Friday, October 24, 2014

Welcoming the Fathers Home - Alumni Dinner

This evening we celebrated our annual Alumni gathering with a Holy Hour, reception and dinner. Cardinal O'Malley graced us with his presence, along with Bishops Kennedy and Uglietto. After dinner, Ryan Sliwa, a seminarian for the Diocese of Springfield, offered the following inspiring reflection:

A look at the correspondence of Bishop Fenwick (reg. 1825-1846), the second bishop of this local church, reveals how frequently the theme of priestly formation was on his mind. Letters of his solicitude extended to places far and wide: Rome, St Louis, Montreal, Lyon, Baltimore, Paris, to name a few. On one instance, we even find him cajoling his brother, a priest-professor at Georgetown, for the $88.22 which he owed the bishop for a number of books and a subscription to The Pilot.

In a report sent to Rome in April of 1831, Bishop Fenwick had this to say: “There are in Boston 7,000 Catholics in a population of about 60,000. Outside Boston, there are some 7,000 Catholics in the diocese. [NB: Here “the diocese” meant the whole of New England.] In 1825 I had only three priests, one with me in Boston, the other two in places over a hundred miles distant. There were nine churches but for the most part they barely deserved the name.” What did the bishop do to satisfy his want of priests? “What I did do,” he continues, “was to take into my own house four young men (my revenue not permitting me to take more); they were destined for the ecclesiastical state and had done well in their studies. I gave to teaching them all the time not spent in the duties of my Holy Mission, and soon had the consolation of seeing that my four  men promised me four good priests for the diocese.”[1]

Things have certainly changed not a little since these beginnings of priestly training in Boston. To be sure, no one in attendance this evening needs me to elaborate on this fact. However, beginnings, as we know, are often great determining factors of the present moment. As I near the end of my seminary formation, I have at times found it is a good practice to return to my first fervor, to the earliest days when the thought of a priestly vocation was new in my mind and heart. Humbly, if I may, I recommend this same exercise for all of us, gathered as we are in recognition of our days passed within these halls.

Now surely we have matured since our early days; surely we have grown in wisdom and understanding; surely we have adopted a more sober and realistic outlook. But at our beginnings, perhaps we perceive things in a fresh and undiluted way. We see the truth more purely; chase after the good more steadily. We should, I think, never consider our first zeal as something childish; there may be a profounder grace at its heart than we might believe.

Moreover, when we take the long view of things, we allow the action of the good God to shine forth more clearly to us. Now the seminary, this seminary, and our time spent in it—with the attendant joys and difficulties—all this represents in no small way the course which God’s plan has taken for our lives. For this reason, I believe it to be worthy of our gratitude and reverence.

Bishop Fenwick goes on to say: “Oh, if I but had the wherewithal to build a Seminary even if it could hold only a dozen promising young men! What an infinite good might not be expected from this beginning!”[2] Reverend bishops, reverend fathers: why should we not consider ourselves firmly situated in continuity with such humble but noble beginnings? Perhaps those of us gathered here represent in a concrete way some part of what Bishop Fenwick called an “infinite good.” It seems to me that, in this age—so often trying and uncertain—we do well to draw some direction, dare I say some comfort, from our place in God’s Providence. These walls, and the men around us this evening, are the very material of this Providence. In a way that is mysterious at times, and if we stop to think on it, we are reminded that the workaday activity of our lives has more profound import and purpose that we might know. This, at least, has sustained me throughout my time in formation and will sustain me in my days ahead, be they many or few. My fathers, the confidence and encouragement I draw from all this, I pass along to you in what measure I can.

Once again, you are all welcome here; I thank you, and goodnight.

[1] History of Saint John’s Seminary, Brighton. John E. Sexton and Arthur J. Riley. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston. Boston, Massachusetts: 1945. 30-31.

[2] Ibid., 31.