A spirit of joy and vitality pervaded the Mass of the Holy Spirit at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, Sept. 10 for the start of the academic year. Key themes were the importance of peace in the Church, and the importance of resolving disputes and bringing the alienated back into the community.
Auxiliary Bishop James Massa of Brooklyn, a former faculty member, was the celebrant and homilist. Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari, rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary, was a concelebrant. Both called for prayers for those in peril from Hurricane Irma. Priests on the faculty concelebrated.
Following a reorganization that took effect in 2012, St. Joseph’s Seminary now educates priests for six dioceses: the New York Archdiocese and the dioceses of Brooklyn, Rockville Centre, Albany, Bridgeport, Conn., and Camden, N.J., as well as the Eparchy of the Syro-Malankara Rite, based in Elmont. It also serves seminarians from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the Piarist Fathers and the Idente Missionaries.
The seminary offers master’s degree programs for seminarians, diaconate candidates, clergy, religious and laypersons, with courses on campuses in Dunwoodie, Douglaston, Huntington and Poughkeepsie.
Msgr. Vaccari said in an interview that with its expanded programs and enrollment from other dioceses and religious congregations, St. Joseph’s trains future priests, educators and persons in ministry who serve 10 to 12 million Catholics. He noted that with students in various programs studying together, the Church’s future leaders, whether priests, religious or lay, come to know one another.
“That’s unique to St. Joseph’s,” and it is “a great blessing,” he said.
Another great blessing, he said, is that the Catholic Church is “an immigrant church,” and the seminary reflects the diversity of the Catholic population. Seminarians and other students come from 24 countries, he noted.
Msgr. Vaccari said that serving as rector is “a very humbling experience and an extraordinary privilege.”
Bishop Massa, in his homily, spoke about resolving conflicts and restoring peace.
“Starting with Peter and Paul, who quarreled over eating with Gentile converts, down to the latest spat between pastors in our respective dioceses, conflict has abounded” in the Church, he said.
“What concerns Jesus is that such tensions impact not only individuals, but the Church as a whole.” Citing the day’s Gospel reading (Matt. 18: 15-20), he noted that Jesus gives a three-step program for addressing disputes or sin: go privately to speak with the person involved; if the problem remains, bring one or two more to the person; and finally, if necessary, “bring the matter before the Church.”
“Everything must be done to restore peace to the Church,” Bishop Massa said. “And just for the record, the Church is never at peace when one of its members finds himself lost.”
He added, “Brothers and sisters, it’s because we’re clothed with Christ, and empowered by his Spirit, that we can act in his name. By his grace alone, we restore those who are lost and find peaceful ways to resolve the conflicts that wound our communities. Let us be clothed with Christ at the start of this academic year…How else can we be ministers of his joy?”
During the Mass a new associate dean, Christine Hammill-Cregan, took the oath of fidelity that the Church requires of teachers of theology.
Joseph Dutan of Queens, whose parents are from Ecuador, is a fourth-year seminarian for the Dioceses of Brooklyn. Nine years ago he was diagnosed with leukemia.
“That really opened my heart,” he told CNY. “It really helped me to grab onto God and give my life to God, and trust God completely.” His doctor recently told him he is a cancer survivor. “Ever since then, I know there is a reason God saved my life,” he said. “He saved me for a purpose. I’m open to whatever he wants me to do.”
Osvaldo Hernandez, a fourth-year seminarian, grew up in the Bronx, where he belonged to Our Lady of Mercy parish; he’s now in St. Elizabeth’s in Washington Heights.
“The fraternity of the seminarians and faculty—because we all live together—has helped me to grow in my vocation,” he said. “To see the importance of the community and the brotherhood of the priesthood, and the zeal that each of one of us has…It makes me want to go out to preach the Gospel. I can’t wait to become a priest.”
He added, “I would encourage young people to look into their heart and to see if they have a vocation to the priesthood, and not to be afraid of that call. It’s a beautiful life. It’s a life of serving.”
Steven Gonzalez, a first-year seminarian from St. Lucy’s parish in the Bronx, said that he was drawn to priesthood by “the amazing witness” of the priests at his parish, especially by their sacrifices for the people and the holiness of their lives as priests.
“It gave me the confidence to listen to God’s call in my heart,” he said.
After Mass, a picnic was held on seminary grounds.