Rector’s Address - August 22, 2012

Sacred Heart Major Seminary

August 22, 2012

Heroic Witnesses:  Missionary Hearts


“It is not ourselves that we preach, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as servants for his sake.”  (2 Cor. 4:5)

May Jesus Christ be praised.  

I begin with these words and commend all of our work this year to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Because without Jesus our work has no meaning, our work has no purpose, and our work will not reach its proper end.  Only in and through Jesus do we see clearly and receive the grace necessary to accomplish the task he gives us; to share in the mission he received from the Father.  Our mission, then, is to form hearts ready to give witness to Christ; to form hearts ready to preach the Gospel with compelling conviction from lives deeply rooted in his love; to form hearts ready to bear the trials and disappointments of this life with courage and hope; and to form hearts that point with faith always to the one who has loved us from all eternity. 

We share an incredible mission here at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.  And we should never lose sight of the fact that we rely on his grace to help us with this task.  Our task, consequently, is not to glorify the seminary or merely to build up the seminary in the eyes of others, but allow this seminary to be the means through which Jesus Christ is glorified. 

It is a joy to see all of you and welcome you back formally as we begin another year of grace at Sacred Heart.  There are a number of new faces among us this year, I’m sure some of them you have already met, from faculty, to staff, to security.  Before I go any further, permit me to introduce some of the new faces so that we can acknowledge each of them and offer an official welcome to the Sacred Heart family.  (I would also like to acknowledge them now because they will be receiving assignments later in the address!)

Fr. Tim Laboe

Fr. Laboe is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and was ordained in 1999.  He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and then went on to earn a law degree at Catholic University of America.  Fr. Laboe practiced law for 4 years and then entered Sacred Heart Major Seminary, earning his Bachelor of Philosophy and Master of Divinity.  After ordination, he served as associate pastor and later as administrator in Pontiac and also as pastor in Redford.  He will complete is doctorate in Moral Theology this year at the Angelicum, writing on the topic of martyrdom as a moral act.  With the administrative background, the pastoral experience and the academic work that Fr. Laboe has done, we are pleased to introduce him formally as the new Dean of Studies for Sacred Heart Major Seminary.  (Please direct any academic questions now to Fr. Laboe!)

Fr. John Vandenakker

Fr. Vandenakker is a member of the Companions of the Cross.  He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Ottawa in 1985, and he incardinated into the Companions of the Cross in 2002.  He earned his doctorate in theology in 1993 at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and the title of his dissertation was:  Small Christian Communities and the Parish: An           Ecclesiological Analysis of the North American Experience. He has been a faculty member in the School of Theology at the University of St. Paul in Ottawa, teaching courses in systematic theology.  He has also served as pastor, and most recently at Queen of Peace parish in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.  Fr. Vandenakker brings a wealth of experience and pastoral insight, and for that reason, we are happy that he will be teaching in the School of Theology and also serve as the Director of Pastoral Formation.       

Fr. Pierre Ingram

Fr. Ingram is also a member of the Companions of the Cross.  He has served the Companions in a variety of administrative roles but has in recent years been working on the completion of his doctorate.  He successfully defended his dissertation in March at the St. Paul University (Ottawa) in the area of sacramental theology:  and the title of his dissertation was:   “The Representation of Christ by the Priest: A Study of the Antecedents of in persona Christi:  Theology in Ancient Christian Tradition.”  Prior to his doctoral work at St. Paul University, he also completed academic work at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto and in France.  We are blessed to welcome Fr. Pierre Ingram who will be teaching courses in both the graduate School of Theology and the undergraduate College of Liberal Arts.  Fr. Ingram will also help in the formation program through his service as a spiritual director. 


Mr. Donell Webb and Guardian Security

Some of you may have already had the opportunity to meet Mr. Webb, but if not, this will be a good opportunity to offer an introduction.  In May, the Archdiocese of Detroit announced that it was consolidating the contract for security services at the Chancery, the Archbishop’s residence, and here at the seminary.  The company that was chosen for this service was Guardian.  Mr. Webb has been appointed by Guardian as the supervisor for the three locations, but he has his office here in this building.  Mr. Webb is no stranger to Detroit or the seminary.  As a police officer in the 10th precinct, this area around the seminary was his ‘beat’ for a number of years.  He knows the community well and he has direct experience that will assist us in shaping the security services that are provided.  In addition to his work as a Detroit Police officer, Mr. Webb also served in the military and had tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The experience that Mr. Webb brings to his position is invaluable, and the family of Sacred Heart Major Seminary greets you with joy.  (I ask all the Guardian staff who are here to stand and be recognized.  The Guardian staff will be included in the directory and we are planning a meet/greet social so that we can get to know the new members of the Sacred Heart family).

