Oct. 9-15, 2003
A Few Good Men
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Men studying for the priesthood stay focused on the Spirit
It takes profound belief and love for Jesus Christ to answer the call to the priesthood and it is long road to ordination. It requires between nine and 10 years of study to become a priest. A college degree that includes philosophy courses will give the student an advantage when entering the seminary. If they graduate from college without taking philosophy courses , they are required to take at least one year of pre-theology in addition to the required four years of theology while in the seminary. One year of pastoral work is also required before ordination. While the road may be challenging, many will benefit at the finish line.
“I believe there comes a time in each person’s life when you must be honest with yourself and do what you feel God is calling you to do,” said John Kurgan, a student at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. Kurgan grew up in Syracuse and has been a parishioner of St. Joseph’s Church in LaFayette all of his life. “I am motivated to continue toward ordination in part because of my own deep faith, but also because of the remarkable support which the people of God show me each day.” What type of person does it take to be a priest or seminarian? In light of the scandals in recent years, do these men have to have a tougher skin? “Yes, it takes a tougher skin,” said Father John Donovan, who works in the Office of Vocation Promotion for the Syracuse Diocese. “There has been so much doubt shadowed over all of us. The guilty have victimized the innocent. It’s a difficult period. The clergy must remember that trust has to be earned and can’t be assumed,” Father Donovan said.
The scandal has impacted the students both as seminarians and as Catholics. “As a Catholic I have to say that I am appalled, disappointed and saddened by this great tragedy,” said Christopher Celentano, who is also a student at St. Mary’s Seminary. Celentano grew up in Lyncourt, a suburb of Syracuse and attended St. Daniel Elementary School and Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School. He is also at parishioner at St. Daniel and feels very fortunate to have Msgr. Eugene Yennock as a role model. “I continue to pray for the victims and perpetrators of these crimes,” he said. “As a seminarian, I remain more conscious that many people have lost trust and faith in the priesthood. Therefore, I will have to do all that I can to rebuild that trust.” “It has been difficult, but we continue to move forward,” said Kevin Maloney,“ a seminarian studying for the priesthood for the diocese. “It is tragic to see the devastation that the scandal has brought upon people’s lives and I hope that the church will learn by the mistakes that were made.” Maloney grew up in Liverpool, a suburb of Syracuse and after graduating from Liverpool High School and Binghamton University in 1999, he entered St. Mary’s Seminary in 2000.
Regardless of the shadow of doubt that presently plagues the Catholic Church, the seminarians said that they receive love and support from their family, friends and mentors. Joseph O’Connor is also a seminarian at St. Mary’s in Baltimore. He grew up in Syracuse, is a member of Most Holy Rosary Parish and is a graduate of Bishop Ludden High School and Franciscan University of Steubenville. “I have felt a great outpouring of love and support. I think that people are going out of their way to let me know they are behind me,” he said. “I think the church has learned the importance of accountability and I feel a greater responsibility to speak up when I see unhealthy and sinful behavior.” The seminarians feel they have the full support of their families and friends in their decision to enter the priesthood. However, Father Neil Quartier, who works in the Office of Vocation Formation said that this has not always been the case. “I don’t imagine too many parents are encouraging their high school students to enter the priesthood,” he said. “Because our culture has become more secular, where wealth defines success, parents are more apt to encourage their sons to marry and make money. Parents also view the priesthood as a very lonely life.”
Father Donovan agreed. “When we get involved in consumerism and materialism, the option of simplicity and selflessness dims. We no longer live in the Ozzie and Harriet phase of the 1950’s,” said Father Donovan. “The demographics of the family have changed.” “In the 1950’s our culture centered on churches and schools,” said Father Quartier. “Families and family life have changed. They have become more mobile and that movement caused a lack of connectedness with parishes and schools.” The declining connection with the church has resulted in fewer men answering the call to vocation. In addition, Father Donovan said that the scandal in the church has frightened people from taking the leap in exploring the vocation. “Those who may have had doubts are succumbing to those doubts instead of taking the risk,” he said. In his work in campus ministry, Father Donovan often saw families who didn’t necessarily support their son’s or daughter’s interest in exploring the vocation.
As the church struggles to heal from the sins of a few, the men who have chosen a life of service to God are optimistic and motivated to share their love and deep faith with others. “We seminarians are a hopeful bunch,” said Kurgan. “I believe that we bring an energy which is seen and appreciated, This energy comes from a love of the Gospel message and a love of the church. I believe our message is ‘the church continues to strive and survive,’” he said. “Their youthful idealism keeps me challenged,” said Father Quartier. “Their excitement and their hope for the future is refreshing to me in my own work. Their spirituality inspires me.” “We are in good hands,” said Father Donovan.