“I came back and there were over 160 people...and I thought, what happened here? And I think word was getting around,” he said.
Wehner said he was “inspired” that this prayer rally was completely lay-initiated. He added that the seminary has held meetings about the recent scandals, to ensure that seminarians are receiving the best formation, so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
“The seminarians were very humbled by the role of the laity in offering this spiritual support,” he said.
“I think in some sense, we preach to seminarians, so we're embarrassed by this criminal, Satanic behavior of both of these priests,” Wehner added.
The rector said it’s been inspiring and humbling “to see people looking past that, to say, the faith of the Church, the faith of the priests, and the faith of Jesus Christ cannot be undermined by the power of evil.”
Wehner added that this year, Notre Dame Seminary has seen its highest enrollment in its 97-year history.
“So for me to see young men who should be very discouraged by the infidelity and the scandalous behavior of clergy, they look beyond that and still want to respond to God’s call...I'm inspired by their commitment to solid priestly formation.”
Truxillo and Derbes are both students of a lay program at the seminary, but since the pandemic struck in March, they have been unable to resume their regularl classes, or see their seminarian friends.
Coronavirus has been especially rough on seminarians, Truxillo said, because they live and study in the same place, and thus have been more restricted than most people during the pandemic.
“COVID has separated the seminarians specifically from the lay people because they live on campus and so they have been in a different lockdown than the rest of us,” Truxillo said.
“I'm allowed to go to the office now, I'm at least interacting with people. My children have gone back to school in person now - but they haven't. And they commented to me that it was meaningful to know that we were there praying and to have just a small rock they could keep on their desk and remember that their vocation is valued and is important to the people. So that was really nice to hear.”
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Jordan Haddad, the director of the lay programs at Notre Dame Seminary, told CNA that while he was not at the rally, he was grateful for the lay-led initiative.
The participants have a “deep love for our priests and recognize that the awful actions of a few do not in any way change who we are as a Church, and doesn't change what our mission is. And it also doesn't impugn the good reputation and the good work that the rest of our priests, deacons, our archbishop does on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
“We draw closer together to one another in difficult times like this, because we're really hurting and suffering in the archdiocese right now by these scandals. And when one member suffers, we all suffer,” Haddad added.
Truxillo said one of the most moving parts of the prayer rally was when she noticed the parents of priests were there.
“When I saw the father of Father Steve, and then I saw Deacon Martin, whose son is Father Andrew, and I saw another lady whose son is a priest, I got a lump in my throat because I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, if I'm hurting, think about how these people must be hurting. They've given their son to God and to feel that attack must have really been heavy,’” she said.
Truxillo said there are other events being organized in the archdiocese in reparation for the recent scandals. A Mass of Reparation, advertised on the Notre Dame Seminary website, has been postponed, but is expected to take place soon.