March 3, 2005

For Our Future Priests

The night was cold but the crowd of dedicated Catholics gathered in John S. Burke Catholic High School in Goshen was warm and enthusiastic. They had come together to commit themselves to making the 2005 Cardinal’s Annual Appeal a rousing success in their parishes in Rockland, Orange, Sullivan, Ulster and Dutchess counties.

Photographs were taken at all of the tables where representatives of the various parishes were seated, a film about the Appeal was shown, and I was invited to make a presentation. In the course of my remarks, I explained that everything supported by the Appeal aims at strengthening and improving our service to the parishes of the archdiocese and then touched upon the sectors of archdiocesan life which the Appeal supports, among them, parishes, schools, catechetical programs, charities, retired priests and religious, seminaries and administrative offices. My conclusion was a plea that every household in every parish make a gift to the Appeal, declaring that participation by all would be an immensely powerful sign of the unity and vitality of the Church in the three boroughs and seven upper counties that make up our archdiocesan community of faith.

As we were leaving to go out into the snow, one of the couples in attendance came up to chat. "I knew we had a seminary," the husband observed, "but I don’t remember ever hearing about a pre-seminary and all the great things you had to say about the faculty and facilities of what you call our ‘seminary system.’ " The wife agreed. "Put all of that in Catholic New York," she announced with a twinkle in her eye, "and every parish will be over goal in no time."

"I don’t think there would be space for everything you heard tonight," I replied. "Still, I promise to do an article about how we prepare our future priests, and I will try to touch upon at least the high points of what I said."

"And don’t forget about the professors you mentioned," the husband added, as he held the door for his wife with one hand and made the "V" for "victory" sign with the other. "That’s something that people really need to hear."

Following the counsel of two devoted Appeal volunteers, I begin by stating without the slightest hesitation that the seminary system of the Archdiocese of New York is truly outstanding. It is made up of three components, the first being St. Joseph’s Major Seminary in the Dunwoodie section of Yonkers. Here our future priests are provided with the final four years of seminary preparation with courses in Theology, Sacred Scripture, Church History and Canon Law along with training in preaching and formation in the spiritual life.

The seminary is housed in a splendid building inaugurated by Archbishop Michael J. Corrigan in 1896. It boasts a beautiful, prayerful chapel, a marvelous library, classrooms, meeting rooms, accommodations for students and faculty, and a fully equipped gymnasium built by Francis Cardinal Spellman and complete with swimming pool and facilities for basketball, handball and bowling.

What is most impressive about this extraordinary institution, however, is the faculty that has been brought together to provide our future priests with the best in seminary education and formation. They include His Eminence, Avery Cardinal Dulles, known to all the Catholic world as one of the most influential theologians of our time; Sister Sara Butler, M.S.B.T., a member of the Holy Father’s Pontifical Theological Commission; Reverend Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J., a celebrated theologian and the former chair of the Department of Theology at Fordham University; Reverend Msgr. William B. Smith, one of our nation’s most highly regarded moralists; and a host of other gifted professors, including Jesuits, Dominicans, religious women and archdiocesan priests. Moreover, until two years ago, the faculty included as well Reverend J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P., who is now the undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome and an enthusiastic supporter and counselor of seminary faculty. The "lineup" is extraordinary and, at least in my estimate, unmatched anywhere in the nation.

For young men who have finished college but need certain courses, especially in philosophy, before they can be enrolled in St. Joseph’s and for young men still in college, we have another outstanding component of our seminary system. It is the St. John Neumann Residence and Hall and is located on the same 44-acre campus as St. Joseph’s. It is a rather new facility which I had the honor of inaugurating in 2001. Its elegant chapel, its classrooms, its community rooms and its offices leave nothing to be desired. In addition, the faculty matches that of St. Joseph’s in excellence, including, as it does, Reverend Michael F. Hull, the dean and a member of the International Theological Colloquium of the Vatican; Sister Mary T. Clark, R.S.C.J., internationally renowned specialist in the theology of St. Augustine; Reverend Kenneth F. Slattery, C.M., former president of Niagara University; Reverend Msgr. Thomas J. Shelley, professor of Church history at Fordham University; and a team of other religious, priests and laity of the highest caliber.

The young men who have completed college take most of their courses in St. John Neumann’s. Those who are still in college take most of theirs at either Fordham University, St. John’s University, Iona College or Manhattan College. It is doubtful that any other diocese or archdiocese in the nation can equal this range of college-level educational choices for its future priests. In New York we are truly blessed.

The third component of our seminary system is known as the Cathedral Prep Program. It operates in Catholic high schools throughout the archdiocese and is designed to support teenagers who are considering a calling to the priesthood. Under the direction of their dean, Reverend Thomas Lynch, the young men participate in monthly days of recollection at St. Joseph’s, work with spiritual directors assigned by Father Lynch, serve Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and get together during the year for social and athletic events of various kinds. In the film that was made for the 2005 Cardinal’s Annual Appeal, Daniel McNalley of St. Raymond’s Boys High School in the Bronx is featured in the segment concerning the Cathedral Prep Program. He will be entering St. John Neumann’s this coming fall.

This past year St. Joseph’s graduated for the Archdiocese of New York the largest ordination class in the nation and one of the finest I have ever seen in my half a century of involvement with seminarians as a seminarian myself, a seminary professor, and a bishop. The preparation of these remarkable young men has been carefully, wisely and prayerfully guided by Reverend Msgr. Peter G. Finn, who is rector of the seminary system and has served as a high school principal, a member of Cardinal O’Connor’s staff, and a dedicated pastor of souls on Staten Island.

Like me, Msgr. Finn has received numerous letters and telephone calls from pastors and parishioners alike congratulating him and those who work with him on the deep faith and total dedication of our young priests. There is nothing that makes the two of us so happy and, yes, so proud. For there is nothing in the life of the Archdiocese of New York so crucially important as an ever-growing number of devoted priests to serve our people as the Lord would have them served.

Without the Cardinal’s Annual Appeal we could not have such a seminary system in place and operating so well. Thus it is that I am delighted to follow the advice of the couple I met at John S. Burke Catholic High School. There is much more that I could have written, but I dare to hope that what is here will help move each and every parishioner of the archdiocese to make a truly sacrificial gift to the Appeal this year. We need everyone to be involved so that we can all join at the conclusion of the Appeal raising our fingers in a "V" for "victory" for the Lord and for His Church here in New York.

Edward Cardinal Egan

Archbishop of New York