It is 6:45 in the morning at the Pontifical College
Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. Beneath the 60-foot high
vaulted ceiling in St. Turibius Chapel more than 200 men
gather for morning prayer and Mass. Regardless of what time
their first class might start, all seminarians are obligated
to start their day this way. It is one of the many ways
seminary stands apart from the average college experience. It
is about more than academics; for those called to seminary it
is about adopting a whole new way of life.
"Having that time helps us remember why we are here," said
Stephen Vaccaro, a seminarian from the Diocese of Arlington
in his third year of theology. "The time in prayer helps us
stay focused on the meaning of what all this is about."
After the morning announcements and final blessing, the men
quietly genuflect out of their pews, marking a temporary end
to their scheduled unity. Some seminarians retreat to the
dorm for more shuteye, while others power through with
breakfast and a second cup of coffee before class.
Like many universities, the seminary's student body is
divided into two academic groups. College for those entering
out of high school is also called minor seminary, while those
entering with a degree enter theology, also known as major
seminary. Not all seminaries have both groups, which is why
the Josephinum has become a popular choice for the Arlington
Diocese, as well as many other dioceses across the country.
Currently, the Arlington Diocese has 12 seminarians there.
"Because they are from all over the United States, you have
all of these different perspectives on things and guys coming
from so many different backgrounds and personalities," said
Vaccaro. "None of us let any of the other guys take
themselves too seriously. We keep each other really humble."
Daniel Rice is one of the diocesan seminarians who came to
seminary right after high school. He is now in his third year
of college, studying philosophy. After one more year in the
college he will have four more years of theology before he
can be called to orders.
According to Rice, the seminary's class scheduling process is
very similar to other colleges.
"At the beginning of each semester we schedule classes," said
Rice. "Twelve credit hours, almost always more."
Instead of filling up their schedules with the typical
general education courses, seminarians such as Rice take
classes in the celebration of Christian mystery, contemporary
philosophy, metaphysics, psychology and sacred music, with a
directed independent study session in Greek before or after
On Thursdays, seminarians participate in various works of
"The whole goal of formation is pastoral service, so once a
week in order to prepare ourselves for the ministry of the
priesthood we have apostolic assignments," said Rice.
Some of the seminarians teach RCIA, others teach high school
religion. Rice volunteers at the Heinzerling Foundation,
which is a home for severely disabled people, some of whom
cannot walk or communicate at all. Rice enjoys visiting the
residents and always has a book ready to read to them.
"I really enjoy it, and mostly we are not actively preaching
the word of God in words," said Rice. "It is more of a
ministry of presence."
In addition to their studies, the Josephinum encourages the
men to make time for extracurricular activities with their
classmates. The seminary is fully equipped for a variety of
indoor and outdoor activities. A full indoor basketball court
can be converted into an indoor soccer field when it rains,
and there is a four-lane bowling alley underneath the gym,
which seminarian Tony Bennett manages. According to Bennett,
the alley is a very popular pastime on weekends. The school
only recently installed the machines to automatically replace
the pins. Previously, the pins would be set up by a few brave
seminarians with quick reflexes to dodge the occasional
flying pin or ball.
"Some would say the new machines took half the fun out of the
whole experience," laughed Bennett.
When the weather does cooperate, seminarians play baseball,
football, soccer or the ever-popular Ultimate Frisbee.
When Bennett is not manning the bowling lanes under the gym,
he can be found fishing with fellow seminarian Jordan Willard
at nearby Lake George. The lake is one of many quiet spots on
the 78-acre property the men can use for recreation as well
as personal prayer.
The two like to go there several times a month if the fishing
is good. It gives them a special perspective on their
"They keep telling us over in that big building that you have
to learn to be fishers of men," said Willard. "But they never
admit to the fact that you have to learn to fish for fish
before you learn to fish for men."
No matter what they are doing, at 5:45 p.m. they come
together for evening prayer in their own house chapels. The
college goes to St. Pius X Chapel, while theology goes to the
St. Joseph Oratory. Evening prayer is preceded by Eucharistic
Holy Hour and benediction which provide the men good
opportunity to pray together.
"The brotherhood is very strong here," said James Waalkes, a
first-year theology student from the diocese. "There is a
real unity of purpose, and hopefully there is a union of mind
and will in Our Lord for the pursuit of holiness and the
salvation of souls."
While many seminarians enjoy seminary life, they do see it as
"I love being here because I know it is my place right now in
the church to grow toward a deeper union with Christ so that
I can better fulfill my vocation," said Waalkes. "It is
preparing you for becoming the man you are meant to become."