. So, this summer was his first real experience of pastoral ministry. It’s been wonderful for him, but he didn’t have some of that previous experience to build on.”

Living a eucharistic life

This year’s convocation took place about six weeks after the start of the three-year National Eucharistic Revival.

Father Connor Danstrom, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, came to Fatima to preach about the Eucharist to the seminarians. He is one of 46 eucharistic preachers chosen by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to take the message of the revival across the country.

In an interview with The Criterion, Father Danstrom said that deepening seminarians’ relationship with Christ in the Eucharist is key to their priestly formation.

“Our lives as priests don’t make any sense without the Eucharist,” he said. “The life of a priest is meant to be totally eucharistic in a sense. So, it’s critical that we, as priests and those in priestly formation, are deeply rooted in Jesus in the Eucharist. It’s not for ourselves, but so that we can give it to the people.”

In a homily during a Mass on the last day of the convocation, Father Danstrom said that the life of Christ was entirely eucharistic because it “is utterly self-giving.”

“Can we live eucharistic lives today?” Father Danstrom asked. “Can you live a eucharistic life today? Is it possible—in the midst of all the panders to the ego that excite the passions and misshapes and warps our desires, everything that mutes the inner voice of our conscience—is it possible in the midst of all of that to make a pure gift of ourselves to God and one another?

“Yes, but only because he has done so for us. It’s only because we may still feed on him and so be incorporated into his saving sacrifice that we can die to all that takes our life from us and rise to a new and more abundant life that lasts forever.”

Seminarian Casey Deal, a member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington who is in formation at Saint Meinrad, said that it was important for him and his brother seminarians to hear Father Danstrom’s message, even though their formation is already focused on the Eucharist.

“You can’t say to your wife or a friend, ‘Hey, I love you,’ one time and think you’ve said it enough and that everything is good in your relationship with that person,” said Deal. “You constantly need to be renewing that relationship. So also, we need to be constantly reminded of who Christ is in the Eucharist and get nourished by that.”
 

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

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!