Karolyn Surmont/Mark Hornbacher

I also want to acknowledge two familiar faces who have moved from part-time to full time work this summer:  Karolyn Surmont who is part of the support staff in the IFM, and Mark Horbacher who is appointed to the Library.  We are blessed to have such a good team at Sacred Heart, and Welcome to all!  

During this address, my first as Rector, I hope to accomplish a few things in the time we have:  first, to give consideration to the importance of the ‘Year of Faith’ in the life of the church and more specifically for our work here at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.  Second, I will present an image for our consideration this year as we continue to commit ourselves to the New Evangelization; and third, I will present the strategic initiatives that will help us meet our goals.  As I do so, I think it is of great benefit to call upon holy and heroic witnesses who can guide us along the path; specifically three holy souls whose hearts were on fire with a love of the Lord and who evangelized because they believed; and three witnesses who are not far removed from our own experience and locale:  The Venerable Frederick Baraga; The Venerable Michael J. McGivney; and the Venerable Solanus Casey.  We will ask them to be our ‘holy guides’ and intercessors, not just this year, but over the next few years, as we take up various initiatives.  It is my hope to have information about them displayed at the main entrance of the seminary, so that anyone who walks in these doors can be reminded of the powerful way in which the Gospel of Christ has been and can be lived, giving us inspiration to take up with vigor the New Evangelization.

Year of Faith

In his Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict XVI notes that he has spoken regularly of the “need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ.’ (PF, 2)  We are a people of faith!  And our task here at the seminary is to form priests, deacons, and lay leaders who approach their studies from the context of faith (not in a sterile vacuum); who live from awareness of the virtue of faith; who approach the Lord in prayer with a deep sense of humility and faith; and finally who reach out pastorally with a clear and deeply rooted sense of the gift of faith in the life of every believer.  We are people of faith.

Faith, as Dei Verbum reminds us, is our response to the self-gift of God in the person of Jesus Christ.  “By faith man freely commits his entire self to God, making ‘the full submission of his intellect and will to God who reveals.’”   Further, it notes that “before faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and ‘makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth” (DV, 5).  Faith is a response to the Word of Love spoken in depths of our hearts.  

But the beautiful harmony that once characterized the relationship between faith and reason, between grace and nature, is now characterized not just with casual dismissal, or a seemingly enlightened notion that faith is irrelevant (a childish myth), but rather with open hostility.    It is an aggressive attack that has little connection to reason, to common sense, and often even to charity.  We live in an age now when even basic, traditional statements of belief in things like the definition of marriage between one man and one woman, or the right that a child has to life, even while in the womb, are met with increasingly antagonistic rhetoric.  These attacks are not responding to statements of hate, but rather to basic, positive statements of belief.  In our 24/7 reactionary news/blog atmosphere, we are constantly reminded of the growing abyss between faith and reason.   

However, on the other side of the casual dismissal or open hostility to faith which we presently encounter is the luring presumptiveness on our part to claim as our own what is in fact the work of grace - To not acknowledge the origin of all good and the final destination of all our efforts.  We can, at times, claim power and manage our tasks in such a way that, while we do not manifest open hostility to faith, at the same time we subordinate it to our own efforts and initiatives.  This subtle lure should also be avoided as we contemplate the gift of faith.  Sacred Heart Major Seminary is a beautiful work of the Lord, we share in it as his believing servants, remembering that God resists the proud.  Faith is a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the World” (PF, 6).  In the context of faith, we recognize the powerful movement of grace at work in our lives.  Our response in faith is one of surrender, with deep confidence and joy, to God who gives us what we need in order to carry out his mission.

