A good interview about the US seminary where I was for a while

I picked this up via Stella Borealis, a blog focused on my native place of Minnesota.

It is an interview with the Rector of the St. Paul Seminary, where I did two years of the hardest time of my life back when it was a dissident "Hole", as some of us called it.  I finished my seminary in Rome.

The place has changed as night changes to day.

One of the main reasons for the change is the work of the Rector, Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan.

The interview was in the Catholic Spirit, the weekly of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

My emphases and comments.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Monsignor Aloysius Callaghan, Rector: This is grace-filled time for seminary

Catholic Spirit editor Joe Towalski interviewed Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan, rector-vice president of St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, on Sept. 11. Excerpts of the interview follow.


Msgr. Callaghan

Q: The theme of a new springtime comes up a lot in regard to the St. Paul Seminary. How do you see the seminary experiencing a new springtime?

I would say the experience in recent history of Pope John Paul II’s desire for a new evangelization, to get out and spread the word, is maybe at the heart of this new springtime that we’re experiencing.

He gave the call, he gave the example — with such great determination and strength — with all of those World Youth Days, and we’ve seen his successor so gloriously calling young men and women to think about religious life and to be strong in building up families. I think that’s at the heart of what the new springtime is.

The men who come here to prepare know that they have to take that Gospel and the word of God, make it their own and enflesh it in their own lives so that they can proclaim it to others. We see it in their prayer and their devotions. We see it in the desire for “lectio divina,” we see it in so many ways today.

Q: How would you describe the men who are in formation here?

They’re coming with a real strong and determined desire to respond to a calling to serve the church, to serve the Lord. They’re coming with a willingness to do whatever they have to do, so there’s a certain courage that comes from that. To respond to a call at any time, but most especially today in the call to priesthood, takes some courage because they’re going to say yes to the Lord and no to other things.

They want to be men of the church. They have a love for the church[This is an amazing thing to read from a rector of SPS (though not from Msgr. Callaghan).  I revel in it.  I remember what SPS was like back when.]  They don’t know as yet all about what their responsibilities or calling will be in that church, but that’s what formation is. They love the church, and they somehow want to respond to the call to serve the church.

Second, they want to be gentlemen, [!] and we want to help them to be just that. We pray in the Mass for vocations for ardent, but gentle, servants of the Gospel. . . .

We’ve had so many examples of what that means. From the time I came here, and for the first years I served here, we had Archbishop [Harry] Flynn. He’s the quin­tessential gentleman. He just knows how to touch the hearts of people. All the leaders that I’ve had the good fortune to serve with, and now Archbishop [John] Nien­stedt, that’s a hallmark of their ministry. They want to be men of the church and gentlemen. They respect [other people].

Then, they have to be men of the Eucharist. They have to have a love of the Eucharist because that’s at the heart of what we do. . . . We have eucharistic adoration every morning here. [Unthinkable when I was there.  We were told, "Jesus said ‘Take and eat’ not ‘Sit and look’!"] It’s optional from 6 to 7, but the majority of the men are there praying in the morning because they know that’s where they’re going to get the grace and the energy they need to do the work they’re called to do.

Then, they have a desire, which becomes more and more apparent, to have a devotion to our Blessed Mother. [One of my classmates was expelled for an "exaggerated Marian devotion".  He had a statue of O.L. of Fatima in his room.] Who better than Mary could help them understand the Lord they’re going to serve.

Q: What do you think brings men here to discern whether priesthood really is the vocation for them?

I think for most people — and it’s been the history of the calling from the time the Lord began to call — it’s somehow a response to an invitation. So often, like the Lord himself when he called the Apostles, some person — whether it be their priest or the encouragement of their family or parents or their teacher or a nun — planted the seed.

Then, it’s the good example they’re teaching them. In my own life, it was my old pastor, an Irish priest whom I served from the time I was in the third grade. My brother and I served every day, and just seeing that old man struggle at times to just say Mass, you knew that was the most important moment of his day . . . and it never left me. . . .

For the majority of these men [at the seminary], the only pope they knew was John Paul II. And he had a strong influence in their lives. And so many of them, either by word or by action, have indicated that somehow he had a major influence in what they were going to do.

Then, in this local church in the last 13 years or so, Archbishop Flynn was the shepherd and his heart and soul was seminary work, and his priority was to encourage an increase in vocations. And the numbers we’ve had, I think, are phenomenal.

