Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary has a special place in Bishop Ronald Gainer’s heart, and not just because it is a place of formation for seminarians studying for the Diocese of Harrisburg.
The bishop is an alumnus of the Philadelphia-area seminary, and said he has always been grateful for the formation he received there.
“Now as a supporting bishop, I am confident that our seminarians are receiving an excellent formation experience, preparing them not only for what they need to know but also for who they need to be to serve the faithful of our Diocese as priests,” he said.
The bishop was among the many alumni who attended a special Mass recently celebrating the seminary’s 150th anniversary on the Overbrook campus in Wynnewood, near Philadelphia.
Mass was celebrated by Saint Charles of Borromeo Seminary alumnus and Archbishop of Philadelphia Nelson Pérez, with a homily by alumnus Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Arlington, VA.
“We have been blessed by Saint Charles seminary,” Archbishop Perez said. “We came here with a great desire to serve the Lord and the Church and that hasn’t changed. That has, in fact, deepened and strengthened.”
“Each one of us listened to the whispers of God in our own hearts and then came here and put that to the test as we discerned and prayed,” he said.
Deacon Thomas Meinert entered Saint Charles right after graduating Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg in 2014. As is the routine, he must complete four years of college seminary and then four years of major seminary since he entered directly from high school. He is in his eighth and final year of formation for the priesthood, and was ordained a transitional deacon for the Diocese of Harrisburg in May.
“My experience at Saint Charles has only deepened my desire to serve God’s people as His priest,” he said. “The priests who work on the formation team at the seminary are very holy men who take their responsibility to form future priests very seriously.”
Deacon Meinert said the seminary training is valuable, of course, but it’s the other seminarians who have been an amazing source of strength.
“I have loved my time at seminary but one of the most impactful aspects of formation has been my brother seminarians, both those ahead of me in formation as well as those in my class and behind me,” he said. “Your brother seminarians are around you all the time and help you grow in ways you never knew you needed to grow.”
Bishop Burbidge, in giving the homily in front of hundreds of his alumni brothers, called the anniversary Mass a time to rejoice and renew.
“Our alma mater, after all these years, continues to maintain the longstanding and well-deserved reputation as one of the best seminaries in the world,” he said.
He spoke about the bright future of the Church and the significant change coming to the seminary.
Saint Charles, which was founded in 1832, has been at its present location for 150 years. It is in the process of relocating to Gwynedd Mercy University’s campus about 20 miles to the north. That move is expected to be completed in time for the 2024-2025 academic year.
The seminary’s enrollment is approximately 154 seminarians who are studying for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, 12 partner dioceses, and six religious orders.
Visitors to Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary have included five Popes: Pius XII as Cardinal Pacell; Saint Paul VI as Cardinal Montini; Saint John Paul II, twice as Cardinal Wojtyla, and a third time as Pope; Benedict XVI as Cardinal Ratzinger; and Francis.
Bishop Burbidge urged those at the Mass to let go of what might be weighing them down and trust it to the Lord.
“In a world broken by so much division, filled with empty promises and false teachings, may we promise anew that we will not preach ourselves, we will preach Christ Jesus, crucified, and the truth and joy of His Gospel,” he said.
Andrew St. Denis is a Diocesan seminarian at Saint Charles who was raised in Lancaster County at his home parish of Mary, Mother of the Church in Mount Joy.
St. Denis said he really began praying and discerning a call to the priesthood at age 11 when his pastor at the time, Father Luis Rodriguez, said he could see the boy being a priest one day.
“That changed my prayer from one of asking God for things to asking God what His will is for my life,” St. Denis said.
“Fast forward many years and I was in my junior year at Bloomsburg University. I was at Holy Thursday Mass at St. Columba Parish and felt a deep call to the priesthood that I could not run away from,” he said.
St. Denis entered Saint Charles in the fall of 2019. If all goes according to plan, he will be ordained to the transitional diaconate in 2024 and then to the priesthood in 2025.
St. Denis said in addition to his studies at seminary, the spiritual aspect is, not surprisingly, one of the most important.
“As a community, we come together to pray Morning Prayer, Mass, and Evening Prayer every day,” he said. “It is common as well to see men spending time in chapel before Our Lord in the Eucharist, or walking the grounds of campus praying the Rosary.”
St. Denis said there’s also a lot of time for fraternity and fellowship, from disc golf and camp fires to even brewing beer.
“This time in seminary formation is a great time to grow in relationship with Christ as we prepare to live out the priestly vocation,” he said. He said those back home in the Diocese of Harrisburg should know that the seminarians are praying for them, and also ask for their prayers.
Deacon Meinert said the anniversary Mass was a great reminder of the seminary’s history and the bonds that are formed there. The Mass drew more than 250 priest alumni and 15 bishops from many different classes of ordination.
“It was so good to see how the priests interacted with each other and showed that the fraternity did not end when the class was ordained and went their separate ways,” he said. “These men were brothers and nothing could change that. This beautiful anniversary has encouraged me to keep persevering in my vocation and pray for the continued success of this beautiful seminary.”
Learn more about Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary at www.scs.edu.
(Photos courtesy of Sarah Webb, CatholicPhilly.com.)
By Lisa Maddux, Special to The Witness