Monks Training Diocesan Clergy? A Seminarian Speaks Up

By Anthony Cecil
Seminarian for the Archdiocese of Louisville

Seminarians can sometimes show a bit of school pride. Sometimes that takes the form of cheering on your brothers at an inter-seminary tournament, or explaining over the phone to benefactors and potential benefactors the things that make your seminary great. Other times, it can be comparing notes with friends at other seminaries to see what it’s like somewhere else – and sometimes, maybe at least a bit, try to show your own school’s superiority.

St. Meinrad Archabbey

I’m a student at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, run by the monks of St. Meinrad Archabbey. A criticism I often get from men at other schools comes in the form of a question: What business do monks have training diocesan clergy? Apparently I’m not the only one who has heard this question. Recently our President-Rector, Fr. Denis Robinson OSB, and Archabbot Kurt Stasiak OSB took on that question.

Benedictines certainly offer a treasure-trove, not only to men in formation for secular priesthood, but for the Church as a whole as well. The Rule truly is a handbook of the Christian life whose beauty and simplicity can teach us all quite a bit.

But I think there’s more. These monks also have quite a bit to teach us about the most important thing that we will do as priests – the celebration of the liturgy. The monks have taught me that liturgy is something that absolutely must be central to our lives.

Every morning, we gather for Morning Prayer in our sandstone-covered chapel. The cantor and the congregation go back and forth, stanza by stanza, with the words of the psalms and canticles echoing through the chapel. We pray the psalms through chant, using the Meinrad psalm tones composed here. At first, we’re not that great, but eventually we get the hang of it…and then sometimes fall back into sounding horrendous. We learn that there’s something about these words –they’re important enough to sing; they’re important enough to wake up early for;  they’re important enough to be the sounds that break the house quiet begun the night before.

Then we go about our day. We go to a couple of classes, we hang out in the halls and in the refectory in-between, talking about what we did over the weekend, what we’re doing this weekend, what we’ve been learning in class…you get the idea.

St. Joseph Chapel, St. Meinrad

Then the community comes back together. Right in the middle of our day is the celebration of Mass. Everything stops for everyone. We stop the work of the day and come together because a something wondrous is about to take place – we gather to be nourished by the Word both in hearing him proclaimed and receiving him in the Eucharist.

Our celebration of the Mass may surprise some – there are no rows of men in cassocks, collars, and surplices, with hands folded perfectly, fitting into the mold of what the person next to them believes a seminarian should be. Rather, there are rows of broken men and women – seminarians, lay graduate students, women religious, professors, visitors, friends – taking a break from the burden of the day, at least for a time, to lay those burdens at the altar.

We end our day in community as we began it. The community comes together for Vespers, sometimes with Exposition and Benediction. We pick up the rhythm that will hopefully serve as a foundation for our life away from here – that sometimes you need to drop what you’re doing and pray with the Church, for the Church, and for the world, because you know that without God’s help and the graces flowing from that time with him, there’s no way you can do what you’re setting out to do.

So, what business do monks have teaching me how to be a diocesan priest? I think it is the fact that they are what we are called to be as well – men of prayer, who center their lives around the liturgy, and who work to see how that celebration influences the rest of their lives.

The monks teach us that what we do in the chapel, the time we spend in our rooms on our knees in prayer, is of the greatest importance – that it’s worth risking everything for, even our very lives. They help us to become excited at the prospect of someday presiding at liturgies. They teach us how to do so in a way that points not to us, but to the God who is the center of our lives… the God whom we encounter in the parish, in the nursing home, at the bedside in the hospital, since wherever two or three are gathered, so too is God there among them.

This is short and is rather simple glimpse into the liturgical life of a seminarian. My thoughts may be different from my brothers here, and even more so from my brothers at other seminaries.

I believe that my main point, though, would hold true elsewhere also: the seminarians of today’s Church are excited to serve the people of God. They know that their best source of strength and ministry is the principal work of the Church: the worship of God in the liturgy.

Anthony Cecil, Jr. is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky. After graduating from high school, he attended the Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary at Marian University in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 2015, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Catholic Studies, a Concentration in Pre-Theology Philosophy, and a Minor in German Language and Culture. Currently, Anthony is continuing his formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology at Saint Meinrad Archabbey in Southern Indiana, where he is in his third year of theological studies. He is anticipated to be ordained as a transitional deacon in the spring of 2018 and a priest in the summer of 2019. 

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5 comments

  1. I am a graduate of St. Meinrad and while there witnessed Monks in prayer and worship. The liturgical formation I received there left an indelible mark on my priestly ministry especially the manner with which I offer Mass with and for God’s priestly people. The monks I studied under were also great teachers. I agree with this seminarian.

  2. And you learn the criticality of supportive/challenging community, as well as ongoing learning, dialog and formation; which many/most/all diocesan seminaries do not teach.

    1. Donna where does this accusation come from? I’ve recently worked in two metropolitan archdioceses with major seminaries, both of which require seminarians to take a pastoral formation class each semester (I know both vocations directors). I should also point out that this regimen was not a recent change.

      I don’t think any current seminarian or priest ordained in the past 10 years would disagree with any of things you state as critically important. I’m not saying our newly minted clergy or their seminaries are perfect, but the claim that says they don’t value pastoral responsibilities is demonstrably false if you, for example look at any seminary’s website.

  3. Another place where diocesan seminarians study, surrounded by Benedictine monks, is Conception Seminary College, on the grounds of Conception Abbey, in Conception, Missouri.

  4. St. Meinrad Abbey is the ideal place to escape from the noise of the modern world. I’ve been there and have had the fortune to meet Br. Denis R. His kindness and hospitable character always impresses me. I pray for the monks and seminarians at St. Meinrad daily. Very nice article.

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