By Corey Close
Greetings, and welcome to my new monthly column. I am Corey Close, a third-year seminarian studying for our Diocese of Davenport at the North American College (NAC) in Rome.
I’ve been asked by many people what life as a seminarian is like, what it is like living in Rome, and whether I have met the pope yet. I thought I could provide a monthly column to answer some of these questions and whet your appetite with a few more. This first column will lay the groundwork for future columns.
I hope many of you read Celine Klosterman’s article about me a few issues ago but, if not, here’s a quick bio: I am 26 years old, graduated from the University of Iowa in 2006, and have been studying for our diocese for more than four years now. I spent two years at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago studying philosophy, and for the past two years have been studying theology in Rome at the NAC.
Now, first question: What’s theology? It is, essentially, graduate-level catechesis. We look at the truths of our faith at a new and deep level, exploring every nook and cranny of all we believe. Since you have to have a bachelor’s degree before even studying theology for the priesthood, you could say we’re getting a master’s degree in our faith.
Next question: What’s the NAC? It’s a seminary of more than 200 men studying to become priests for around 90 dioceses across the United States. Our largest contingent is East Coasters, but Midwesterners represent a sizable group as well. We live a 10-minute walk south of Vatican City on the west side of Rome and actually have an amazing view of St. Peter’s Basilica from our roof, as well as the rest of Rome.
Where we go to class, however, is about a 35-minute walk east, into the heart of the city, at the Gregorian University. Here, my classes are in Italian (a language I had to learn pretty quickly!), and my entire grade is based on a 10-minute oral final. No pressure, though.
School for us doesn’t begin until mid-October or end until mid-June, but we have to be at the NAC in early September. Why? During this month, every class has a series of practicums to help students in their journey to the priesthood. First-year students have intensive Italian studies, many having arrived in late July to do this. Second-year students learn about preaching and living the priestly calling. Third-year students do more preaching and preparations for ministry and fourth-year students learn how to baptize, witness marriages and conduct funeral services.
But class work is not all that we do, as all the classes take a weeklong retreat on a staggered basis over the course of the month. We take a bus and head into the hills of Italy and spend a week in silence and prayer with our class. It is truly silent, as no talking is allowed. It’s an interesting experience eating lunch, where the only sound heard is the clinking of silverware on plates.
But these days are a time to grow closer to Christ, for it is in the times of silence that we hear his voice the best. The calling to the priesthood is, above all, a sacred one which should always be the fruit of deep prayer with God. As future priests our primary ministry is to bring the faithful the fruit of our prayer. This week of silent contemplation, and the many hours of prayer that come during the year, are a preparation for this.
So during this month of September remember us seminarians in prayer and, especially during our retreats, pray that we may grow in the love of Christ so that one day we can bring that love and faith to not only the parishes of Iowa, but all of our great country as well.