A priest writes about his 40 years of priesthood

17_05_05_ordination_card_01Over at Catholic World Report there is a piece by Fr. Peter Stravinskas, who reflects on 40 years of priesthood… his own.  His 40th anniversary of ordination comes up on 27 May.

This bit got my attention and sympathy.

The college seminary experience was not too bad; indeed, the academic formation was stellar, while the overall environment in the Church was harrowing, especially as defections from the priesthood reached epidemic proportions; I often say it is surprising that the suction didn’t take the rest of us with them.  The theology years were a nightmare at every level: outright heresy taught as Gospel truth; rife liturgical abuses on a daily basis; persecution of “retrograde” seminarians – with Yours Truly being told that he was “unsuited for ministry in the post-conciliar Church” and forced to find a benevolent bishop three months before diaconate.  My seven years of supposed priestly formation were, bar none, the most unhappy years of my life, characterized by intense polarization and draconian imposition of aberrant viewpoints by those in authority.  It must be noted that there were, to be sure, some good and faithful priests on the seminary faculty, but they were a distinct minority and largely reduced to window dressing.  In short, my generation of priests had been robbed of our Catholic and priestly patrimony by a generation of angry rebels.

At any rate, by nothing short of a miracle of God’s grace, I was ordained a priest on May 27, 1977.

A lot has happened since 1977, including the passing of Paul VI and the election of John Paul II… etc.

With a few variations, what Father wrote, above, can be echoed by so many priests of a certain era and age, including the undersigned.  For my part, I can say that my seminary years were sincerely dreadful.  In fact, it was a nasty diabolical war for part of it.  “Living hell” over states it, but not by much.

For those of you who are considering priesthood: Do NOT let the experiences of those who went through those bad years slow you down for a moment.  Conditions have improved enormously, so much so that my not-in-the-least “almamater is unrecognizable today.

He goes on to offer his view of the present state of things along with his aspirations for the time to come.  Go have a look.

Congratulations in advance to Fr. Stravinskas for 40 years.  Stop and say a prayer for him today and on 27 May.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Fr. Reader says:

    Only later I realized how “lucky” I have been…

  2. JDBenedictH says:

    Thanks for posting this, Father! It’s encouraging to hear that a challenging time in seminary by no means makes for a poor priesthood, and it also makes me much more thankful for the state of things now.

  3. JDBenedictH says:a challenging time in seminary by no means makes for a poor priesthood

    I recall that the The Priest’s time of testing wasn’t very pleasant. If he didn’t have an easy time, then why should we expect one?

    In a sense, if seminary is like a school for officers, we had our schooling in the officers’ school of the enemy. They taught us all their tactics, which prepared us to bring them down in the long run.

  4. JonPatrick says:

    For those who say that the changes in the Church were due to “Vatican II” it is clear that the seminaries could not have gone from bastions of orthodoxy to what is described in this and other articles in the space of 15 years. In fact the seminaries must have started to be infiltrated much earlier probably going back to the prewar years. Vatican II just provided a convenient cover for what they were probably going to do anyway.

    One hopes that what is going on now is the beginning of an infiltration in reverse.

  5. StWinefride says:

    St Pius X knew what was going on, way back in 1907…

    2. That We should act without delay in this matter is made imperative especially by the fact that the partisans of error are to be sought not only among the Church’s open enemies; but, what is to be most dreaded and deplored, in her very bosom, and are the more mischievous the less they keep in the open. We allude, Venerable Brethren, to many who belong to the Catholic laity, and, what is much more sad, to the ranks of the priesthood itself, who, animated by a false zeal for the Church, lacking the solid safeguards of philosophy and theology, nay more, thoroughly imbued with the poisonous doctrines taught by the enemies of the Church, and lost to all sense of modesty, put themselves forward as reformers of the Church; and, forming more boldly into line of attack, assail all that is most sacred in the work of Christ, not sparing even the Person of the Divine Redeemer, whom, with sacrilegious audacity, they degrade to the condition of a simple and ordinary man.


    St Pius X, pray for us!

  6. marybiscuit says:

    Would any readers have a suggestion for a gift to give a dear priest celebrating his 50th anniversary? We are attending a celebration Mass for him early next month and I am unsure what gift would mark the occasion for him. He is part of a community and has vows of poverty.

  7. frjim4321 says:

    What is it with these guys who get ordained but never really leave the seminary?

    They frame their whole lives by their seminary experience.

    Every homily … “when I was in the seminary.”

    Dude, you’ve been ordained 40 years; get on with your life!

  8. robtbrown says:

    A friend who has been a priest since 1983 told me that seminary years were the worst of his life: Poor teachers thumbing their noses at doctrine, offensive liturgy, more than half the seminarians swinging from the other side of the plate. Efforts were made to eliminate the last problem, but he said only about half of “the boys” were dismissed.

