There are 23 newcomers attending St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, Nebraska.
Among them are 19 young men who are in priestly formation for the Diocese of Lincoln. The other four new men are studying for the priesthood on behalf of either the Diocese of Rockford (Illinois) or the
Diocese of Madison (Wisconsin).
Father John Folda, rector of St. Gregory the Great Seminary, said that while this is the largest group to enter St. Gregory the Great Seminary all at once, everything has gone smoothly in terms of course scheduling, housing, books and all the other particulars.
“God smiled upon us,” he laughed. “He knew He was going to give us a lot of men this year.”
“We’re very blessed by God,” agreed Father Robert Matya, vocations director.
The first-year seminarians moved in last month and experienced orientation over the weekend before starting classes. Since then, they’ve been getting to know each other and the seminary faculty, studying, and learning to adapt to a schedule that can be quite a bit different than what they were used to as students or workers.
“It’s very routine, very organized,” said Benjamin Tuma of North American Martyrs Parish in Lincoln. “The days are long, and we wake up early for morning prayer.”
Corey Harrison of St. Leo Parish in Palmyra agreed that the biggest challenge to the seminary lifestyle is “adjusting to wake up at 5:30 a.m. instead of sleeping until 8,” but he said it’s worth the trade.
“Spending time with a lot of guys who are just as excited about my faith as I am… I wouldn’t take it back for anything,” he stated.
Father Folda said that the seminarians “really do grow into a brotherly relationship.” The smaller size of the seminary makes that easier than it would be in a situation where there are hundreds of men.
“We do a lot of things together, so it’s easier to get to know everybody,” he explained. Father Matya noted that each man was called to discern a vocation to the priesthood in a different way.
“Their stories are all different,” he said. “Praying families first and foremost… Involvement in other things, such as the Catholic fraternity, FOCUS, Totus Tuus…”
Nine years as a SKY Camp counselor was the experience that Hastings native and St. Cecilia High School graduate Alex Driscoll cited. “It was time out of my schedule, becoming closer to God than I had ever felt, being surrounded by priests and sisters and kids all there for the same reason — to get closer to God,” he recalled. “Every year, I got a feeling that this is what I should do.”
Matthew Rawe of St. Teresa Parish in Lincoln realized his calling during Holy Thursday Eucharistic Adoration last April. As he prayed, he said, “I had a peace about going to seminary.”
Caleb LaRue, a graduate of Millard West High School in Omaha, said he began thinking about the priesthood as early as eighth grade, but, “I always envisioned seminarians and priests as guys who spend 19 hours a day in prayer and I didn’t think I was holy enough to consider it.”
While working at Lincoln’s Newman Center, however, he discovered that priests were “just regular guys God called to serve.”
Mark Heffley “grew up all over” and was a pre-med student at the University of Nebraska Lincoln who had the idea that he could be both a doctor and a priest. However, during his second year at UNL, his desire to study medicine “fell away,” and he elected to go transfer to St. Gregory the Great Seminary.
“I just loved it here so much, I decided to study for this diocese,” he added.
Sean Wilson of Gimli, Manitoba in Canada had originally intended to study for the Diocese of Winnipeg. However, various circumstances led him to enter the seminary for the Diocese of Lincoln instead.
“I ended up reading about the Bishop of Lincoln, and that made me curious,” he said. He came to visit St. Gregory the Great and was impressed with the friendly and faith-filled atmosphere.
Ricardo Izquierdno woke up to his calling just recently. Born in Columbia, he and his family moved to Lincoln around five years ago. He intended to become an architect after graduation from Pius X High School last June, but then, “I thought about that line in the Bible that it doesn’t matter if you win the world if you lose your soul.”
He woke up one morning realizing that anything he accomplished as an architect would have little impact in an eternal sense. “I felt I wanted more, to do something for God for all eternity.”
Now, he’s happy to join the other seminarians as they spend their days in prayer, worship, studying, recreation, and more prayer. This formation process helps each man fully understand their vocational calling. Some may not complete seminary. However, their time at St. Gregory the Great will always be valuable.
“They’ll grow deeper in their spiritual lives and in their relationship with Christ by entering this period of discernment,” explained Father Matya. “That’s helpful for anyone.”
Already, the seminarians are recognizing how beneficial the structured prayer life of seminary is for them. Shawn Koranda of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Wahoo said the best thing he can gain from seminary is establishing “a strong prayer life, so whether or not this is my vocation, I’ll be able to take that with me.”
Both Father Folda and Father Matya encourage everyone to pray diligently for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
“There are lots of young men and women who are trying to discern what God wants them to do in their lives and that’s not always easy to figure out,” said Father Matya.
In the meantime, this class of new seminarians has given themselves fully to the discernment process.
“They’re right in there and full of questions, obviously prayerful and eager to learn,” Father Folda reported. “They’re going to be a great group of seminarians, I have no doubt.”