In his time as archbishop, he ordained close to 100 men. Between this seminary and [St. John Vianney College Seminary], we have more than 65 seminarians. Just look around the country, and that is a special grace. So there’s the influence of the shepherd. If you talk about the pope, and the archbishop and then priests who are promoting vocations, grace builds on nature, and these men are doing it.

Archbishop Nienstedt, since his arrival here, has come out once a month, and he’s had Mass here, and he has lunch with the seminarians. [Admirable!] He is always concerned and interested in knowing about the life of the seminary. That makes it easier for me in a way knowing that you have your shepherd right there with you in this work of formation.

Q: After the clergy sexual abuse scandal came to light, there was a renewed focus on seminary formation. How has seminary formation changed over the last decade or so?

Not that it wasn’t there before, but I think there’s a dogged determination to highlight the importance of leading a virtuous life, and how important and essential the virtues are to one’s life, not only as a human being, but most especially as one who is going to be a leader or a priest.

Both from the point of view of spiritual direction and human formation, the priests who are involved in formation are trying to help the men develop a truly balanced life and to grow in holiness. If we do that, and do that in a very deliberate way and with the help of psychological assistance and all those things modern medical science tells us, I think we’re well on the way. . . .

And then there is the church itself. We had an apostolic visitation, which was to help strengthen the formation program that we have. We also have the most recent edition of the “Program of Priestly Formation” put out by our bishops, and we use that to guide our work so we’re not just pulling it out of the air.

Q: In addition to forming men for the priesthood, does the seminary contribute to the archdiocese in other ways?

We’re the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, so we’re forming and preparing lay people — men and women — to be collaborators with their priests in this mission of preaching, teaching and sanctifying in their own roles, and to help build up the body of Christ. Right now we have 74 lay students among our four degree programs here. Sixteen new students joined us this summer.

And then we just launched the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute with our interim director, Jeff Cavins. We’re excited about that because we have 150 people signed up for it. It’s not only to help enrich their faith and grow in the faith, but it’s supposed to be one of these areas where we reach out into the local church, local parishes and communities to help people strengthen their knowledge of the faith, and then to become leaders in announcing the Word.

We have a scholar-in-residence program. We’re delighted in having Dr. Janet Smith, who’s such a renowned personality. On the teaching of morality, on the teaching of John Paul II, on “Humanae Vitae,” she’s one of the outstanding people in our country. That’s been a real blessing for the seminary. The first class that she had was standing-room only.

I’d like to envision, if you will, [the seminary] as eventually a center for formation — both for the ordained and for those who are not ordained but who work in ecclesial service in the archdiocese. In many ways we’re moving strongly in that direction.

It’s like waking up from a bad dream and finding out that life was normal, and pretty good, after all!


What a breath of fresh air.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Fr. Andrew says:

    Some credit must also go to St. John Vianney College Seminary and Fr. William Baer who has done an amazing job there. His motto the whole time has been: “Men in Christ, Men of the Church, Men for Others,” as he strove to right that 1970s and ’80s vision of the priest as social worker. That has helped feed those upright young men into SPS and helped force the issue from the ground. I am a alum of SJV but not SPS.

  2. Fr. Andrew. Thanks for that good reminder!

  3. Padre Steve says:

    Well it’s good to see hopeful signs from seminaries! God bless them!

  4. Kevin Kimtis says:

    I worked with Msgr. Callaghan for several years in Washington. He is an extremely fair and well-spoken man. He has most certainly been a positive influence at St. Paul’s

  5. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Having just read some excerpts from Optatam totius, the Vatican II Decree on Priestly Formation, especially paragraph 8 (quoted below), I’m curious how in the world the seminary could espouse the un-Catholic sentiments it did when you were there, Father. I mean, I’m not naive, but on what authority did the seminary base its ludicrous “formation”?