    There were other stories that would cause people to wince.

  9. LarryW2LJ says:

    Thank you, Fathers for carrying your cross and sticking with it, despite the obstacles you faced. My heart is sad for the priests that could have been, but were evicted or refused entry to seminary for being “too orthodox”. Another form of abortion, entirely.

  10. Henry Edwards says:

    JonPatrick: “Vatican II just provided a convenient cover for what they were probably going to do anyway.”

    Or might Vatican II have made possible what they could not have done otherwise?

  11. majuscule says:

    marybiscuit– I recently attended a 25th anniversary of ordination for a good and holy priest that I do not know too well personally. He is a parish priest, not of an order that takes a vow of poverty. He was trying to raise funds for a certain holy improvement for his church. I gave him a donation toward that project and also an equal amount to him personally, telling him that he was welcome to put that toward the cause also. I know that’s what he did but it made me feel like I did something for him personally also.

    Not sure if that would help in your case. God bless that priest’s 50 years!

  12. rdb says:

    An image I have shared is that our generation threw ourselves on the barbed wire and allowed the next generation to walk over with relative ease. In my time of formation (early 90s) the rosary, orthodoxy,Eucharist adoration and reverent sacred liturgy were all “formation issues” that could be causes of dismissal. These practices have become the daily norm in many US seminaries.

  13. Sandy says:

    This is heartbreaking to read an actual description by Father S., of what we already knew had happened. Your vivid image rd b really caused me sadness, but gratitude. God will reward all of you, Father Z, for sticking with it, and I pray that the tide truly has turned in seminaries.

  14. PhilipNeri says:

    My academic experience (2000-2004) wasn’t quite as bad as described above, but it came close. We had our share of goofy liturgies, feminist sisters, and hippy-dippy friars at the school. Fortunately, our student-master was as solid as a rock and our formation in the house was excellent. We had friars in-house who provided us with bibliographies consistent with the Church and encouraged us when the school faculty tried to get us booted.

    I know that the formation program at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans is as solid as it can get. Our faculty is 100% orthodox (with variations well within the norm) and the non-academic program is rigorous.

    Now is a great time to be a seminarian!

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  15. Sonshine135 says:

    Thank you Fr. Peter Stravinskas for being a good and faithful servant. It sounds like you are all to familiar with suffering for Christ.

  16. beelady says:

    In response to marybiscuit,

    I suggest gifting him five bottles of his favorite wine/spirit – each one a vintage marking a different decade of his priesthood.

    May God richly reward him!

  17. iPadre says:


    It’s a miracle most of us made it without loosing our faith. We all know many good men who don’t practice anything, let along Catholicism.

  18. YellowRoses says:

    I know people are usually very touched by a spiritual bouquet—and why not throw in a real bouquet with it? Once we gave a lady a spiritual and physical bouquet, we wrote down all the prayers on little pieces of paper and tied each one onto a rose.

  19. billy15 says:

    It seems that I keep hearing more and more stories like these, and it really saddens me. Are the seminaries really better now? I’m asking seriously, because I have two young sons and I would love for them to be priests, but when I keep hearing all these horror stories, I wonder if it’d be better for them to be faithful laymen instead of being corrupted at seminary…

    Fr. Z has often posted here about how seminarians need to put their heads down and keep quiet, even today, if they display orthodoxy. So to those priests reading this, should I still pray that my sons consider the priesthood? Are the seminaries in the US and Canada truly no longer like how they were for Fr. Z, the priest in the OP, and other priests in that time frame? If I keep taking my sons to the EF and the DL of St. John Chrysostym, will they have targets on their backs if they even try to enter seminary?

  20. Mike says:

    There is no question in my mind that the Satanic infiltration of the seminaries began decades before Vatican II. Where else would the VII subversives have come from?

    If I had to guess when the ball really got rolling, I’d guess in the Fatima year, 1917. And if I had to guess when matters will finally start to come to a head, I’d say in about a week from now, on the centenary of Our Lady’s first appearance to the Fatima children.

    Tomorrow, the First Saturday of May 2017, would probably not be too late to ratchet up one’s reparations. (Or one’s prayers and good works on behalf of faithful priests.) Today would probably be even better.

  21. iamlucky13 says:

    That was very interesting to read.

    I wasn’t even born when Fr. Stravinskas was ordained. I grew up when what he experienced in seminary had mostly completed establishing its toehold in our parishes. I was aware of the controversy’s, and confused why, for example, some people would get angry at my parents for teaching us to kneel during the Consecration.

    Articles like this give me a better sense of where this came from

  22. hwriggles4 says:

    Quite a few seminaries have flourished over the past 20 years. Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas (Irving) was nearly empty and now it is at 70% capacity. More dioceses are sending college division seminarians there. Mount St. Mary’s of the West in Cincinnati is also running out of space – thank the newer rector and Archbishop Schnurr for the help as more dioceses and religious orders send there too.

    Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit is much better than 20+ years ago (Bishop Vigneron spearheaded positive direction during his time there as rector) and quite a few dioceses send to Vianney in Denver (Vianney in Denver opened in 1999 – the old Denver seminary was pretty bad and closed circa 1985). I have heard that the Miami seminary (i.e. Vianney in Miami) has gotten better within the last 10 years – that place was pretty bad in the 80s and 90s.

    Fr. Philip Neri – thanks for the heads up on Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. I believe the Austin Diocese sends several candidates there.

  23. Maura says:

    What makes no sense to me is that, after reading that blistering inditement of the Church after Vatican 2, there are still traditional minded Catholics who can believe that we are not in a state of crisis….
    It is this exact telling that explains why SSPX can claim supplied jurisdiction to those faithful who desire to go to Mass on Sunday without having to endure heresy and irreverence to the Blessed Sacrament.
    There is a world of difference between priests who only have the Latin liturgy [FSSP], and those who have the traditional rites and are free to speak out about the errors that lead to so much heresy and liturgical abuses [SSPX].

  24. acardnal says:

    PhilipNeri, is that the sem. where dr. Brant Pitre teaches?

  25. Christine says:

    Billy15 If God is calling your sons to the priesthood, he will give them the graces they need to do what He calls them to do. Pray that they discern God’s will for their lives and trust that He will guide them and take care of them.

  26. Fr. Timothy Ferguson says:

    I think I have perspective which, if not unique, is at least uncommon.

    I entered the seminary at the ripe old age of 17, in 1985. I spent four years in college seminary, one year in a parish, and two years at major seminary before getting kicked out. (The rector at the time took umbrage at my use of the phrase “kicked out,” and told me “No, you’re just being asked to leave.” To which I responded, “Well, in that case… no thank you.” I still had to leave)

    After 20 years away from formation (the first few of those years, I tried and tried to get back in, unsuccessfully, and then was told by a wise spiritual director to put the idea of the priesthood on a shelf and get on with my life, letting it all rest in God’s hands), I was told by a good and holy bishop (one of the great ones alive today!) that I needed to get back into the seminary.

    So, I have experience of seminary in the 80’s and early 90’s, when I was young and things were bad, and experience of seminary in the mid 10’s, when I was older and things were much better.

    I do have happy memories of my first foray into the seminary, but strikingly, most of those good memories involve things either away from the seminary (Tuesday nights at St. Agnes with Msgr. Schuler, road trips with classmates, working at a local food pantry, delivering food to AIDS patients, visiting nursing homes and schools, visiting local parishes) or things in the seminary that did not involve seminary formators (late night discussions in the laundry room, secret rosaries said in the dark of night so the faculty wouldn’t find out, mealtime conversations).

    I agree wholeheartedly with Fr. Z that, in the past twenty years, things have gotten much better. That’s not to say that there are no problems now, but things are much better – orthodoxy is generally not persecuted and, in large part even fostered. Moral turpitude is no longer in full force and nowadays, can cost a seminarian his place in formation. The rosary, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (even Exposition!), traditional devotions – these are all now welcomed. Latin and Gregorian Chant might not be given pride of place… yet, but the worst of liturgical abuse and “tinkering” is absent. Formation and spiritual direction have a sense of seriousness about them now, and manliness is an expectation now, instead of being a “formation issue.”

    When the stories are all written down, it will be the heroes like Fr. Stravinskas, Fr. Zuhlsdorf, and others who forged through the bad times and got themselves ordained by the grace of God who will have the last laugh over their then-detractors, and the new generation of well-formed, orthodox, solid, and prayerful men who are emerging from the seminaries now who will be inspiring more young men to enter the seminary.

    And to those young men considering it – yes, it will be tough. Yes, you will have to put up with some things that you’d rather not endure. Yes, there will be challenges (including some very legitimate challenges). No, not everyone who goes into the seminary will come out of it as a priest.
    But go. Talk to your diocesan vocation director. If he says no right off the bat, consider talking to at least one other vocation director before you give up the idea. If God is calling you, don’t fight it – give in. Nothing is lost in the pursuit, and many things can be gained if you remain open to His Will, committed to pursuing holiness, diligent about working to overcome your sins, and devoted in heart and mind to God.

    Another seminarian (who is now a good and holy priest) told me during my first year in seminary, 32 years ago, “Always stay close to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin, and you will stay on the right path.” For me, that path has twisted and turned in many unexpected ways, but now, thanks be to God, I’m able to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass each day, absolve God’s faithful people of their sins, and live for all eternity for Christ Jesus as one of His priests.

  27. Charles E Flynn says:

    For men who have endured what Fr. Timothy Ferguson endured in their seminary years, the ordination should be followed immediately by the conferring of a Purple Cross in honor of wounds endured during formation.

