By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Seminarians from Iowa’s four dioceses participated last weekend in a tradition that may be one of a kind in the U.S.: a state seminarian convocation.
“We’re unique as far as states that gather all of their seminarians each year. Most dioceses wouldn’t have something comparable,” observed Father Thom Hennen, vocations director for the Diocese of Davenport, which hosted this year’s convocation. Iowa’s dioceses, including Des Moines, Dubuque and Sioux City, rotate hosting duties. The Iowa Knights of Columbus sponsors the event.
This year’s convocation, held Aug. 8-10 in Iowa City, offered an opportunity for camaraderie as well as education and formation. Participants say they gained insights from presenter Father Joseph Carola, SJ, about separating the essentials from the nonessentials in ministry.
Fr. Carola, who serves on the theology faculty at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, focused his presentation on ministering in the midst of a frenetic world. In his concluding talk, Fr. Carola reflected on John’s Gospel (6:1-15) account of the weary apostles being instructed by Jesus to feed the multitude.
“The service of the Gospel, which employs our talents for God’s greater glory, will always transcend the outer limits of our natural abilities,” the theologian observed. “Like the Apostles at Tabgha, we priests stand in our poverty before the multitude, whom we serve, and with a certain trepidation we ask ourselves how the thousands are to be fed with only the five loaves and two fish we possess.”
A prudent priest understands his limitations and knows that without Christ he can do nothing, Fr. Carola said. It is through the grace of Christ that the priest’s poverty is enriched and the multitude is fed. The Apostles did not endure it alone. “Together they labored in distributing that blessed, broken bread to the crowds reclining on those green fields … Our priesthood unites us, and our priestly fraternity sustains us. Priestly friendships especially help to relieve the stress that can easily mount as apostolic demands threaten to overwhelm us,” the theologian noted.
Seminarian Dan Dorau of the Davenport Diocese said Fr. Carola offered insight into the priesthood worth pondering: “what we need to be aware of about living our priestly ministry.” That means focusing on the essentials: the sacraments, the liturgy, prayer. “Being at every committee meeting is not essential,” added Dorau, a student at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis.
Seminarian James Flattery, also of the Davenport Diocese, said Fr. Carola’s talks emphasized finding balance. It’s about “learning how to control your life so you have the energy to spread the word of God,” added Flattery, who attends Conception Seminary College in Missouri. “You get your energy through prayer.”
Fr. Carola pointed out the need to “integrate rest into our lives,” seminarian Chris Starbuck of the Archdiocese of Dubuque said. Seminarians and priests can feel as if they have to save the world all the time, “but if you’re burned out you can’t give what you don’t have,” observed Starbuck, a student at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois.
“We’re still human and still limited,” noted seminarian James Downey of the Des Moines Diocese. The question becomes, “How do you serve when there’s infinite need?” The answer: “Allow Christ to use you in the way that he wills … it’s about not getting in his way,” added Downey, a student at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.
Fr. Carola’s talks addressed situations or issues the future priests may confront, which seminarian Tim Pick of the Sioux City Diocese found especially helpful. The seminarian, who attends St. Meinrad School of Theology in Indiana, also appreciates the overall formational aspects of each year’s convocation.
Paul Carlson, a seminarian of the Des Moines Diocese, expressed a sentiment echoed by the other seminarians concerning the sense of brotherhood the convocation offered. “We are an extended family of future priests.”
Terry Ball, a widower who will begin his seminary studies this fall at Sacred Heart in Hales Corners for the Diocese of Davenport said he leaves the convocation with this message: “being appreciative of the blessings we have received and being willing to share our gifts with others in a loving way. You must take care of yourself in order to be able to help others.”
Fr. Carola said he felt energized in the midst of the seminarians who participated in the convocation. “There’s real hope for the Church in Iowa, thanks to these men.”