The Life of a Seminarian

A man kneels before an altar. His face is hooded and facing down toward the ground while his lips murmur prayers for the Lord to show him the path he must follow. He does this day after day until finally he is ordained a priest and is assigned a parish to care for. This is the idea that many people tend to envision when the word “seminary” or “discernment” is mentioned. However, this image is nothing close to the real life of seminarians. The life of a seminarian is a one filled with joy, revelation, brotherhood, and so much more that can’t even be put on paper.

Joining the seminary, contrary to the belief of many youths, doesn’t guarantee a man of becoming a priest.  When men join the seminary, they are saying they have heard God calling and have agreed to listen to his call. Seminarian Chandler Donaldson (’14) said, “My family has known many guys who have left the seminary and have become the best husbands and fathers we know. This is because they have spent time discerning God’s call for them and now know what God wants them to do in life. It’s not about what we want, it’s what He wants.”

The Diocese of Little Rock has two paths that both lead to the same goal. One is to attend classes at the University of Dallas and stay at Holy Trinity Seminary. The other is to stay in Little Rock, attend classes at UALR or Pulaski Tech, and stay at the House of Formation located on the grounds of Good Counsel parish.  After four years at either of the two options, the seminarians then go on to four more years at either St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corner Wisconsin, or the North American College in Rome. During the summers the seminarians continue their educations by having immersion trips to Mexico or Guatemala to learn Spanish fluently, completing their clinical pastoral education at Baptist Health in Little Rock, or traveling the state to assist parishes.

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor dedicated the $1.6 million House of Formation on the grounds of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock on September 20, 2012.  Before this, the men lived in a house rented by the dioceses but were moved to Fletcher Hall on the Grounds of the St. John’s Catholic Center until the completion of the building in 2013. Bishop Taylor believed the House of Formation would serve as a new foundation, both physically and spiritually, for the new seminarians and their discernment. “I’m convinced if we lay a solid foundation now, we will have a priest who are solid for the future,” said Bishop Taylor at the foundation laying ceremony and blessing in 2012.

He also believed that if they would lay the physical foundation for the vocations than God would send forth men to serve. His belief has become a reality. From 2000-2010 the dioceses has ordained fewer than 10 priests; Over 30 seminarians are now in some stage of the journey to the priesthood.

Not only did Bishop Taylor have the House of Formation built, but he also wanted to live with the seminarians. When he was ordained in 2008, Bishop Taylor immediately moved out of the lavish mansion   his predecessors had lived in and moved into an apartment. He didn’t believe he needed any of the luxuries of the mansion and wanted to be among his people. He believed he should know the seminarians he would possibly be ordaining one day.

When the House of Formation was completed the bishop immediately moved into its annex along with Msgr. Scott Friend (1979). The Bishop also wanted more priests to be active with the seminarians, so he asked Msgr. Richard Oswald (’57), a spiritual director and Father Ruben Quinteros, the prefect of the House of Formation, to move into the House of Formation. “The Bishop is great to live with, he eats with us most of the time. He loves to joke and mess with us. He is a great mentor and it’s a blessing to have him with us,” said Seminarian Alex Booth (’08).

During a typical week a seminarian’s day begins with the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours at 6:45 every morning.  The Liturgy of the Hours is a special set of prayers, Psalms, hymns, and readings that the group reads and prays together. These prayers usually concern thanking God for the gifts He has given and for asking for His guidance.  Combined with the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours make up the public prayer life of the Catholic Church.

House of Formation Chapel

House of Formation Chapel

After the Liturgy of the Hours, the guys either return to bed or head toward the kitchen to start their day. Like many facilities that house a close to a dozen college men, the House of Formation has enough food to support a small army. Some guys prefer to grab a quick bowl of cereal or a banana, but a lot of the guys like to cook pancakes or a variety of egg dishes. Alex Booth (’08) loves to make omelets and knows a special trick to making a huge one, just like the IHOP kind. “My secret is adding a little bit of pancake dry mix. It’s how IHOP does it. You could say I know some secrets of the world,” said Booth. He may have the biggest egg dish in the house, but there is much dispute on who the best cook is.

“My eggs are definitely the best; Monsignor [Oswald] loves my eggs. It just comes naturally to me. I don’t add any secret ingredients; I’m just that good. Alex is also a very slow cook,” said Omar Galván when a dispute broke out over who was to make breakfast one morning.