    The spiritual training should be closely connected with the doctrinal and pastoral, and, with the special help of the spiritual director, should be imparted in such a way that the students might learn to live in an intimate and unceasing union with the Father through His Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Conformed to Christ the Priest through their sacred ordination they should be accustomed to adhere to Him as friends, in an intimate companionship, their whole life through. They should so live His paschal mystery themselves that they can initiate into it the flock committed to them. They should be taught to seek Christ in the faithful meditation on God’s word, in the active participation in the sacred mysteries of the Church, especially in the Eucharist and in the divine office, in the bishop who sends them and in the people to whom they are sent, especially the poor, the children, the sick, the sinners and the unbelievers. They should love and venerate with a filial trust the most blessed Virgin Mary, who was given as mother to the disciple by Christ Jesus as He was dying on the cross.
    Those practices of piety that are commended by the long usage of the Church should be zealously cultivated; but care should be taken lest the spiritual formation consist in them alone or lest it develop only a religious affectation. The students should learn to live according to the Gospel ideal, to be strengthened in faith, hope and charity, so that, in the exercise of these practices, they may acquire the spirit of prayer, learn to defend and strengthen their vocation, obtain an increase of other virtues and grow in the zeal to gain all men for Christ.

  6. Irenaeus says:

    Fr Z,

    Good to hear! I had a Catholic friend in college (mid 90s) who was planning to become a priest, and he was terrified that he might have to go to St Paul. He was able to go to CUA and the Gregorium in Rome. He painted a bleak picture. Good to hear things seem to have change.

    But a seminarian getting booted for Marian devotion? Really? I’ve had friends removed from the Episcopal, Lutheran and Presbyterian ordination processes for being too conservative or something similar, but it’s hard to believe such things happen in the big bad Catholic church. On the other hand, I guess anything is possible.

  7. Fr Smith says:

    Msgr Callaghan, incidentally, is an alumnus of the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary at the Lateran, my dear Alma Mater, and if my memory recalls rightly, it was during the years when the PSRM was very sound generally even despite some of the post-V II nonsense even in Italy. There was a great sense of true priesthood and serving the Church. I am glad to see him flourishing in this capacity. Mater mea, fiducia mea! And let us not forget that it was very much due to Abp Flynn that Mt St Mary’s in Emmitsburg, MD, was so successful and orthodox a seminary.

  8. dominic1962 says:

    The state of seminaries in the States after Vatican II did not have much to do with the actual documents of Vatican II. Remember, like many other things in AmChurch, it was the “Spirit of Vatican II” that was their authority-not any static document. Out with all the old, in with the new! The Council started the flow and was soon discarded because it was just the carrier, so to say, of the Brave New Church.

    As to getting booted for being Catholic, read Goodbye Good Men or talk to solid priests who survived that era. As one of my priest friends tell me, you’d have been better off getting caught with a porn stash than with a traditional devotional material stash-and God help you if there was a traditional missal or other such “propaganda” in the lot!

  9. Monsignor Al Callaghan was my canon law professor in major seminary. He was also Judicial Vicar and Officialis of the Tribunal for the Diocese of Allentown and Pastor in Egypt, PA. ALWAYS a gentleman, scholar and a holy priest.

    ad multos annos

  10. anon seminarian says:

    Father Z,
    Yes things may have been an improvement from the time that you were there however I hear things are still very liberal at St. Paul Seminary. I have a couple of friends who attend the college seminary, which itself is better than the major seminary, that report that the theology department is incredibly liberal. Don’t let this wake you up from your dream quite yet. [FYI… I don’t permit “anonymous” comments here. I changed your nom de plume.]

  11. Larry says:

    Believe me St. Paul’s was not alone in it’s misguided ways and days. I rember telling my fellow Franciscans in the third order that it was for us the laity to train the priests in the Faith once they were ordained. Things were really pathetic. It was for a time like the church had revolving doors. Father came in looked around for a couple of years and left the priesthood. This kind of non sense went on for years. At one seminary I know of you would be “reported” to your bishop for praying the Rosary. They probably called it excessive piety without saying what you were actually doing. The few “faithful” seminarians used to sneak into the chapel late at night and pray the Rosary. Adoration! Well you must be nuts! Bad as things are today they are worlds better than the ’90’s! Thank God for JPII and Benedict/Ratzinger or we would really be a small remnant!

  12. TJM says:

    It could very well be that the seminaries who today are recovering their Catholicity and seriousness about the priesthood may actually be better than many of the pre-Vatican II
    seminaries whence came the “spirit of Vatican II” crowd. At least that’s my hope. Tom

  13. Patrick says:


    I always wonder what happened to the faithful men who were persecuted for trying to lead a holy life in those days when the “reformers” held sway.

    “One of my classmates was expelled for an “exaggerated Marian devotion”. He had a statue of O.L. of Fatima in his room”

    Did he ever become a priest? I will remember him tomorrow at Holy Mass, I hope he made it.

Comments are closed.