We can take to heart the inspiring words of Blessed John Paul II, as he wrote in Novo Millenio Ineunte:  “If in the planning that awaits us we commit ourselves more confidently to a pastoral activity that gives personal and communal prayer its proper place, we shall be observing an essential principle of the Christian view of life: the primacy of grace. There is a temptation which perennially besets every spiritual journey and pastoral work: that of thinking that the results depend on our ability to act and to plan. God of course asks us really to cooperate with his grace, and therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom. But it is fatal to forget that "without Christ we can do nothing" (cf. Jn 15:5).  (38)

And St. Paul encourages us when he says:  “We are subjected to every kind of trial, but never distressed, perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed, always carrying about in our bodies the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body” (2 Cor. 4: 8-11).  With these words St. Paul reminds the people of Corinth of the importance of faith.  Pope Benedict quotes the same letter when he writes:  “Caritas Christi urget nos” (2 Cor. 5:14).  “It is the love of Christ,” the Pope adds, “that fills our hearts and impels us to evangelize.  Today, as in the past, he sends us through the highways of the world to proclaim his Gospel to all peoples of the earth (cf. Mt. 28: 19).  Through his love, Jesus Christ attracts to himself the people of every generation: in every age he convokes the Church, entrusting her with the proclamation of the Gospel by a mandate that is ever new.” (7)    

These words should also ‘impel’ us with our mission here.  To form bold, joy-filled evangelists who will move hearts to Christ!  These words should give us renewed confidence because we recall that ‘it is not you who have chosen me, it is I who have chosen you, and I commissioned you to go forth and bear fruit, fruit that will last’ (cf. John 15: 16).  And so, as we embark on another year of grace, and during this special ‘year of faith’ what is our response?  How will we proceed? 

The School of the Heart

Here I would like to propose an image for us to consider in our formation programs.  The School of the Heart.  What do I mean exactly by this image?  Let’s listen to the words of the prophet Ezekiel who says:  “I will give you a new heart, a new spirit I will put within you.  I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put my spirit within you so that you will walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them” (Ez. 36: 26-27).

“A heart of flesh”, Ezekiel says, and “I will put my spirit within you so that you will walk in my statutes.”  Ezekiel is speaking here about the centrality of conversion in the life of the believer.  In this vision God purifies the heart from ‘idols’, those earthly things that we mistakenly worship or to which we cling.  Ezekiel gives an encouraging vision of the renewal of the heart, of the whole person.  Only from a heart well formed, a heart that is steadfast, a heart that is magnanimous can the Word of God be received and then preached with conviction.  A soft heart, a weak heart, or a heart with little capacity for sacrifice will only wither under the intense mid-day sun of ministry.

Sacred Heart Major Seminary is so much more than a College of Liberal Arts or a Graduate School of Theology.  It is a sacred place where one enters into and participates in the life of a family.  And in the context of this family, the heart is formed.  But what type of heart do we seek to form and how will accomplish that important task?  Here, in the school of the heart, we seek to form strong hearts, hearts for the long haul, the marathon.  What prompted the apostles, the missionaries, and even our own Bishop Baraga, Fr. McGivney, and Fr. Solanus to endure hardships, hunger, cold, danger of death?  They believed in Jesus and in the resurrection!  They believed so deeply that nothing else mattered to them.  They were on fire with the Word of God, yet it was a fire that was built not from paper or one of those ‘starter logs.’   It was a heart that was formed for the long haul, ready to endure any difficulty, a heart conformed to Jesus’ Sacred Heart, because the comforts of this life were not the first concern for these courageous witnesses.  The witness of their lives gave force and integrity to their preaching, and that is what made their words all the more compelling.  How can we not be inspired ourselves?   

And so in order to enter the ‘Year of Faith’ well, and for the next several years, I propose that we give sustained effort and attention to forming what I consider as a “missionary heart” in a “diocesan body” that leads to a life of pastoral charity.  To form a heart that is on fire because of a deeply held belief in Jesus Christ and the resurrection.   To acknowledge, as Pastores dabo vobis states:  “The priest …must be a man of mission” (18).  Are those two images complementary?  Absolutely.  I believe it is a core element to the urgency of the New Evangelization.  We need to have an urgency about: 1)  forming effective leaders, that is, good shepherds who love their sheep, who know their sheep, who feed their sheep with the truth, shepherds who seek out the lost sheep (not secluding themselves in the rectory or simply managing the work of the parish), and who will lay down their lives for the sheep.  These are not simply ideals, and they cannot be just words, they are vital for priests today.  It is time for mission, not maintenance.   2) priests who can preach with conviction about the Gospel and make effective application to the lives of people today.  For too long this has been a consistent area of weakness in formation programs.  How might we approach this task of forming a “missionary heart” in the “diocesan body?”  Where do we start?

