Why A College Seminary
Fr. Damian J. Ference
In the fourth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus comes upon Peter and Andrew, who were in the middle of their work as fisherman. He tells them “Come follow me.” St. Matthew tells us that at once they dropped their nets and followed him. Next, Jesus moves on to James and John who are cleaning their fishing nets. He called them too. St. Matthew reports that they immediately left what they were doing and followed Jesus. This is how discipleship works. Jesus calls, disciples follow. They don’t make excuses, they don’t procrastinate, they don’t delay – they follow him immediately. They trust him. They know that Jesus will not call us to something miserable or lifeless. They trust that Jesus has a better plan for them than they have for themselves.
So why a college seminary? Well, why did Peter, Andrew, James, and John follow Jesus? Because he called them. The diocese of Cleveland has Borromeo Seminary because Jesus is calling young men to follow him right now. Borromeo exists so that young men can come join a community of disciples in order to grow closer to Jesus and his Church and figure out how Jesus is calling them to serve him.
When I was eighteen years old, I had some good plans for myself. I wanted to go to a small Catholic college, study theology and play baseball. I figured that I would eventually become a high school theology teacher and baseball coach, find a wife and raise a family. That was my plan, and it was a good one. But something happened the summer. My girlfriend at the time had asked me to make a retreat. I was also working as a landscaper that summer – I never listened to headphones while I worked so I had a lot of time to think and pray. Too, I was still very much involved with campus ministry at my high school. That combination made it possible for me to hear Jesus calling me to discern priesthood.
As an eighteen year-old, I knew Jesus was calling me. As a disciple, I knew that I needed to respond. I wasn’t sure he was calling me absolutely to be a priest, but I did know for sure that he was calling me to discern the priesthood. I knew that our diocese had a college seminary, and so I decided that there was no better place to discern a vocation to the priesthood. I was right.
I remember telling my parents when I began my time at Borromeo, “Don’t tell people that I’m going to be a priest; tell them I’m discerning the priesthood.” And that was true. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be a priest nine years later, and that didn’t matter. What I knew was that Jesus was calling me then, and I knew it was important to trust him and respond.
If you are a senior in high school, and if Jesus is calling you to discern a vocation to the priesthood, don’t ignore his call. And don’t procrastinate either. Follow him. Trust him. He won’t lead you astray. His plan for you will be much more rewarding than any plan you may have for yourself.
Borromeo Seminary is the best possible place for you to discern a vocation to the priesthood. Our men are part of a community of disciples who begin everyday with prayer and celebration of the Eucharist. They receive and excellent Catholic education, with small classes, challenging professors, and earn degrees from John Carroll University. They also serve the greater community in a variety of ways.
Here’s the best advice that I can give you: If you think Jesus may be calling you to serve him as a priest, come to Borromeo and see. You have nothing to lose. If after a year or two you find that he is calling you to another vocation, praise God! Your credits will transfer and you can move on knowing that you followed Jesus faithfully and that you will continue to do so. If he is calling you to the priesthood, your initial “yes” will be blessed many times over. I can tell you that I have never regretted my decision to come to Borromeo as an eighteen year-old, and that I’m one of the happiest men you’ll ever meet. And I can also tell you that I’ve met quite a few men who came to the seminary much later in life, or who never came, because they were afraid to follow Jesus’ call when they first received it.
Finally, a word to parents: If your son is being called by Jesus to discern the priesthood, I know such news can be a shock. Jesus’ call may interfere with the plans that you have made for your son. I understand that. But know that Zebedee too must have been challenged when James and John left his side to follow Jesus. But in the end, both sons became apostles of our One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church. So please don’t discourage your son from following Jesus. Don’t encourage your son to delay his response. Instead, trust that Jesus has a better plan for your son than you could ever imagine for him. And know that, in a very real sense, Jesus is calling you to drop your nets too.
Fr. Ference is an assistant professor of philosophy and is a member of the formation faculty at Borromeo Seminary.