The 22 seminarians studying for the priesthood in the Diocese of Harrisburg have one job, and that is to give themselves over to formation.
It is only through parishioners’ support of the annual Pentecost Collection that these men are able to fully commit to discernment, studies and growing in holiness as the future priests of the Diocese.
Coming off of finals week at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia a few days ago, Kevin Key compared the intense concentration on semester exams to committing to formation.
“Students know that when finals come around, you have to be able to be all-in during that week. Formation is one long finals week in the sense that you have to be all-in,” said Key, a native of St. Patrick Parish in Carlisle.
He said he can only do that with the financial backing of funds from the Pentecost Collection.
“When I was in college, I worked 20 to 30 hours a week to pay for college and rent. It was go, go, go, all the time. I was not able to do then all the things I do now – meaning, give myself over to formation,” Key said. “The freedom that the Pentecost Collection allows me to give myself fully to that, you can’t put a price on it. I’m not taken anywhere else by other concerns. I know that I’m a seminarian and that my responsibility is to be here and do this. The freedom to do that is only made possible by the Pentecost Collection.”
“As future priests, our work is supporting you, and that’s what I want to do,” Key said. “So when I say, ‘Thank you for your support of the Pentecost Collection,’ I am saying thank you because you are allowing me to do what God is asking me to do. I am humbled and blessed to be able to do it. I’m saying thank you because you’re giving me this incredible gift that I get to say yes to God, and help you say yes to Him too.”
The Pentecost Collection will be taken up in parishes in the Diocese of Harrisburg the weekend of May 23. Financial contributions to the collection provide the necessary funds for seminary room, board, tuition and books – the cost for which totals approximately $40,000 per seminarian each year.
“The Pentecost Collection provides the funds for the men in discernment to be free to truly understand – without financial pressure – is this what God is asking of me?” said Father Jonathan Sawicki, Diocesan Vocations Director. “Inevitably, discernment takes place in the seminary. If there is a financial hurdle, chances are they might not even take the first step or test a possible vocation.”
In addition to room, board, tuition and books, the collection helps fund additional areas of a seminarian’s formation, including psychological evaluations.
“We want to make sure that with the men we send to the seminary, we know them well, and that they are healthy candidates,” Father Sawicki said of the psychological evaluations, which total more than $3,000 per seminarian.
“The priesthood is a vocation; it’s not a career. It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A man has to be truly healthy with that, and be able to respond to the faithful’s needs,” Father Sawicki said.
The collection also helps support a seminarian’s language immersion studies, or additional specialized studies.
“Sometimes, a man is seen as being capable of going for language studies,” Father Sawicki said. “Outside of the pandemic, we typically try to send one man a year to immersion studies in foreign language, or to Rome, perhaps, for further specialized studies,” he said. “The Pentecost Collection is not just for tuition, room and board; it’s also for those further aspects of a man’s formation.”
A Community of Faith
In his letter to the people of the Diocese encouraging their support of the collection, Bishop Ronald Gainer wrote, “As a member of the faith community of the Diocese of Harrisburg, it is our collective responsibility to provide for the formation and education of our future priests. The Pentecost Collection offers all of us the opportunity to financially support our men in formation. Because of your gifts, our seminarians can completely focus on their formation in order to become the best priests possible for our Diocese.”
The support of the people in the pews “is huge, and it can’t be over-emphasized,” said Clark Stiteler, who is studying at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
Throughout the course of a year, seminarians are bolstered by the support of parishioners through prayers, cards and letters. Relationships are also fostered through seminarians’ summer assignments, and although in-person contact was limited this year because of the pandemic, the men in formation still found a way to nurture those connections.
“The interpersonal relationships between a seminarian and the people he knows personally or in their home parish was still available and possible” despite the pandemic, said Key. “Every time I go home on break, I call my pastor, Father Don Bender, and I tell him I’m town and so I can serve at Mass. I see the people and the people see me. There’s not much chatting after Mass because of safety, but it’s something, and I don’t think we should disregard that.”
“I’ve gotten a lot of support, just kind letters from school kids and parishioners,” Key said. “All of that has continued like normal, and I’m really overwhelmed and impressed by how much everyone still wants to share their love for us.”
Stiteler said the prayers and support particularly during this year of being separated from one another reminded him of the experience of the early Church.
“The last couple weeks, we’ve been going through the Acts of the Apostles. Reading through that, it was very inspiring to see how everyone kind of banded together to support the whole,” he said. “We’re one big family, the whole Church together. Through everyone’s prayers and encouragement, I can do the best that I can in my role, and I appreciate the faithful’s role in their prayers and financial support and letters of encouragement. It’s a spirit of encouragement that you read about at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles.”
“All that support allows us to focus on why we’re here in the first place in seminary,” said Stiteler, a native of St. Patrick Parish in Carlisle. “A big part of that is to become more holy each day, be more prayerful each day, have a better relationship with Christ, and prepare ourselves as best we can to serve the people of the Diocese…. This is not a solo effort, and I couldn’t do this without their support.”
Stiteler said he is grateful for the contributions to the Pentecost Collection “because it provides the everyday things I need on a daily basis at this point to do my job as a seminarian: studies, tuition, room and board. The tremendous generosity allows me to focus on the reason that I’m here. And it’s extremely humbling because I know that everyone has a choice of what they can give.”
He considers parishioners’ contributions to the collection as an investment in their future priests.
“I know people wouldn’t put an investment into something they didn’t believe in,” Stiteler said. “I haven’t had a chance to meet a lot of people outside my summer assignment and my home parish, but I’m wanting to earn everyone’s trust and knowing this investment at some point will be worthwhile, God willing, at my ordination four years from now.”
Gratitude for the Faithful
“On behalf of all our seminarians, I want to offer tremendous thanks to the people of the Diocese of Harrisburg who have been generously supporting the Pentecost Collection in the past and this year,” said Father Sawicki. “I know that there have been people who have been hit because of the pandemic. There are people who haven’t been able to work and are scraping by. I understand what people are able to do and what they aren’t able to do, but no matter what, every penny counts. I ask the people of the Diocese to be able to support, as much as they can, the Pentecost Collection, because it’s for their future priests.”
“At a time when a lot of schools turned to remote learning, all of our seminaries were in-person,” he pointed out. “Priestly formation cannot happen remotely. It happens within a community of faith, a community of prayer, a community of looking out for one another, so that the priests we put in our parishes in the future are well-rounded and healthy. That’s what the people are funding with the Pentecost Collection.”
In 2020, the Diocese celebrated the diaconate ordination of three seminarians in August, the ordination of 35 permanent deacons in September, and the ordination of one to the priesthood in October. Four seminarians will be ordained to the diaconate on May 15, and two transitional deacons will be ordained to the priesthood on June 5.
“The Church continues to serve, even in the midst of very difficult circumstances,” Father Sawicki said. “For that to continue, there is a need for people’s generosity that we ask for in this year’s Pentecost Collection.
“I tell the seminarians that with the next generation of Church leaders and servants coming forward, the biggest goal right now – other than the proclamation of the Gospel – is to restore trust in the Church, so that people know our priests are holy, our priests are healthy, and our priests desire to serve,” he remarked. “As the people get to know our seminarians, our men in formation to the priesthood, I believe that they will encounter them and understand that our Church and Her ministers are trustworthy.”
To contribute to the Pentecost Collection, please use your parish envelope, or visit www.hbgdiocese.org/pentecost-collection.
(Mass photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness. Seminary photos courtesy of the Diocesan Vocations Office.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness