Skip to comments.Seminary Springtime: Father Darrin Connall s Big Success
Posted on 05/21/2002 1:46:12 AM PDT by nickcarraway
Seminary Springtime: Father Darrin Connall´s Big Success
by Father Matthew Gamber
This school year there are 13 seminarians and the expectation of even more men entering for the next academic year at Bishop White Seminary in Spokane, Wash. As many seminaries struggle and college seminaries are closing, where does this hope come from?
April 25, 2002 / At 36, Father Darrin Connall, rector of Bishop White Seminary at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., is among the youngest rectors of any seminary in North America. When he took over the position two years ago he arrived at a seminary that had only one seminarian. This school year there are now 13 seminarians and the expectation of even more men entering for the next academic year. The Diocese of Spokane has announced a capital campaign for the seminary and asked Father Connall to raise $6 million to replace the aging Bishop White buildings and build a new facility capable of housing at least 20 men each year. As many seminaries struggle and college seminaries are closing, where does this hope come from in the Diocese of Spokane? Jesuit Father Matt Gamber spoke with Father Connall at his office for the Register.
How have you gone about dramatically increasing the vocations in the diocese, especially at the college level?
After being named vocation director and formation director for the diocese I was pleasantly surprised.
My original goal was to have 15 guys in three years, but we got to 13 in just one year. I just believe that the vocation picture is turning around and that college seminary programs are very important for the life of the Church. The priests here are really with me and are the best promoters of vocations. Even the lay people out here are not afraid to promote vocations. Its not a job I am doing all by myself. The best recruitment has been to bring men to the seminary so that they can see this is a happy, normal, healthy place to discern and start becoming a priest.
What makes a college seminary a good place to begin priestly formation?
It is a place where men can discern their vocation and really learn and live what it means to be a follower of Christ. I think it is important to get guys early in life, otherwise theyre lost vocations. I know that goes against much of what has been said and thought about vocations in the past generation or so. But my experience has been that I would rather take a guy who is 18 years old and give him solid formation. Men dont need to have every single experience in life in order to be a good whole person and a good whole priest. And the average 18-year-old has had far more human life experience than someone did just 20 years ago.
I went here right after graduating from public high school and I am glad I did. I dont think I would have been able to respond to Gods call later in life. Too many distractions take guys away from what they feel is a call earlier in life than later. But we still take men who may have completed their college degrees. I try to convey the joy and the value of being a priest, being a disciple of Christ. It is a wonderful vocation.
Many college seminaries have closed or are closing, yet you have a capital campaign for $6 million and plans for a whole new facility capable of housing 20 men plus a full-time staff. Why a whole new building?
We are thinking ahead and planning ahead. We have heard the call of Pope John Paul to prepare, that the Church is in the springtime!
Has Pope John Paul II had an influence in your work?
Absolutely, it has been amazing. He has inspired young people to be courageous and to trust in God and the Church. His witness has had ramifications right here in Spokane. He is unafraid to challenge them to sacrifice, service and commitment. I meet men all the time who have received this positive vision of the Church from the Pope and want to be a part of it.
What happens here once someone enters the Bishop White Program?
We have three programs here, all in conjunction with Gonzaga University: the regular undergraduate program where the men receive the B.A. in philosophy, a pre-theology program where they receive the college course that they may have missed in a previous undergraduate program and an English language program for men who are joining our diocese from Latin America. All three programs prepare the men to move on to the major seminaries in this country or abroad.
But in addition to the intellectual we have a rigorous program of human, spiritual, social and apostolic formation in conformity with the Program of Priestly Formation that the U.S. bishops have mandated for all seminaries. There is a great spirit in this house and we study and work hard, and have a good time too.
They are still college students and we want them to have the college experience. We are in close collaboration with Gonzaga University. We are one of the few remaining programs that is not a totally separate college system. We want them to have lay friends and get involved in all that a major university has to offer. They do not date while here. We work on chastity promotion and education and this is a great witness to the university.
Are you worried that the recent clergy sexual scandals will hinder your growth at Bishop White?
It is certainly not good news for anyone in the Church, but our clear focus here is on the life of a diocesan priest, and helping each man to become the best diocesan priest that he can be. We have addressed the scandals here at our regular Thursday evening House Nights where significant issues are raised and addressed. We do not shy away from the problems that the Church is facing, but we are not going to collapse and throw in the towel either.
What gives you hope in the particular young men that are at Bishop White right now?
They are really very prayerful men, far more prayerful than I was at their age. There is absolute fidelity to community prayer the office and the Mass, but there is also a great deal of spontaneous, non-obligatory time spent in prayer here. I have to tell them, go to bed, turn out the light of the chapel when you leave, get some sleep. We also have all-day eucharistic adoration once a week, that is up from just one hour a week last year which is something the men asked for themselves. I am incredibly optimistic about what God is doing in the Church today. The evidence that I have is anecdotal but talking to young men today I think we are on the threshold of a new and deeper vocation to the priesthood today and these men are going to be the ones to form it.
Eucharistic adoration is essential in the life of future priests. Seminarians are attracted to whatever will increase their hunger for the Eucharist, for the experience of the transcendence of our God. Many were doing it before they came here, in fact, adoration helped many to come here.
In addition to studies and prayer, do the seminarians engage in outside formation activities?
Every man here is involved in outside ministry at shelters, soup kitchens, catechesis, evangelization, tutoring, pro-life work you name it and they are doing it. The key is to try to keep all their energies and desires for service in balance with their duties as students and community members. Each man has a spiritual director and another priest who helps me to over see their formation. So there is a lot of opportunity, but also a lot of accountability.
What do they bring to the priesthood that is different from previous generations?
My generation and still this one was raised in the context of difficulties in the Church and the society, constant turmoil within the Church and the unsettledness and ambiguity about the family, the Church, the culture. The men who step forward out of this culture I have tremendous respect for them. They see the difficulties but they want to be part of the solution through their priesthood, they want to make a difference and a real contribution to the life of the Church. There is great zeal and enthusiasm for everything about the faith. They want to build things up, not tear them down.