A day in the life of a seminarian

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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 lunch.

On Thursdays, seminarians participate in various works of service.

"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 vocation.

"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 temporary.

"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."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016