The Importance of the Saint John Fisher Seminary Residence
Among the places I first visited as the newly appointed Bishop of Bridgeport in 2001 was the Saint John Fisher Seminary Residence in Stamford. In fact, I went there as soon as I could for morning Mass and breakfast. It was the first of many visits. I believed then and I believe now that this seminary is of vital importance for our diocese. The Year for Priests, combined with the twentieth anniversary of Saint John Fisher, is a good opportunity for all of us to focus on its importance now and in the future.
The seminary began thanks to the foresight of then-Bishop Egan. Soon after his installation as Bishop of Bridgeport in December 1988, he established this college-level house of discernment for priestly vocations and appointed Msgr. Stephen DiGiovanni as rector. Bishop Egan saw that a seminary residence would foster priestly vocations in the Diocese of Bridgeport. This remains true on several counts:
- Saint John Fisher is a place of discernment for men who believe they may be called to a priestly vocation and a focal point for the vocations efforts of our diocese.
- It provides seminarians with a solid human, intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral formation.
- It enables future priests to become acquainted with one another, and with this diocese in which they will be serving, before they proceed to a major seminary for their final four years of priestly formation.
Saint John Fisher began in a former convent on Daniels Farm Road in Trumbull (where I now reside). The seminary quickly outgrew that building and moved to its current location in Stamford as the number of seminarians burgeoned. The current seminary building is also a former convent, but much larger. It includes the beautiful Chapel of the Holy Cross where daily Mass is celebrated; a serene chapel for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; an excellent library; and a recently renovated dining room.
By the way, the food is also excellent, thanks to the skill and love of Marge Foster who has cooked for the seminary community for 10 years. An army does not march on an empty stomach, and seminarians of the Diocese of Bridgeport thrive on her food!
Though the numbers of seminarians has fluctuated through the years, the number has been on the rise for the last few years. Currently 16 of our 30 seminarians reside there. Please say your prayers, because there a several new prospects who are thinking seriously about entering Saint John Fisher in January. Of course, I am praying for the day when Father Sam Scott, the seminary rector, will call me to tell me that the place is full!
As we anticipate that day in prayer, let us give thanks to God for the 63 priests who are "alumni" of Saint John Fisher. May many more follow in their footsteps.
Seminarians of the Diocese of Bridgeport
Photo by Gregg Akoury
The seminary is my favorite place to be on Sunday evening, after I've made the rounds throughout the diocese. I like to go there around 7:00 p.m. to take part in Evening Prayer and a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament. Afterwards, I have the chance to visit informally with the seminarians over a cup of decaffeinated coffee or tea and one of Marge's cookies. Those gatherings are a great way to experience the prayerfulness of the seminarians and the camaraderie among them.
This is a house where the men are being formed in the ways of prayer with a strong sense of community. It's not just a question of showing up for scheduled Mass and prayers. The seminary helps the seminarians to pray deeply so as to open their hearts through the Holy Spirit to the friendship of Christ in the communion of the Church. Not surprisingly, their prayerfulness and the good spirit of the house are interconnected. As they grow in friendship with Christ, they grow in their capacity for friendship with others.
Interacting with these men aspiring to a priestly vocation keeps before my eyes the priestly ideals in which my own life and ministry are rooted.
One of the most important tasks of any seminary is "human formation," and Saint John Fisher is no exception to the rule. Years ago Pope John Paul II wrote that the personality of a priest is to be "a bridge to Christ." For that reason, applicants to the seminary are carefully screened. After all, the priest must be a healthy, virtuous person, with good relational and leadership skills.
Saint John Fisher provides both the environment and the tools for that sort of growth which is valuable no matter what a person's vocation turns out to be. Growth in human maturity is the work of a lifetime, but Saint John Fisher strives to help each seminarian grow toward his full potential.
The seminary also provides our men with a solid intellectual formation. Some of the men are just beginning their college education. They are pursuing an undergraduate degree in philosophy at Sacred Heart University or Fordham University. Other men have completed their college degree but need to meet additional academic requirements for the major seminary. Still others are taking an English as a Second Language course. Most of the courses are taught at the university, though important courses in Greek and Latin, philosophy, and theology are taught at the seminary itself by highly qualified priests of this diocese and by an excellent lay faculty.
The lay faculty model the Christian life which is one the prime objectives of priestly ministry. While imparting knowledge, the priest-faculty members demonstrate by word and deed how to live the priestly vocation in fidelity, generosity, and joy.
And since, at this stage in their formation, the seminarians study locally, they also have the opportunity to help out in parishes throughout the diocese. They begin to know the priests with whom, God willing, they will one day be serving, and they come to know the parishes as well. They develop a sense of the pastoral needs and opportnities in the diocese.
Although the pastoral formation offered in major seminary is more intense than the program at Saint John Fisher, nonetheless the overriding goal of the seminary is to help form future priests who will be wonderful parish priests and pastors - like the late Msgr. Edward Karl, the former pastor of Saint Mary's in Bethel, whom we commended to the Lord in these past few days.
Please pray for an increase of priestly vocations in our diocese, and please pray that our seminary may continue to be the Lord's instrument in giving us shepherds.