How to Help a Seminarian
What do you give to someone who has everything? Ordinarily, that question is about someone who seems to have every material item a person could want. But what about men who’ve found everything in Christ and given up so much to enter the seminary? How do we support these men once they answer that call?
Religious Order Priests
According to Father Donald Calloway, the vocation director for the community of Marians of the Immaculate Conception, the path leading to ordination begins with discernment during a 1-year postulancy. Men live in community while participating in academic and spiritual study at Franciscan University in Steubenville following the ancient tradition of ora et labora — “pray and work.”“We accept anyone from ages 18-45,” he said, “but when they come in, they must have no debt — like credit card [debt] — but we accept up to $20,000 in school loans. Debt is the biggest challenge facing any vocation right now.”
The year of postulancy includes two semesters of classes which the student must pay for. “That’s the norm,” Father Calloway said. “But if a guy can’t do that, we try to find a benefactor or forgo that in place of doing other things such as volunteering.” After the year of postulancy, the order’s seminarian fund pays for expenses that include tuition, room, board, and books.
“Right now we have 39 seminarians,” he said, “so we have a killer financial responsibility. That’s a huge number for a small community. Worldwide, we have 500 priests and brothers and about 70 in the United States.” Some men already have a college degree when they apply, but it still costs $80,000 for 4 years of seminary.
“There are a number of ways the order receives vocation support,” Father Calloway said, “such as outright donations, the sale of religious gifts, stipends for having Masses said, and payment from speaking engagements.” As a best-selling author, the income from Father Calloway’s books also goes to support seminarians.
Expenses for diocesan seminarians differ from those in a community. Father Joshua Waltz, the vocation director for the Bismarck Diocese in North Dakota explained, “Our policy is that you pay for your first degree and we pay for major seminary. Even though our guys get a lot of scholarships, it’s difficult for some of them but we try to find a way to make it work.”
Right now, the Bismarck diocese has 28 seminarians.
“The expense of major seminary is around $34,000 a year for 4 years,” Father Waltz said. “It’s a blessing to have so many seminarians, but with that comes a great financial responsibility.”
Besides a seminarian fund, the diocese has a Seminarian Scholarship Endowment Fund as a way to build up a principal that can be drawn on to support future seminarians.
Father Waltz also encourages people to think outside the box to find ways to contribute. For instance, his brother priest Father Justin Waltz in Minot, ND is part of a Serra Club fundraiser this summer called “The Big Smoke,” a barbecue involving smoked rib dinners, cigars, and home brewed beer.
Other Ways to Help Seminarians
Here are some other ways people can support seminarians:
- The Bishop’s Annual Appeal supports many Catholic causes including seminarians.
- Donate directly to the seminarian fund.
- Contact your local Knights of Columbus to contribute to scholarships for seminarians and ask if they are planning any fundraising activities.
- Estate giving. “People don’t often think of it, but they can give a portion of their estate to vocations,” Father Waltz said. “There’s no death tax on it because it’s going to a 5013C.” Donations can include anything from money to land or a family heirloom.
- Call the vocation director and ask what he needs.
- Join the local Serra International club, which supports seminarians in a number of ways. There are 229 clubs in the US and they are in 46 countries.
- Classrooms, other groups, and individuals can adopt a seminarian with letters and prayers.
- Contribute to the Labouré Society. It offers training and direct assistance to pay off debt. Their website states that 42% of people discerning a vocation are blocked by outstanding student loans.
At Ordination Time
People often want to give a gift at ordination, according to Ian Rutherford, owner of Aquinas & More Catholic Goods. “I get calls all the time from people asking what they should buy,” he said. Although Aquinas & More has a large selection of vestments and Church goods, Rutherford said people have personal preference so he hesitates to make suggestions.
Priests in community usually have everything provided for but a diocesan priest receives a modest salary and will buy many of his own things.
Rutherford recently started a registry for priests and deacons, much like a bridal registry to help avoid getting something for a priest he doesn’t want or having him return duplicate gifts.
The wish list can include things as a confessional stole, books, vestments, a chalice, a traveling Mass kit, and many other items. The registry allows people to contribute to items they can’t afford in full, or it can act as a pledge drive that is integrated on social media.
Father Waltz agreed that people should let priests select personal items according to their own preference. “Money is always appreciated too,” he said. “But when I got ordained, one of the most beautiful things for me was just reading what people wrote in the cards they gave me.”
Art for this post on How to Help a Seminarian: Modified detail of The Sacrament of Ordination (Christ presenting the Keys to Saint Peter), Nicolas Poussin, circa 1636-40, PD-US published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923, author’s life plus 100 years or less; Detail of Panorama Photo of the Campus of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, United States, photographed by rklopfer, 11 November 2012, CCA-SA 2.0 Generic; The coat of arms for the diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota, USA, by Farragutful, 19 Jul 2014 own work, CCA-SA 4.0 International; Mirror of First Annual (2005) Eucharistic Congress, Charlotte, NC Seminarian wearing surplice and cassock, holding a thurible, photographed by Fennec assumed, 24 September 2005, PD-Worldwide; Detail of Igreja Sagrada Família em Porto Alegre (Holy Family Church in Porto Alegre, Brazil) Sacrament of Ordination, Eugenio Hansen, OFS Secular Franciscan, 7 July 2011 own work, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported; Modified Purplestole, Jgilhousen, 20 November 2006, PD-Worldwide; all Wikimedia Commons.