I had the pleasure to spend the evening with a former classmate and current Rector of St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee, the Very Reverend Don Hying. It had been several years since we last saw each other, and we both remarked at how quickly the time had gone by. We also discussed the strange turn of events that Fr. Don was now in charge of the place we had had many strong feelings about and it was one of the last moves Fr. Don may have chosen on his own.
Fr. Don was staying at Theological College, the same location in which I ended my seminary experience, and I had not been in that building for close to 23 years. It was a shock, to say the least that the place was totally transformed from the days I was there. What was immediately noticeable was how the ‘modern’ worship space had changed to a more contemplative, traditional adoration friendly place. The institutional look was gone, and in its place a friendlier and welcoming environment that one would actually want to spend time in.
We then discussed how the formation of priests has changed significantly from the 80’s and was more conducive in keeping good men in and focusing more on the spiritual aspects of the priest hood. Devotion to Mary, Eucharistic Adoration, emphasis on praying the Office of the Hours and wearing collars is in, and the pop psychology and all the other ‘shenanigans” that both of us knew 20 + years ago was fairly and evidently absent. I have driven by Theological College on many occasions over the years, but had no interest in going in and re experiencing memories I’d rather leave buried.
However, I was more than mildly surprised when going into the new and improved Theological College, and was very impressed with the staff and seminarians I was able to meet. I am also impressed with the fact that despite many of the ‘interesting’ experiences Fr. Don went through, that he is able to take the helm of the Seminary and actually bring about very good and needed changes with the blessings of then Archbishop Dolan, and the current Archbishop Listecki.
Things appear to be going in the right direction for at least some of the Seminaries in this country. To have a high quality priest such as Fr. Don at the helm, gives me much hope that things will continue for the better for some time. Fr. Don told me that he has chosen his own staff to work with, that he requires the seminarians to pray in front of abortion clinics, and is advocating and promoting devotions and paying more attention to the mystical side of the church, versus the sociological and philosophical aspects. It seems these men are getting some solid direction, and are expected to participate in priestly formation as it was meant to be.
We also spent much of the evening reminiscing about our experiences and had some good laughs. We had quite the cast of characters in our class, and noted that most decided priesthood was not for them. We then discussed how if the formation had been properly followed as the church instructed, how many more may have made it to ordained ministry. In many ways, we both agreed that we were on our own to devise our spiritual formation, and found that we consulted with each other to get direction.
From this visit, I have some hope that the time of the 80’s “Goodbye Good Men” is over. It will take time, but the men going through priestly formation now are getting a solid education concerning the true nature of the Catholic Church, and one day, some will be elevated to that of Bishop. At that time, one can only hope that when society wants to dictate to the Church how they must act, and what they can say, these brave men will stand up to them, do the right thing, and have legions of believers backing them up.