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Fr. Tony Robbins (CHS Honorary Grad.) enjoying the morning paper

During breakfast the guys act just like anyone else: they read the newspaper, joke around, cram in some studying, debate different topics and even compete in intense games of the popular app Trivia Crack. They all begin their day with a certain peace and brotherhood that seems to radiate the presence of the Lord within them.

After breakfast, most of the guys leave for their classes if they have any. Like most college students, they like to schedule their classes in the morning so they can use the afternoon as they please. Some days they will have the whole day with no classes, but this is not too common. Along with their core classes at UALR and Pulaski Tech, the seminarians must complete extra courses in the newly renovated classrooms in the old Good Counsel school building. Mr. Thomas Handloser and Mr. Edward Dodge drive over after school to teach a Latin course and a “Great Reads” course.  Since UALR and Pulaski Tech are both secular colleges, the seminarians attend philosophy classes at St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, Oklahoma over a webcam and Smart Board.  Booth said, “It’s really cool. The teachers can zoom in on us with the camera if we have questions and we can see all his work on the Smart Board. It’s just like we are in class with him.”

Along with all these classes, the seminarians are required each semester to perform charity work and be active in the community. “This helps the men discern their call and spread the love of God.” Seminarian Vince Kozlowski said, “As seminarians, we do ministry. It all depends what our formators want, but we help the people. We visit the sick and distribute communion, we do things for Catholic charities, help run free clinics for the people who cannot afford them, and other things around parishes like PRE and things like that,” said Kozlowski.  “Helping the community helps me to discern because it helps me see God in the face of people. Actually being able to be with them and see them is great way to grow. I love being able to help the people we are going to pastor in the future. It helps me get closer to God because I feel I’m not helping myself, but others.”

House of Formation Living Room

House of Formation Living Room

Even though they are usually quite busy, the seminarians do have free time and they each like to spend it separately. The living room in the House of Formation has a flat screen television connected to a DVD player, an Xbox 360, a Wii, and a set of speakers. The bookshelves are filled with a wide variety of movies, including Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail and The Princess Bride, books, CDs, and a collection of video games ranging from Just Dance to Halo 4.  There is also a computer room which includes two computers donated by the Sara Club. The seminarians are allowed to bring their personal computers, consoles, and games; a lot of the guys like to play in their rooms. At certain times during the day, the halls are filled with faint sounds of intense battles against dragons, high speed car races, and episodes of That ’70s Show.  Seminarian and Eagle Scout Ben Riley (’12) likes to spend his time a little differently. When he has time, he goes to his parents’ house and works on an machine that draws three dimensional pictures.

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3D image drawn by Riley’s machine

“It’s called a harmonograph, and it’s used to make three dimensional drawings. It does this by using three pendulums that oscillate in different frequencies. I saw it on YouTube and thought it would be a fun project. It’s almost complete, but I’m still fine tuning it. It was a fun thing to do while my work load was relatively light,” said Riley

The guys end their day as they started with the Liturgy of the Hours. After this, they all head toward the dining room to sit down and eat together with Bishop Taylor, Msgr. Oswald, Msgr. Friend, and Father Quinteros. Since they do have very busy lives, there is a cook who comes in and prepares dinner and all they have to do is warm it up at dinner time.  Sometimes the guys will go out to eat, on their own, with friends, or occasionally all together.

On Saturdays, the seminarians are allowed to sleep in and Mass isn’t until 9 a.m.  After Mass and breakfast, the guys are each assigned a chore to do and a part of the house to clean. When all chores are done, everyone is set free for the day but must be back in the House of Formation by midnight. Once a month there is a free weekend and they will have the whole weekend to do as they please.

The life of a seminarian is not one full of dull, endless prayer, but instead it is one like many college students. There are many challenges to living it, more than that of a normal college life, but there are many benefits to it. They live a life a full of joy and peace, living not for themselves, but for the will of God. When asked about if he ever felt alone, or if there were every times he wanted to do something else with his life, Kozlowski said, “ Honestly, this is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. It’s amazing following the path Christ wants me to follow, because I know it will always be the right one. Yeah, I sometime I think about what if I had a family, wife, or kids, but in the end I know this is what God wants and in the end I will be happy beyond belief. And there is always a chance God calls me away from becoming a priest, and if that is the case than I will be happy, because that is what He wants.”

Seminarian Patrick Friend (’07) actually went to college first and even taught at Catholic High for a year. When asked to describe the seminary he said, “It’s a fraternity based on the only thing that matters.”

Fountain located in the backyard of the House of Formation

Fountain located in the backyard of the House of Formation

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