Earlier this year, on the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, Pope Benedict gave an address on the World Day of Social Communications, entitled:  “Silence and the Word:  Pathway to Evangelization.”  In his address the Holy Father noted that silence is an essential component to all communication.  “If God speaks to us even in silence, we in turn discover in silence the possibility of speaking with God and about God. …In speaking of God’s grandeur, our language will always prove inadequate and must make space for silent contemplation.  Out of such contemplation springs forth, with all its inner power, the urgent sense of mission, the compelling obligation ‘to communicate that which we have seen and heard’ so that all may be in communion with God.”

An essential component of this formation is silence.  A “missionary heart” in a “diocesan body” is not just an external skill-set.  It is born and formed from the dynamic, silent contemplation of one intimately united to the Father, in the Son, and through the Holy Spirit.  These may seem contradictory at first glance, but I believe it speaks directly to the core of the identity of the diocesan priest.   The seminarians need to have a concrete, personal relationship with Jesus Christ that is not based merely on intellectual curiosity (no matter how ‘bright’ we might think a student is), nor is it based on sentimental notions that may come and go.  It needs to be a genuine relationship born from silent contemplation and a transparent dialogue with the Lord.  Intellectual curiosity can fade, and superficial sentiments can vanish, …but the relationship needs to be sustained.  The heart formed in contemplation is the heart that is most ready to serve, a heart ready to give, a heart that knows there will be trial and sacrifice, and a heart really disposed to sense the urgency with the missionary spirit.  

Thus genuine diocesan ministry, a genuine engagement with the New Evangelization, begins with a heart formed in contemplation that leads outward to the exercise of pastoral charity, the ultimate form of seminary formation.  Pastoral charity, we might say, is the primary integrating principle in the formation program.  The seminary, as the school of the heart, forms the heart in contemplation yet with the ultimate goal of sending that heart forth into the vineyard.  And we know that they will encounter difficulties, trials, failures (St. Paul reminds of that in his letter to the Corinthians).  How will they respond?  If they are well formed, they will be moved by faith; they will be confident in the ultimate triumph of Jesus because of a heart that is strong and courageous, and they will preach from the integrity of lives that bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And they will accept the trials of ministry not with resentment or self-preservation, but rather with a generous spirit of joyful, self-sacrifice.  “Missionary hearts in a diocesan body:  the true Good Shepherd.”  That goal is accomplished here in the school of the heart. 

Strategic Initiatives

With these thoughts in minds, we turn to the practical application.  How do we seek to accomplish these goals?  These initiatives are related to the formation of seminarians to the priesthood, as well as our candidates for the permanent diaconate and lay ecclesial ministry.  Here I intend to call upon our three heroic guides.  The charity of Fr. Solanus, the leadership of Fr. McGivney, and the zeal of Bishop Baraga.

Pastoral Integration Project

The first initiative that I would like to highlight is the need to address pastoral formation, to present for Holy Orders men who have clearly embraced the identity of the Good Shepherd and men who will seek to grow as leaders throughout their priestly lives.  “The priest’s fundamental relationship is to Jesus Christ, head and shepherd (PDV, 16).  It goes on to state that “the whole formation imparted to candidates for the priesthood aims at preparing them to enter into communion with the charity of Christ the good shepherd” (PDF, 57).  The identity of the Good Shepherd has such a richness and depth to it, but I would like to focus upon two relevant components of it for our work:  1) the shepherd loves; and 2) the shepherd leads.  To begin our consideration of the first component, pastoral charity, I consider for a moment the parable of the lost sheep.  Jesus addressed the parable to the Pharisees who were concerned over his contact and attentiveness to sinners.  Jesus said to them:  “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it.  And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and upon his arrival home says, he calls together his neighbors and friends and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep” (Lk. 15: 3-6).  In this parable, the shepherd does not hesitate to go out and seek the sheep that is lost.  His first impulse is to seek, not just because it is a good thing to do, but because he recognizes the fundamental point that he has been loved first and sought out by the Good Shepherd.  The recognition of being loved and continuously sought out by the Good Shepherd is precisely what prompts the each priest to imitate that same love and compassion of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  In that context, every shepherd is himself first the 100th sheep, that sheep that has already been sought and embraced, lifted up on the shoulders of Jesus and carried home.  From that point, the heart of each shepherd is formed to go and do the same.  It is a heart formed through silent contemplation and intimate conversation with Jesus.  The exercise of pastoral charity emerges from a heart that has been embraced by Jesus and is united with Jesus, not a heart that is cold and detached, or a heart that is just seeking to ‘make a difference’ in the world.  Pastoral charity is the form, the goal of our efforts in presenting men for Holy Orders, and manifests most clearly the complete integration of the four pillars.  Finally, it unites the three munera of the priest has he teaches, sanctifies, and leads. (PDV, 57)    

To help in this effort, I call to mind our Venerable Fr. Solanus Casey.  Fr. Casey was the first US born man formally declared ‘venerable.’  He lived a heroic life of simplicity and humility.  He was born in Wisconsin, but held a number of manual labor jobs when he was younger.  The stories here in Detroit are too numerous to recount about his hospitality as porter at St. Bonaventure, his willingness to listen, his counsel, his prayer, his healing presence, and ultimately his charity in receiving hungry, wounded and lost sheep.  Even though he was ordained as ‘sacerdos simplex,’ the grace of God worked in such a powerful way through this humble man that his whole life became a living Gospel for people.  Fr. Solanus, whose body is only a few miles from this seminary, is a powerful example and intercessor for us as we seek to improve pastoral formation.  I would encourage each one of you to make a visit to the monastery at some point this year and ask Fr. Solanus to bless our efforts.  The shepherd loves his sheep.

The second component of the pastoral formation program is that the Good Shepherd leads.  In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd.”  “The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice” (Jn. 10: 3-4).  It is the Good Shepherd who leads the sheep.  There are two important elements in the dynamic between the Shepherd and the sheep.  First, the sheep recognize the voice of the shepherd because they hear it often.  The shepherd is present to his sheep.  It is not an unfamiliar voice to them, but rather, a voice that is heard on a daily basis.  The voice is readily associated with the shepherd, the one who cares for them.  Second, it is not merely the recognition of the voice that makes the sheep responsive; it is the trust that is established that moves the sheep to follow.  They hear the voice, they follow, and they are nourished with the truth.

But in order to lead well, the shepherd must be prepared.  Here again the intersection of the intellectual, human, and spiritual formation find their unity and movement toward effective pastoral leadership.  It is not simply a skill-set, but a heart and mind that are well formed (PDV, 58).  To lead well, the shepherd has to know what to do and be able to recognize the difference between truth and error.  To lead well, the shepherd has to listen, collaborate and have a heart that is strong.  To lead well, the shepherd has to be faithful.  A shepherd without knowledge will certainly lead the sheep into the lie.  A shepherd without courage will run and leave the sheep vulnerable when the wolves come.  And a shepherd whose roots are shallow will wither at the first moment of desolation.  Therefore, our efforts need to integrate all of these pillars so that the shepherd is ready to lead.

To lead well.  Here I call to mind our second venerable as a guide and inspiration.  Fr. Michael J. McGivney.  He was a young priest in Connecticut, ordained in 1877.  As a young associate pastor, Fr. McGivney recognized not only the financial vulnerability of the families in his parish, but also the spiritual vulnerability.  Catholic families at that time had to endure unthinkable hardships, and far too often, young mothers were left widowed and without any resources when their husbands died at hazardous job sights.  It was a situation that Fr. McGivney could not ignore.  While his body was weakened from pneumonia and other health problems, his heart and his spirit burned with such force that he never stopped preaching, he never stopped making visits to families, and he always gave encouragement to the men in his parish especially through his leadership in the founding of the Knights of Columbus.  This young diocesan priest had a strong, missionary heart, a zeal for the Gospel and a love for his people.  How creative, how insightful, and how courageous!  Fr. McGivney died at 38.  He was a priest for only 12 years.  He did not seek to protect himself, or to make his life more comfortable.  He loved the heart of the Good Shepherd, and because of that he had the heart of the Good Shepherd, the heart of Christ.  That is what prompted him to lead in the way he did.

And so, we have work to do in the area of pastoral formation.  But we also have two compelling witnesses to intercede for us in this area:  The Venerable Solanus Casey and the Venerable Michael J. McGivney.  Since pastoral formation has complementary roots in human, intellectual, and spiritual formation, I have asked Fr. Trapp, Fr. Battersby, Fr. Vandenakker, Fr. Jones and Fr. Laboe, to form a working group and review the components of the pastoral formation program.  Fr. Trapp has graciously agreed to be the chair of this working group.  There are a number of elements to the pastoral formation program, some which are situated in the MDiv degree program, and some which are situated in other areas of the formation program.  I will ask them to review the relevant ecclesial documents, particularly Pastores dabo vobis 57-59, the pastoral outcomes of the MDiv program, and to give particular attention to the excellent assessment report that that MDiv degree committee just completed (under the leadership of Sr. Mary Lou Putrow) regarding the survey of pastors of newly ordained.  The assessment report demonstrates the value of good assessment and will be invaluable as this working group proceeds.  Questions that come to mind are:  do we have the appropriate components in the formation program to form the shepherd who loves, the shepherd who leads?  Are the components sequenced coherently?  In light of the changing dynamics in parishes today (clusters, collaborations, and newly ordained entering pastorates very quickly) are there sufficient experiences prior to ordination?  This exciting and necessary task will consider the goals of ‘pastoral charity’ and ‘pastoral leadership’ and seek to make recommendations that will improve the core elements of our formation program.  I ask that this group examine the relevant data, consult with faculty, and present recommendations by the end of the Winter Term.   

