The Diocese of Belleville currently has seven seminarians. Some have only recently started the process of discernment, while one, Thomas Lugge, is a transitional deacon scheduled to be ordained a priest on June 4, 2022.
Besides Deacon Lugge, three seminarians are studying Theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. These are Levi James, Joshua Elmore and Ben Baker. Another seminarian, Casmir Cozzi, is taking college courses there.
Two slightly older seminarians, Luke Fitzgerald and Robbie Dotson, are studying at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis.
“Right now the oldest seminarian is 48 and the youngest is in college,” says Father Nick Junker, director of seminarians for the Diocese of Belleville.
Bishop McGovern has made vocations one of his priorities as leader of the Belleville Diocese, says Father Junker. “Through his preaching about vocations and social media videos he has definitely created a new awareness.”
Additionally, the diocese has hosted discernment retreats for those considering a vocation.
“These have been held at the Kings House Retreat Center in Belleville,” Father Nick says. “We’ve had a couple of those and both were well received.”
Father Nick says the Vocations Department has also tapped into the “Come and See Weekends” at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. The diocesan vocations staff has encouraged the young men who have attended the St. Andrew Dinners to attend the weekends.
“We’ve had a handful of young men attend those weekends,” Father Nick says.
Bishop McGovern has hosted a series of St. Andrew Dinners in the various vicariates of the diocese. St. Andrew Dinners are meant to invite men interested in the priesthood and their parents to an informal gathering with Bishop McGovern, vocations staff, Vocations Director Father Joel Seipp, various priests from the vicariate and other men with a possible vocation.
St. Andrew Dinners take place in different dioceses around the country and follow the example set by St. Andrew, originally a follower of John the Baptist, as described in the Gospel of St. John: “Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him: ‘We have found the Messiah’ and brought him to Jesus.” (John 1:40-42)
“This means somebody has recognized a quality in some men that suggests they might be suited for the priesthood,” Father Nick says. “We don’t want people to feel as though they are obligated to enter the seminary;we are just giving them another thing to think about when they prayerfully consider what God wants them to do.”
Father Nick says sometimes it helps if someone points out that a man might make a good priest. Having someone mention it is a confirmation that makes them think it might be something worth paying attention to.
Another positive development is that none of the men have “discerned out” in recent years.
“That’s something,” Father Nick says. “Our seminarians are a spirited group of guys. They are really faithful, and there is a strong fraternity among them that is really noticeable, and that hasn’t been seen among seminarians since I’ve been involved.”
Father Nick says the seminarians do a lot together.
“They truly want to spend time together,” he says. “There is really a brotherhood among them. I think it’s because of the emphasis on formation and community living at the seminary, as well as the fraternity. They journey together. They really are inspiring, it is really noticeable to people. If you have two or three young seminarians or priests who are friends that is even more appealing and inspiring to people.”
Seminarian education/Vocations receives generous funding and support from The Catholic Service and Ministry Appeal. According to Father Nick, The CSMA subsidizes the St. Andrew Dinners, the discernment retreats, and assists with seminarian education and travel expenses.
The director of seminarians is a new position for the Diocese of Belleville. In the past the task was part of the duties of the Vocations Director and parish priests. “Bishop McGovern said it would be good to cross pollinate, to have a sense of a team approach to vocations, with more perspectives and more priests working more actively and collaborating throughout diocese,” Father Nick adds.