Trip to seminary was an Advent gift - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

Trip to seminary was an Advent gift

The Lord gave me a rich Advent gift in the form of a trip to the American College at Leuven, Belgium, a seminary operated by the bishops of the United States. The occasion was their celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the installation of some of the students into the ministries of reader and acolyte. Msgr. Ross A. Shecterle, rector of the American College, invited me to preside and preach at the Eucharist.

It would have been a good experience under any circumstances to be with that community for their feast. But it was made the more special for all of us by a decision made by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at our November meeting to close the American College at the end of this academic year. That decision was made because of low enrollment, financial challenges and growing difficulty in attracting qualified staff.

I was deeply impressed by the response of the college community to that announcement. To a person, they were deeply saddened. An institution which means so much to them and to so many others would no longer exist. But they communicated to me an impressive sense that, even in the disappointment of the moment, they are already attentive to searching for ways in which God will communicate new life to them and through them. Administration and staff need to attend to the tough details of closure. Students will need to relocate to complete their training. Not easy tasks, any of them. And yet all that I met face them in a hopeful, confident spirit.

That is certainly true of Michael Costik, a seminarian for our diocese, who is in his third year of theological studies. Michael has done beautifully at Leuven and would have been content to finish his training there. Yet he is peaceful about the transition he now needs to make. In Michael’s case, since he will be on his pastoral year at home next year, there is ample time in which to make a decision about what comes next.

A second invitation to Advent prayer occasioned by this recent visit were the joyful memories it evoked of how people associated with the University of Leuven and the American College have enriched our lives. Some examples: Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen did much of his graduate work at the great university. He wrote and spoke of his years at Leuven as among God’s greatest gifts in his life.

Priests of our diocese who did their theological studies at Leuven are Fathers Ted Auble, Gary Tyman, Brian Jeffers, Patrick Van Durme, Joe Marcoux and Hoan Dinh. Father Mark Brewer began his studies at the American College before transferring to the Theological College at the Catholic University of America.

Our diocese has sent priests to serve as staff members at the American College. Fathers Frank Lioi and John DeSocio served as vice rector; Father Dan Tormey served as spiritual director. Both Bishop Dennis Hickey and I served for several years on the USCCB Committee for Leuven, and through the years many of our priests did sabbatical studies at Leuven or have attended summer courses there.

An awareness of past and current blessings, past and present challenges that bind the church in our country and our diocese with the American College at Leuven were all a part of this Advent trip to that wonderful place. I am grateful for these Advent gifts.

Peace to all.

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