 Pastoral Plan for Preaching 

A second strategic initiative to begin this year will be to address the need to form exemplary preachers. This, as we all know, is no easy task.  Survey after survey done with parishioners around the United States identifies preaching as one of the key areas of weakness that they identify in priests today (along with leadership, which was just addressed).  Part of the issue is the lack of understanding of the centrality of preaching in the life of the priest.  The priest, while engaging in the munera of leading and sanctifying, is also the prophetic voice, the one who preaches the Gospel.  This is not merely a task or part of a job description in the life of the priest.  It is part of his very identity.  Therefore, as with leading, preaching is not just a skill-set that is shaped during the years of formation.  It is something much deeper and more profound.

The munus of preaching has its origins in the school of the heart.  It begins in the silent contemplation of the Word of God.  It emerges from the lived relationship with the Lord, and it is the Spirit that assists us in giving voice to these words.  And at the heart of preaching is the call to bring people into a genuine encounter with Christ.  Just as Jesus explained the Scriptures to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and their hearts burned, so too the priest preaches the meaning of the Word so that hearts will burn for Christ.

As I consider formation in preaching as a key element of the New Evangelization, my thoughts turn to our third heroic guide, the Venerable Bishop Baraga.  What does the ‘snowshoe priest’ have to teach us about preaching and how can we be inspired by his life?  Baraga was born in Slovenia and as a young man learned several languages.  He was ordained a priest in 1823, but soon after (1830) he sensed the urgency to preach the Gospel in the United States, particularly to the Native American people.  He was sent to Michigan and began to serve the Odawa and Ojibwa of the Upper Great Lakes.  It was not easy.  Baraga had to learn a complex language, establish relationships with the people, endure harsh living conditions, with very few resources.  His missionary heart was deeply formed by the intense quiet prayer of contemplation, and from that he preached the Gospel with unending zeal.  Baraga knew that in order to be effective, he first had to listen attentively to the Word, receive the Word in his heart, and then transmit that word with compelling force in a multiple languages.  So committed was Baraga that he created a dictionary for the Ojibwa language.  

The example that Venerable Baraga gives us in preaching is that he was bold (not arrogant) and humble (yet not timid).  He was bold because he had a strong heart and he believed in the resurrection of Jesus.  He was bold because he knew the saving power of the Gospel and had a desire that all people hear this Good News of salvation.  He could not be contained.  Through his preaching he wanted people to encounter the love and compassion of Jesus.  He was humble because he walked hundreds of miles every year, through deep snow and cold, to reach the small missions that needed to hear the saving message of the Gospel and receive the sacraments.  He was not deterred or discouraged.  He recognized that it was by the grace of God at work in his heart, a strong heart, that made all things possible.  Not his efforts alone. 

To be Bold and Humble.  These are two characteristics that should mark the preaching activity of the New Evangelization.  To be bold (but not arrogant) is to be filled with hope and not condescend, always knowing that without Christ we can do nothing.  It is a confident proclamation of the truth of the Gospel, not because of any particular personal ability, but because it is Christ’s saving work.  Boldness is not arrogance.  With arrogance, one is filled with hubris; one is self-centered; and one does not recognize the movement of grace.  To be humble is to imitate the prophetic voice of John the Baptist who pointed fearlessly to the Lamb of God, not to himself.  “He must increase; I must decrease.”  Timidity is the opposite of humility.  It is by no means helpful or pastoral.  It exchanges the saving truth of the Gospel in order to protect one’s self.  Our program in preaching must seek to form bold and humble prophets who seek only to point to Christ, and who like the Venerable Baraga, never cease to proclaim Christ with joy and confidence.