  28. PhilipNeri says:

    acardnal, yes, I am privileged to call Dr. Brandt Pitre my colleague!

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  29. Thomas Sweeney says:

    Thanks to Father Z’s blog we learn about the heartbreaking experiences of priests like Father Stravinskas. There have always been weak- kneed priests and bishops in the church as well as those who would try to corrupt others, but, gratefully, they have been outnumbered by the good and faithful. VII brought the corrupters out in the open and the liberalness of the edicts gave these hooligans sanctions that they could never have gotten before VII. Sadly they have wrought terrible damage, that organizations like Ecclesia Dei and individual like Father Zuhlsdorf are doing their best to repair.
    When I read stories like Father Stravinskas I am reminded of one of my favorite novels “The Keys of The Kingdom” by A. J. Cronin and the many trials that Father Chisholm went through, yet his love for Jesus and the church sustained him and, to me, he became a figure of great admiration.

  30. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    If a seminarian consecrates himself and his (hoped-for) priesthood to Our Lady, such as, for example, according to the method set forth in the *Treatise on True Devotion to The Blessed Virgin* by Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, and if his ordination is the Will of God, I believe nothing can then stand in his way, because nothing contrary to God’s Will can withstand Our Lady.

    Saint Louis Marie wrote that souls devoted to Mary the Mother of God, “illumined by her light, strengthened by her food, guided by her spirit, supported by her arm, sheltered under her protection, they will fight with one hand and build with the other. With one hand they will give battle, overthrowing and crushing heretics and their heresies, . . . sinners and their wickedness. With the other hand they will build the temple of the true Solomon and the mystical city of God, namely, the Blessed Virgin, who is called by the Fathers of the Church the Temple of Solomon and the City of God . By word and example they will draw all men to a true devotion to her and though this will make many enemies, it will also bring about many victories and much glory to God alone.”

    Thus, to consecrate oneself to Our Lady is to take up an invincible weapon. Even in difficult or distressing circumstances surrounding his training, the seminarian who devotes himself to Our Lady, is spiritually as one who takes the sword Excalibur with him into the fiery depths of Mordor.

  31. Charivari Rob says:

    Marybiscuit, the appropriate thing to do is to ask what would be most appropriate for his community – either something completely communal or something that can be divided (like calling cards) or his community might even deem something appropriate even if it’s mostly for him (perhaps funds for a pilgrimage or a visit home to his family.

  32. rbbadger says:

    I myself began college seminary in the late 1990s. It was a very good college seminary. I learned a lot of things which have stayed with me over the years. My bishop had got it into his head that it wasn’t a good idea for us to keep sending our seminarians to East Coast seminaries when we were a Southwestern diocese. To that end, in 2001, I found myself in a California seminary.

    It was a perfect nightmare of a place. Despite glowing reports from my college seminary, at the end of second theology I was pulled into the Rector’s Office and told that I was resigning. I never signed anything and never was anything given to me. My diocese also never gave me anything in writing and also refused to cooperate with any diocese to which I tried to gain entry.

    Eventually, after trying in multiple places, I just gave up. The desire was still there and I hoped one day that I would be able to return. Meanwhile, I had moved to South Korea and began teaching. I really enjoyed being a teacher and quickly became attached to the country and its people. In the meantime, the bishop under whose rule I had entered seminary under retired very early a new bishop was appointed. A close friend, with whom I had attended seminary, was named chancellor and vocations director. It was eventually through him that the new bishop invited me to return. The bishop felt that I had been unjustly treated. He also found that there was no record of my ever having left, been dismissed, or having resigned.

    I reentered seminary in 2014 at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio. This June, I will celebrate my first anniversary as a priest.

    My biggest fear of the Pope Francis era is that we might be going back to the bad old days in some respects. However, with the exception of Sulpician institutions, I am not sure that we are. The seminaries are different places indeed. My experience of seminary from 2014-2016 was vastly different from the 2000s and late 1990s.

  33. Simon_GNR says:

    Some seminarians certainly were taught some rubbish in the 70’s and early 80’s.

    Example one – from a seminarian in the early 80’s (I don’t know if he was ever ordained as a priest):
    “Purgatory was just a thing invented by medieval scholars who couldn’t quite believe they were forgiven and saved.”

    Example two – from a priest who went through seminary in the 1970’s and was a parish priest and university chaplain (combined post) in the 1980’s, and is still an active priest in a diocese in England:
    “If the bones of Jesus Christ were found and were proved to be his, it wouldn’t affect my faith at all. The Resurrection wasn’t that sort of thing.” [We had been talking about the denial by the contemporary local Anglican bishop that the Resurrection was a literal, physical, “photographable” event. I wondered how an unphotographable spiritual presence could eat a piece of broiled fish or get St.Thomas to put his hand in His side, but there you go… ]

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