The Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio has been undergoing a renaissance of its own in the past few years, with enrollment increasing significantly and seven dioceses sending seminarians there for the first time. They are learning how to be what the Josephinum’s rector, Father James Wehner, STD, describes as a priestly, 21st-century version of a Renaissance man.Who are these men?
As Fr. Wehner defines it, “The Renaissance priest is both a man of culture and a man of faith, propagating the mission of the Church in a language, method, and ministry accessible to the people of God.”
That vision has attracted an increasing number of young men to the Josephinum since Fr. Wehner was appointed rector in 2009 after being pastor of a large church in suburban Pittsburgh and spending six years as rector of the Pittsburgh diocesan seminary.
Enrollment at the Josephinum has increased 53 percent since his arrival, growing from 118 to this year’s total of 185, the seminary’s highest total since the 1970s. Students range in age from 17 to their early 50s. Since the Josephinum is a national seminary, they come from nearly 30 dioceses in the U.S.
Several, such as first-year student Nathaniel Glenn of Phoenix, had their pick of schools from throughout the nation. They chose the Josephinum because they felt a possible calling to be a priest and believed it was the best place to discern God’s will.Yes! But what about formation and the true vocation of a priest?
“A lot of my friends said to me, ‘You’re too smart and too talented to be going to a seminary,’” said Glenn, a National Merit Scholarship finalist who turned down nearly $450,000 in scholarship offers from schools such as Texas Tech, Alabama, Arizona, and Arizona State “I told them they had the wrong idea of what a seminary is. It’s somewhere we should be sending our best men. We need smart priests.”
Fr. Wehner said the Josephinum’s mission is defined by three main concepts: Renaissance priesthood as described above, spiritual fatherhood, and the new evangelization as proclaimed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.And what about the daily prayer life and spiritual formation?
He explained spiritual fatherhood by saying “priests don’t surrender the natural vocation all men have to provide nuptial, generative, spousal love. Priestly celibacy consecrates the natural order of man to the supernatural love of God. It does not deny the masculinity that is part of a man’s nature, but places it in a special context. This is important in today’s culture, where sexuality is defined in a perverse way.”
Fr. Wehner said that a Renaissance priest, “as the initial new evangelizer, exercises pastoral ministry in culture, with an understanding of what the Church is asking from him and of what the faithful expect from their priest. He can’t be afraid of meeting people wherever they can be found, but has to go beyond the world of the parish and into areas like the marketplace, prisons, or the places where addicts are. The 21st-century priest needs to be man enough to bring the Gospel everywhere people need to hear it.”
Students at all levels of the Josephinum go into the secular world every Thursday afternoon during the school year, teaching at Columbus-area Catholic schools, taking part in activities such as the Special Olympics, and paying visits to the sick in hospitals and nursing homes and to prisoners at the Marion Correctional Institution.
Besides classroom time, the weekly apostolic works program, and daily meals, the weekday schedule includes practice sessions for those involved in the Josephinum choir and schola or other musical organizations, one-hour weekly formation conferences one night a week with Father Wehner or faculty members speaking in depth on a particular topic, Evening Prayer at 5:45 p.m., and Night Prayer (optional on most evenings but required on some) at 9.Please pray for these men and for vocations.
A Holy Hour is offered seven days a week and also is optional most days and required occasionally, In addition, there are ample opportunities to receive the Sacrament of Penance or to meditate in any of the institution’s four chapels, dedicated to St. Turibius, St. Rose of Lima, St. Joseph, and St. Pius X.
The Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (the “Latin Mass”) is celebrated twice a month, and there is a weekly Mass in Spanish that’s part of a larger Hispanic formation program. An English-immersion program is offered for international students.
Seminarians also are exposed to a wide range of devotions including Eucharistic processions and weekly recitation of the Rosary, and they can join fraternities such as the Knights of Columbus, which recently began a campus chapter.