To address this great challenge, I ask Paco Gavrilides, along with Fr. Dan Jones, Fr. Steve Burr, and Mr. Gerry Rauch to work on a comprehensive Pastoral Plan for Preaching.  The plan should present a curriculum for preaching that begins in the first year of seminary training, extend up to ordination, and clearly integrate the four (4) pillars of formation.  We already have some relevant data to guide the beginning of the process, but we also have the intercession of the great ‘snowshoe priest’ whose witness and compelling example of preaching the Gospel will prove to be a great blessing.  I ask that the Pastoral Plan be presented, along with any recommendations, by the end of the Winter Term.     

MAPS Revision

In addition to these two initiatives, my thoughts also turn to the permanent deacons and faithful lay ecclesial ministers who are trained here at Sacred Heart.  As we form and shape leaders, we recognize clearly that they contribute in a unique and invaluable way to the New Evangelization. They, too, are formed in the school of the heart and need strong hearts, hearts on fire with a love of God and trained for the work of ministry.  That is an exciting and important task for us.  Beginning last year, under the direction of Mrs. Janet Diaz, the MAPS revision project has brought together faculty members and practitioners (both priest and lay) to consider ways to improve the formation components in the program.  Recommendations were considered in June and a new, pilot of the formation program will begin this year.  We remain deeply committed to this program revision, and I see it as an integral part of the way in which we as a seminary contribute to the work of the New Evangelization.  To form competent, spiritual, and faithful permanent deacons and lay leaders who will collaborate with the priests in the pastoral work of the diocese and in parishes.  As demographics change and new needs arise for parishes, these leaders will be critical co-workers.  I am grateful to Mrs. Diaz and the members of the Task Force for their work, and we look forward to the on-going work of the MAPS formation project.

Continuing Education of Priests

    A final area of urgent need is to address seriously and directly the on-going formation and education of priests.  It has been an elusive target at times, but one that cannot disappear from our radar.  I recall as a child growing up my father studying every year and taking tests so that he could retain his license as a pharmacist.  I just thought it was natural for professionals.  It is what professionals have to do in order to stay current and effective.  In this area, I believe Sacred Heart has so much to offer.  We do our very best to prepare these men for priesthood, but what about the next steps?  What about the first year and unexpected challenges?  What about the transition to more complex leadership a pastor with a cluster or a collaboration.  Priests have shorter and shorter terms now as associates.  How might Sacred Heart assist in the effort to keep the school of the heart connected?

Like other initiatives, this is no easy task.  In recent conversations with Fr. Tim Hogan, it has become clear that we are positioned to take some concrete, positive steps forward.  We know that on-going formation will look different for a newly ordained, one in the middle years of priesthood, and those in the senior years.  Can we envision a program that has multiple layers, speak to the joys and challenges of different generations, and engage them well so that they continue to encounter Christ in prayer, reading, and pastoral ministry?  I think it is time!  To that end, I ask Fr. Tim Laboe, Fr. Chas Canoy and Mrs. Janet Diaz to begin developing ideas and work in collaboration with Fr. Hogan in order to realize a program that can really address the needs of on-going formation.  It will be exciting to hear from them about the progress, and I encourage each of us to offer them any insights as they plan their work.       

Notables for this year

    In the final part of my address, I intend to share with you some ‘notables’ for the coming year.  

Enrollment/Third Floor

As we begin the new academic year, we will be blessed with 123 seminarians, from 12 dioceses and 4 religious communities.  This represents another significant increase in enrollment in our seminarian population.  We are blessed!  Fr. Battersby will give a brief introduction of the new seminarians at our joint faculty meeting so that we can begin to learn names.  We will also welcome 350 lay commuter students!  In addition to the robust number of students, we are completing the next stage of the renovations on the third floor.  Over the summer work began to construct a bathroom and laundry room for the students on the northeast corner of the third floor.  As our numbers continue to increase, we will certainly need to proceed prudently and strategically so that we can offer proper housing for the students, but even more importantly, we will also need to be attentive to the ratio of priest formators to seminarians.  This will remain an item of focus for our strategic planning.


As a part of the our efforts to improve the formation program, and in conjunction with the strategic efforts I mentioned earlier in the address, the formation faculty have agreed to make changes in the daily horarium that will assist us in achieving our formation goals.  

