April 4, 2002
Tools for the Journey
By Howie Mansfield
For more than two hours daily, Greg Kreinheder, senior at Wadhams Hall Seminary-College in Ogdensburg, prays in the chapel. He does this because of how important prayer is in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. Spiritual formation is essential in the life of a seminarian. In order to deal with the constantly changing world, priests must be prepared to handle life in a parish. “Formation focuses on the inner life. A priest must configure himself to Christ to go forth and be a priest,” Kreinheder said. “The inner prayer life is the foundation for the pastoral life.”
Father Richard Prior, parochial vicar at Holy Family Church in Syracuse, said prayer is a valuable part of the day, but it’s a challenge to find time to do all the prayer necessary to keep one spiritually strong. “The message was to pray. In your ordination, you are making a promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours,” Father Prior said. “Life is much different now than it was back in the seminary. A priest has a fluid day and it takes prayer and discipline to do more than just the Liturgy of the Hours.”
The spiritual director for each seminarian is important in the faith formation process. “At the seminary, the spiritual director helps you to obtain a very intimate and personal encounter with God. One method doesn’t work for everyone so they just give you different spiritual approaches and tell you, ‘Go find one,’” Father Prior said. “I’m still working through it in my first year, but the seminary did provide the tools for how to live the spiritual life.” John Kurgan, a third-year theology student at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md., said he has been challenged in his prayer life during his pastoral year at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Vestal. “You have to learn to do the praying on your own. There isn’t a group prayer in the chapel at 8 a.m. anymore. You have to get up and do it,” Kurgan said. “There is still someone watching over you to see how well you are doing, but you have two years to tune that up when you get back to seminary. You have to find out what you are good at and not so good at so you can make the changes. You have to be there mentally, making the sacrifice.”
The spiritual directors are also persons with whom the seminarian discusses issues of sexuality and celibacy. Joseph O’Connor, a second-year theology student at St. Mary’s College, said there are two types of ways to talk about issues of sexuality. “The spiritual director is for private consultation and a mentor is for the public forum. A mentor represents you on the evaluation committee for the seminary,” O’Connor said.
At St. Mary’s, seminarians attended a number of workshops and classes on sexuality and celibacy, O’Connor explained. “We have workshops in the fall and spring about sexuality and celibacy. The seminary encourages you to bring it up in discussions,” O’Connor said. “You need to explore this issue and how you are growing and responding to the celibate lifestyle.” Kurgan said being open about sexuality is important to helping seminarians to live the celibate life.
“Honesty is the key. I don’t know if you would make it out if you hid it,” Kurgan said. “You are always encouraged to be open.” Kreinheder noted openness and honesty are important for understanding celibacy. “At Wadhams, they teach an approach of spirituality of wholeness, to embrace the whole person,” Kreinheder said. “Celibacy is a positive thing. It’s just a different model of sexuality.” Mark Loftus, a freshman at St. John Neumann Seminary in Yonkers, said spiritual conferences and retreats help seminarians to accept their call to the priesthood. “If we are going to help others, we must first undergo the journey,” Loftus said. “We must come to terms with celibacy so we need to think about it and be open about it.”
Kurgan said talking about celibacy and sexuality isn’t as difficult as people might think. “Everything is brought up, nothing is kept secret. Students discuss these issues among themselves and you become more comfortable,” Kurgan said. “I feel more comfortable and I encourage people to talk about it because it makes it easier.” The issues of sexual misconduct have had an impact. “I think the bishop said it best when he said we are all saddened. That speaks well for all priests,” Father Prior said. “But I will not be deterred in my enthusiasm to serve God.”
Loftus said the seminarians at St. John Neumann have seen the media in New York City paint a negative picture of the church, but they are not changing their views. “Myself and my brothers in the seminary are not discouraged by this. We are sticking with it for the long run,” Loftus said. “We are keeping up with prayer and Eucharist. People might be surprised, but I’m still enthusiastic about the priesthood.” O’Connor said the support for seminarians has been wonderful. “We get real support from the people who see me at the inner-city food pantry that I work at in Baltimore. They say, ‘You guys are getting beaten up, but we love you and we will pray for you,’” O’Connor said. “There has been a lot of tremendous support.” O’Connor shared that there is so much good in the celibate life that people aren’t seeing. “The negative side of celibacy is that you have no wife or family to come home to. But the positive is that you can configure yourself to Christ, to live that fluid life. You have so much freedom to love everyone and to take more people into your heart,” O’Connor said. “You can’t do that if you are married. The priesthood lets you be with the people.”
Kurgan said helping people to deal with the issue of sexual misconduct will be tough. “It’s important to meet people where they are. Some people are deeply hurt by this. You don’t know the background of the person,” Kurgan said. “This causes pain, but there are the critics of what we do and you have to meet them there and help them to understand.” O’Connor said as long as each seminarian and priest remembers that spiritual formation, they will survive any difficulty. “It’s the tools, that bag full of tools Father Prior spoke about,” O’Connor said. “You need to remember that devotion to Mary is important and that the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours will remain your stronghold.”