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.
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.
“It seems you’re busy all the time, especially on weekdays, so you’re too tired to stay up later,” he said. “There’s so much going on from sunup to sundown and beyond. But you know this is the way it’s going to be when you’re a priest, so it’s good to learn it now.”
(Story continues below)
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Besides classroom time, the weekly apostolic works program, and daily meals, the weekday schedule includes practice sessions for those involved in the Josephinum choir and schola or other musical organizations, one-hour weekly formation conferences one night a week with Father Wehner or faculty members speaking in depth on a particular topic, Evening Prayer at 5:45 p.m., and Night Prayer (optional on most evenings but required on some) at 9.
A Holy Hour is offered seven days a week and also is optional most days and required occasionally, In addition, there are ample opportunities to receive the Sacrament of Penance or to meditate in any of the institution’s four chapels, dedicated to St. Turibius, St. Rose of Lima, St. Joseph, and St. Pius X.
The Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (the “Latin Mass”) is celebrated twice a month, and there is a weekly Mass in Spanish that’s part of a larger Hispanic formation program. An English-immersion program is offered for international students.
Seminarians also are exposed to a wide range of devotions including Eucharistic processions and weekly recitation of the Rosary, and they can join fraternities such as the Knights of Columbus, which recently began a campus chapter.
They have a little more free time on weekends, but are assigned to various maintenance activities on Saturdays. “It’s great for those of us from Columbus to be able to go home and visit friends for a little while, but it’s also a challenge because you know you can’t do everything your friends or family would like you to,” said first-year theology student Tom Gardner of Columbus St. Catharine Church.
“You have to learn to say ‘No’ to people. It’s hard, but it’s a good life lesson,” he said. “We’re transitioning from a world where we’re surrounded by our family and friends to a larger world where our priorities go beyond the things we want, and where the demands on our time will be great.”