First, in the school of the heart the men need to develop deeply rooted habits of prayer and a strong relationship with the Lord that serves as the foundation for discernment, pastoral charity, leadership and preaching.  They need the daily, silent contemplation to hear the Word of God as an integral part of the discernment process.  This common prayer serves as a part of the consolidation of prayer habits, which is among the goals of formation.  Further, the daily period of prayer fosters a deeper devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist, an essential component to the life and identity of the diocesan priest.  To that end, the morning Holy Hour will be mandatory for all College seminarians and the men in their first year of theology.  

Second, in order to encourage fraternity and offer additional opportunities for the men to exercise pastoral charity, a Family Night (meal with conversation) for all seminarians and residents is being established. As noted in the handbook, “this event is mandatory for all seminarians in both the College and Graduate programs.  The dinner will begin at 5:30pm in the Refectory and will conclude with a relevant formational piece following dinner and prior to the community Eucharistic Holy Hour.”  I recall personally how beneficial the family meal was, and how much was learned and transmitted during that period (I also remember doing dishes every night).  What I envision is a weekly opportunity to sit together, to suspend the frenetic pace of life, and to teach the men how to be with each other, how to visit with parishioners, how to listen well.   If we finish eating at 6:00pm, then we will visit for the next half hour.  Meals are more than the function of eating, and I want to use this time with the seminarians to teach lessons that will serve them (and their future parishioners) well.  Since this is a weekly event, it will require the use of the refectory.  I have asked Janet Diaz to communicate this with the commuter students and guests so that they understand why we are having a private family meal every Thursday the goals we hope to accomplish.  Dinner will still be available for commuter students and guests, but we have reserved the two dining rooms (St. Martha and St. Thomas) for them to eat.  Please pray that these efforts bear much fruit for us.

September Conference on Vatican II

In preparing for the Year of Faith, the Holy Father asked the church to consider a number of activities that could help mark the year.  To that end, Sacred Heart Major Seminary will have a conference next month that will mark the inauguration of the Second Vatican Council.  The title of the two-day conference is:  Vatican II:  Renewal for the Sake of Evangelization.  Archbishop Vigneron and Dr. Ralph Martin will give the keynote addresses, and on Saturday we will have a number of our faculty members giving breakout sessions in the afternoon.  At this point, we have approximately 230 registered for the event and we will continue to promote it in the coming weeks.  The conference will be an inspiring event to start the “Year of Faith.” 

October Reception in Rome during the Synod

Soon after our September conference, the Holy Father will open a Synod of Bishops in October that will take up the theme of the New Evangelization.  Sacred Heart Major Seminary will have a strong presence at the Synod.  Fr. Chas Canoy will be working as a staff person in the Synod Office and we hope to have one or two officially appointed members from Sacred Heart, but we have not heard anything yet.  We have much to share, but we also have much to learn through continued prayer and study, as well as contact with peers throughout the world.  Also, on Friday of the first week of the Synod (October 12), Sacred Heart Major Seminary, in conjunction with the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome (Angelicum) will host a reception for the participants of the Synod.  We have been working on this for almost a year, and Dr. Martin and I will make short presentations at a public gathering followed by a private reception for bishops.  It will be an important opportunity to present our seminary, our faculty, and our programs to the bishops from around the world.  Please pray for the success of the reception.   

Faculty meetings

As I noted at the end of last year, faculty meetings will begin with a longer, more substantial period of prayer, and I would invite those who will be called upon to lead the prayers to consider how the three Venerables might continue to guide our prayer and work for the next few years.  Further, the joint meetings will take up particular, timely topics:  August will consider an aspect of professional development; the December meeting will focus on strategic planning; and the June meeting will consider our assessment data.  I hope these modifications help us stay aware of the movement of grace and also focus our efforts in a more strategic way.

Year of Faith

As I conclude my remarks, I am moved by the generosity of the administration, faculty members, the staff, and the benefactors who not only support the mission of Sacred Heart, but who give witness to Jesus every day.  You are a blessing!  No initiative, no program, can have any success without the grace of God and the sacrifices you make on a daily basis.  I know that it is not easy work, and that we do not have all the resources we would like to have, but here in the school of the heart, we cooperate with the Spirit and participate in the formation of those who will go forth into the vineyard, those who will give witness to Christ, those whose hearts will burn with charity.  

     And finally, in this ‘Year of Faith’ and for the next few years, we will call upon the witness of our ‘holy guides’ the Venerable Solaus Casey, the Venerable Michael J. McGivney, and the Venerable Frederic Bararga, and we ask that they intercede for us as we seek to form ‘missionary hearts’ in ‘diocesan bodies.’

May Jesus Christ be praised! 

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