Fifty years ago today, Feb. 3, I entered the seminary.
I remember this day each year, always with gratitude and a sense of peace. This year the day seemed to have sneaked up on me. But once again, perhaps more than ever, it triggers many memories — of God’s faithful, loving kindness and of all of the people whose goodness has been deeply life-giving for me through all of the years.
After a year and a half at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., I thought that the time had come to respond to an attraction to priesthood that I realized had been quietly growing in me for some time. I can not recall a specific event in and through which I decided to apply to the seminary. At the same time, I do recognize that the experience of a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps cruise in the summer of 1956 was a significant moment in the process. It was much like a six-week retreat at sea. The grandeur and beauty of the sea, the time apart, conversations about life with regular Navy personnel and with midshipmen from around the country all brought me to a focus in thinking and prayer that eventually led to my decision.
I have often said to friends over the years that that first decision — the one to enter the seminary — was the most difficult one I have ever made. Others may or may not have been objectively more important, but that one seemed the most wrenching. I suppose that’s because it called for a notable change in the direction of my life and in my relationships.
However it unfolded, the process led me to Mater Christi Seminary in Albany. Family and friends generously came to wish me well, and the seminary community was gracious in their hospitality. Friends from those days like to remind me that Msgr. James O’Neill, the rector of Mater Christi, a little confused about my name, encouraged the students to extend a warm welcome that day to new student, Harvey Matthews.
Between Feb. 3, 1957, and Dec. 19, 1962, when I was ordained, I spent one semester at Mater Christi, two years at St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester and three-and-a-half years at the North American College in Rome. I have fond memories of all three experiences, but I carry to this day a special affection for Mater Christi. The support of the community, the encouragement of the faculty, a stimulating curriculum and good teachers all contributed to that. Yet, as I remember that experience today, I appreciate all of those elements as God’s way of supporting and encouraging a young man who needed that very badly.
As I fast forward through the 18,000-plus days since then, I realize that God has been no less faithful to me since Mater Christi than God was then. As I look back on the ups and downs of the years, I remember the many times when I needed and received encouragement, forgiveness, a fresh start, strength, patience and countless other good gifts. Some of these gifts came in prayer, others just appeared. Most I have experienced at the hands of sisters and brothers — often from unexpected sources and in surprising ways. It may have been out of awareness of such faithful love that I chose for my episcopal motto “God’s Love Endures Forever.”
When I remember this day in 1957, I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my call to priesthood. It has opened for me a wonderful range of relationships that foster life and growth. It had allowed me to share in a privileged way in moments deeply significant in the lives of others. It has been a wonderful lens through which to understand my own call to continued growth, the human condition, the meaning of suffering, those things that bring lasting meaning, sense and value to life.
I hope that these comments will draw you to think not only about priesthood — and I hope you will do that — but about your own vocation. How did it begin? What and who nurtured it? What have you learned in and through it? About God? Yourself? Others? How has it satisfied you? Challenged you? Frustrated you? What are your hopes for the future?
If you have an attraction to priesthood, if you have any sense of a call in that direction, I encourage you to share that with other people. It’s always a good beginning to test out such inspirations with people whom we trust and admire.
I encourage you to be in touch with Father Tim Horan at 585/342-2100 or email@example.com. He would be happy to assist you any way that he can.
Peace to all.