A nice problem: We have to fund the education of growing number of seminarians Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Wednesday, Sep. 24, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

In 2003, the Diocese of Madison had only six seminarians studying to be priests. With the number of ordinations decreasing and retirements of many active priests looming, the future didn’t look very promising.

What should we do? Many people in the diocese were talking about this situation. Bishop Robert C. Morlino, our new shepherd, decided to make vocations to the priesthood his top priority. He appointed a full-time director of vocations, then Fr. James Bartylla, and the bishop also promoted vocations every chance he had.

In the summer of 2004, three diocesan seminarians — Eric Sternberg, Ben Kessler, and Greg Ihm — started a Holy Hour for Vocations in the chapel of the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center. By the way, one of these seminarians (Fr. Greg Ihm) is now our diocesan director of vocations.

Eucharistic Adoration for Vocations

When the three seminarians were going back to their seminary studies in the fall, Father Bartylla talked with the Serra Club of Madison — of which he was the chaplain — about continuing the prayer for vocations. The club agreed, and Eucharistic Adoration for Vocations was begun on Monday, Sept. 13, at 9 a.m. It has been held every weekday from 9 to 11:45 a.m. since that time.

As one of the regular adorers for the past 10 years, I can attest to the power of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. As now Monsignor Bartylla recalls, he got a call from a prospective seminarian the very first day. It was like a faucet was turned on by our prayers.

Each week during my hour time slot, I always pray by name for each of our diocesan seminarians. I envision each of them in my mind and pray for them.

When they are ordained, I continue to pray for them. That number has grown to 22 priests ordained in the past 10 years; three additional priests have been incardinated into our diocese from other dioceses.

Increase in number of seminarians

What has really been amazing is the increase in the number of seminarians. Bishop Morlino had hoped for 30 seminarians by the time of his 10th anniversary as bishop of Madison in 2013. He got that wish.

This school year, we now have 33 seminarians, including seven new men studying this fall. After meeting all of our seminarians, I am really impressed by their dedication to discerning a vocation to the priesthood. They are wonderful candidates!

In 2015, God willing, there will be five men ordained to the priesthood for our diocese. God has indeed blessed our efforts here in the Diocese of Madison.

We have a problem — and a solution

Now comes the rub. As Monsignor Bartylla said at a meeting of parish representatives held at Holy Mother of Consolation Parish in Oregon on September 11, “We have a problem, but it’s a nice problem to have. We are trying to finance the formation and education of 33 seminarians.”

The St. Joseph Fund set up to educate future priests isn’t able to handle the costs for all of these seminarians. The diocese has to do something else.

After much research, the diocese has decided to establish a permanent endowment fund of $30 million. It has launched a campaign called Priests for Our Future: The Church Is Alive! to provide for the education and formation of future priests in our diocese.

While a “quiet phase” has been held in seven pilot parishes, the campaign is now going public. However, don’t send in any donations yet — until you are asked to do so in our parish.

I do encourage everyone in the Diocese of Madison to do their part. All of us can and should continue to pray that our diocese be blessed with vocations. When you are asked, be as generous as possible to the campaign. Already, nearly $4.8 million has been raised in pledges in the seven pilot parishes. The campaign is off to an excellent start.

Yes, we do have a nice problem. However, we’ve got a great solution. Prayer and generosity to this campaign — along with God’s help — should ensure a bright future for our diocese.