New Theological College rector sees priesthood experiencing renewal

The newly-installed rector of Theological College in Washington, D.C. believes the priesthood in the U.S. has entered a period of renewal and that this will help revitalize the rest of the Church.

“I’m personally convinced that we have entered into a period of renewal of the priesthood in the United States,” Sulpician Father Phillip J. Brown told CNA during a recent interview.

Fr. Brown was recently appointed as the 15th rector of Theological College and was installed during an Oct. 12 Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Founded in 1971, Theological College is a national seminary affiliated with The Catholic University of America.

More than 1,500 diocesan priests across the country have completed their priestly formation at Theological College, which is operated by the Society of St. Sulpice.

Fr. Brown explained that his duties as rector will include both the formation of seminarians and the administration of the college.

“My foremost responsibility as rector is to get to know the seminarians,” he said, adding that he sees one of his most important duties as being “a good pastor for this community.”

He emphasized that by setting a good example for the seminarians, he would help form them to be good pastors after their ordination.

Fr. Brown brings with him a wide range of experience in various fields. 

He worked as a lay attorney in North Dakota for several years before entering the priesthood. He was ordained in 1989 for the Diocese of Bismarck and served as a pastor and parochial vicar in multiple parishes in the diocese.

He also holds a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Georgian University in Rome and served as a Marriage Tribunal judge from 1999 to 2001.

Fr. Brown also has academic experience teaching and serving as the academic dean for St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore for several years. Before being appointed rector in July, he taught at The Catholic University of America’s canon law school.

Fr. Brown said that he has no plans to make significant changes in the seminary program, which he believes is already very strong.

What he would like to do, he said, is contribute to a renewal of priestly culture. 

“Theological College has a very strong formation program based upon the Sulpician tradition,” he explained.

“One of the hallmarks of the Sulpician approach to formation is attention to human formation. We’ve always believed, and I believe very firmly, that the spiritual life is built upon the life of the natural human being.”

The Sulpician approach also includes elements of spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation.

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Fr. Brown reported that Theological College is doing “sterling” in terms of both number and quality of vocations.

“We have a full house this year,” he said, explaining that the college even had to turn men away because there was not enough room for them.

“Theological College has never in my memory been in better condition,” he said.

And in his assessment, seminaries across the country are experiencing a similar influx in vocations that is bringing men of “outstanding quality” to their doors.

Despite fear and cultural pressures, these men have shown “a certain kind of courage to step up to the plate and at least try to discern.”

Fr. Brown believes that priestly vocations coming out of strong seminaries are an important part of strengthening the Church.

“We indeed will be able to help to renew the Church through the renewal of the priesthood,” he said.

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