By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Before heading back to seminary for fall studies, seminarians from the four Iowa dioceses had the opportunity to socialize and recharge at the annual Iowa Seminarian Convocation.
The annual convocation “brings together the seminarians of the state for a time of fraternity, especially as we anticipate they will be working together in the future as priests,” said Father Joseph Sia, diocesan director of vocations. “It is also used as a spiritual retreat.”
Every four years, the Diocese of Davenport takes a turn hosting the convocation. This year’s convocation took place Aug. 7-9 at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City and was paid for through a large donation from the Iowa Knights of Columbus, Fr. Sia said.
Each day, the 70-plus seminarians and vocation directors celebrated Mass, ate meals together and listened to presentations on Divine Mercy by the event’s speaker, Father Michael Gaitley, MIC. He is the director of evangelization for the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception in Southbridge, Mass., and director of Formation for the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy. He is also the author of several books and booklets, including “33 Days to Merciful Love,” “Divine Mercy Explained” and “You Did It to Me: A Practical Guide to Mercy in Action.”
In his presentations, Fr. Gaitley explained that sainthood is possible despite weakness and sinfulness. He expanded on that by using examples of saints, such as St. Therese of Lisieux.
He noted that St. Therese’s “little way” turned traditional Catholic theological teaching on its head, challenging the idea that only the purest souls could enter heaven immediately upon death. “She shows us that holiness is attainable … Jesus doesn’t just want ‘good’ people,” Fr. Gaitley explained. “We can receive mercy more when we recognize our brokenness.”
The “little way” is not an excuse to continue sinning without regret, however. “You can’t receive absolution unless you are sorry,” he said. Fr. Gaitley challenged the men to avoid “cynicism,” or the idea that they will never become saints because they aren’t good enough. “You have to keep trying.”
The final presentation of the convocation focused on having a personal relationship with Jesus, something Fr. Sia believes is especially important for priests. “We are called to celibacy so there is sometimes that sense of loneliness and missing out on the idea of having a wife and children. … (Fr. Gaitley’s) last message was to not be afraid to come to Jesus and know him as a friend.”
Fr. Sia appreciated the opportunity to talk with other vocation directors at the convocation, especially since he is new to the position. “We had a session of sharing with each other, offering advice, (discussing) how we do things and planning for events that we can do together.”
He met one-on-one with the seminarians from the Diocese of Davenport at the convocation “so I could get to know them a little more.”
Fr. Sia noted that the seminarians from the Davenport Diocese don’t always have the opportunity to see each other, especially if they attend different seminaries and come from different hometowns. The convocation was a chance to form friendships.
Davenport seminarian Isaac Doucette said he appreciated Fr. Gaitley’s message, and also enjoyed having Deacon Michael McAndrew serve at Mass. Both Doucette and Deacon McAndrew are from Iowa City, though Deacon McAndrew is in priest formation with the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Doucette will begin his second year of pre-theology studies at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois this fall.
Scott Foley, who will return this fall to the North American College in Rome after a pastoral year, said it is a “great blessing” to be able to participate in the statewide convocation each year. “It is a wonderful time to get together with seminarian friends across Iowa.”
He also appreciated Fr. Gaitley’s “five wide-ranging sessions on becoming the unique lowercase ‘s’ saint each of us is created to be…. I look forward to praying about the insights Fr. Gaitley has given us to ponder, as they can be helpful to any Christian, regardless of who they are, where they are from, or what they do.”