Enrollment at the Josephinum has increased 53 percent since his arrival, growing from 118 to this year’s total of 185, the seminary’s highest total since the 1970s. Students range in age from 17 to their early 50s. Since the Josephinum is a national seminary, they come from nearly 30 dioceses in the U.S.
Several, such as first-year student Nathaniel Glenn of Phoenix, had their pick of schools from throughout the nation. They chose the Josephinum because they felt a possible calling to be a priest and believed it was the best place to discern God’s will.
“A lot of my friends said to me, ‘You’re too smart and too talented to be going to a seminary,’” said Glenn, a National Merit Scholarship finalist who turned down nearly $450,000 in scholarship offers from schools such as Texas Tech, Alabama, Arizona, and Arizona State “I told them they had the wrong idea of what a seminary is. It’s somewhere we should be sending our best men. We need smart priests.”
The Diocese of Columbus, with 30, has the largest number of students at the Josephinum for the first time in several years, followed by the Diocese of Phoenix, whose bishop, Thomas J. Olmsted, is a former Josephinum rector. He is one of several past Josephinum rectors or students now serving as bishops.
Dioceses which have students at the seminary for the first this year are those from Victoria, Texas; Ogdensburg, N.Y.; Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo.; Birmingham, Ala.; Lexington, Ky.; Great Falls-Billings, Mont., and Laredo, Texas. The 41-member faculty includes 22 priests, 17 of them residents, the largest such number in nearly two decades. They are from many dioceses and religious orders and were appointed by their bishops or the leaders of their orders to come to the Josephinum.
“There’s a great sense of fraternity among all of us because we do come from so many places and see the great diversity in the Catholic Church just in our own country. You know when you’re here, it’s not a run-of-the-mill place,” said Nic Ventura of Lancaster St. Mary Church, a first-year theology student, who is in his fifth year at the Josephinum after spending four years earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. The seminary offers both a four-year undergraduate program and a four-year course of graduate studies in theology, leading to ordination.
“The national flavor we have and the papal character of the Josephinum makes this a place where the competency level is very high,” said Fr. Walter Oxley, STD, vice rector for the undergraduate program. “You know you’re surrounded on the faculty by a group of very talented, competent educators who have served the church very well already,” he said. “ This creates a stimulating, vibrant, fresh atmosphere,” and makes the Josephinum what Msgr. Eugene Morris, STL, its director of liturgy, described as “a place that is in love with the church.”
The papal link Fr. Oxley referred to also makes the Josephinum unique. It’s the only seminary in the United States with pontifical status, an honor granted by Pope Leo XIII in 1892 at the request of Fr. Joseph Jessing, who founded the institution as an orphanage in Pomeroy, then moved it to downtown Columbus in 1877. Classes for future priests began there in 1888. The seminary moved to its wooded 75-acre campus near the border of Franklin and Delaware counties since 1931.
The Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education appoints the rector, and the apostolic nuncio to the United States appoints the formation faculty and serves as the seminary’s chancellor. The bishop of Columbus traditionally is vice chancellor. Each year, transitional deacons attending the Josephinum who are soon to be ordained visit the nuncio’s home in Washington, while third-year theology students make a 10-day pilgrimage to Rome. All Josephinum students also hear Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly Angelus and general audience speeches and discuss them once a week during dinner.
An outward sign of the link to the Vatican comes in the form of the pontifical Roman cassocks which they wear on Sundays and for special feast days including Sept. 8, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, the day a Catholic Times reporter and photographer visited the seminary for this story.
The cassocks are marked by red buttons along the arms and one shoulder and a red sash, and are the same as those worn by students of the pontifical seminaries in Rome. Fr. Wehner said the decree by Leo XIII allows students at the Josephinum to wear the cassocks. He decided to make them a part of the seminarians’ wardrobe as a reminder of the institution’s unique nature.
“Our clearly defined pontifical character as Rome’s seminary in America has interested bishops who want seminarians to have the unique, clear experience of formation envisioned by the Vatican,” he said.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Fr. Wehner said the Josephinum’s mission is defined by three main concepts: Renaissance priesthood as described above, spiritual fatherhood, and the new evangelization as proclaimed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
He explained spiritual fatherhood by saying “priests don’t surrender the natural vocation all men have to provide nuptial, generative, spousal love. Priestly celibacy consecrates the natural order of man to the supernatural love of God. It does not deny the masculinity that is part of a man’s nature, but places it in a special context. This is important in today’s culture, where sexuality is defined in a perverse way.”
Fr. Wehner said that a Renaissance priest, “as the initial new evangelizer, exercises pastoral ministry in culture, with an understanding of what the Church is asking from him and of what the faithful expect from their priest. He can’t be afraid of meeting people wherever they can be found, but has to go beyond the world of the parish and into areas like the marketplace, prisons, or the places where addicts are. The 21st-century priest needs to be man enough to bring the Gospel everywhere people need to hear it.”
Students at all levels of the Josephinum go into the secular world every Thursday afternoon during the school year, teaching at Columbus-area Catholic schools, taking part in activities such as the Special Olympics, and paying visits to the sick in hospitals and nursing homes and to prisoners at the Marion Correctional Institution.
“There’s not much a young men like me can say to someone who’s been in prison for a long time,” said second-year theology student Sean Dooley of Zanesville St. Nicholas Church. “You find out what prisoners mostly want is someone who can listen to them and can bring them a presence of God that’s hard to find in prison life.”
The Thursday afternoon apostolic works program is part of a rigorous daily schedule of academic and spiritual activities that begins at 6:45 a.m. with Morning Prayer and Mass and concludes with an 11:30 p.m. “lights-out” that’s not official, but is almost universally observed, said first-year theology student Brian O’Connor of Pickerington St. Elizabeth Seton Parish.