Hello. This is my first post in the Catholic Answers Forum, but I have visited the forums for years. I’ll give you a little background on who I am and then tell you about my current situation.
I just completed my first year of Pre-Theology studies at a seminary in a major Midwestern United States city with a prominent Catholic history. Prior to entering, I graduated from college in 2011 and worked professionally for five years. While volunteering in my parish, I started to feel an interior invitation to consider the priesthood. This feeling started to intensify once I began going to daily Mass, pray more frequently, spend time in our perpetual adoration chapel, etc. Getting to know some joyful priests and other Catholic young adults was also an inspiration. Even though I have a strong attraction to marriage and family life, I knew I needed to act on these inclinations. After a few years of experiencing this, I decided to become a diocesan seminarian.
In August of 2016, I entered seminary with zeal and on fire for the Lord. Unfortunately, seminary has been like the fire department, quickly extinguishing the fire that once burned inside of me. The best way to describe my formation is to call it a joyless pursuit of joy. I believe my seminary has a toxic culture that is not suited to forming well-rounded priests.
When I found out that I was assigned to this seminary, I was surprised at the reaction I received from some priests that I knew well. They were concerned about the choice. They said things like, “Don’t let them change the way you are." They said this because I have an outgoing personality and an ability to connect well with others. In a meeting with my vocation director before starting my first semester, he told us that no matter what goes on at this seminary, we would need to be “flexible” when we return to the diocese. I was learning through these conversations that this seminary has a reputation for having a rigid environment for formation and produces priests without compassion for their people. Despite this, my vocation director believed this would be a good fit because of their solid faculty. My experience at this place is that reputation is deserved. Liturgies are somber exercises lacking humanity instead of a gracious response for what God has given us. I wonder at times if they are trying to form normal parish priests or robots programmed for precise liturgical precision who only appreciate Latin. There is a faction of students who vocally hate the Novus Ordo and question the legitimacy of Pope Francis. This brings up a larger point about how a notable amount of men at this seminary don’t talk about their desire to serve God’s people, but instead plot ways to change practices that have been in place for around half a century. This mindset starts at the top with our rector-president. Several of his stories he has shared about his brief time as a parish pastor were about changes he made at his parish, like barring his parishioners from holding hands during the Our Father. These instances remind me of recent comments from Pope Francis. On May 5th, he commented that “many young people in the church today have fallen into the temptation of rigidity. Some are honest, they are good and we must pray that the Lord help them grow along the path of meekness.” He added that some “use rigidity in order to cover over weakness, sin, personality problems” and build themselves up at the expense of others. I do want to add that I consider myself to be theologically conservative.
One of the most difficult aspects of my time at seminary has been the loneliness I have felt. It has been arduous to make good friendships, which is something that has never been hard for me. Most of the men are congenial and pleasant in communal settings, but many seem guarded if I invite them to do something socially. I think I have a variety of interests: sports, history, traveling, movies, books, running, cycling, etc. Despite that, it is hard at times to connect with many of the men. They just aren’t interested in those things the same way that I am. If I were to put it in a less charitable way, there just doesn’t seem to be many normal people at this seminary. There is definitely a cliquey atmosphere and I haven’t found my way into a clique yet. Many of the men have the luxury of returning to their families and non-seminary friends during these times, but I can’t since I my home diocese is several hours away. In February, I confided my vocation director that my experience at seminary has been a lonely one. I expressed my desire to form stronger bonds with some of the men since I think these relationships will be important to have if I am ordained someday. He then shared this during his meeting with the formators in March. Soon after, my formation adviser wanted to meet with me. He said he had been getting the feeling that I was lonely and asked if his inclination was true. I said that it was and asked him why he thought that. He never mentioned that my vocation director told him this and acted like he came to the conclusion independently. He then said it was his experience that men at this seminary who feel lonely and desire deeper friendships in this setting “are not usually called to be priests.” He then said that I probably have “unrealistic expectations” about friendship.You would think that formators who claim to want to help seminarians and nurture vocations would be ready to assist a man who has admitted his seminary experience has been difficult, but that did not happen here. (CONTINUED ON NEXT POST)