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Seminarian Testament #2: Anon "Assistant"
EDITOR'S NOTE: In November, I put out a call for statements from priests, ex-seminarians, and ex-seminary staff. I think we, the laity, need to assess what exactly is going on in Catholic seminaries, both good and bad, and this is a space where I'll allow people who have been there to say whatever they feel needs saying. Here is one such person. Thank you to the individual who sent me this.
Peter Stine's testament filled in a lot of gaps for me. I knew Peter in passing back then, and I had wondered why he up and left Sacred Heart so quickly. Thanks for publishing it. My own, similar, story has been on my chest for a long while and I think now is the time to get it off. I am now a member of a corporation that will make it impossible for me to get permission to name names (even my own), but this is what happened to me:
My home diocese has high numbers of vocations and a great reputation, but it, too, had a kind of "system," and I was pushed out of it, though maybe in a different way. The end of my seminary career came rather suddenly, although the writing had been painted on the wall for some time.
The vocations director for my diocese and his cadre of close supporters wanted extroverts with a certain knack for fundraising (like himself) as candidates for priesthood. To correct my deficiency in these areas, I was sent on a "spirituality year.” Surprise surprise, I was assigned to be the personal assistant of another diocesan priest... one who happened to be a close relative of the vocations director. I was kept busy, starting at about 3:30 am and working until 12 am the following morning. I could maybe get four hours of sleep on the weekends. Some activities were legitimate, like helping in the school and at Masses/ liturgical functions, but I’m not sure picking his drunk self up from a lake cabin on the weekends at 1 am qualifies as useful formation.
The 900 calories per day diet he put me on for 7 months wasn’t great either. I dropped 80lbs in 7 months. It was weight loss, which admittedly, was needed, but far from healthy. I would cook fancy meals for him and his guests, but was expressly forbidden from getting any myself, so as to not " spoil my diet.” In addition, he made me get rid of most of my belongings, including my truck, 1/2 of my guns, even my health insurance (with no diocesan back-up planned) all for "formation." If I questioned anything, I was doubting his just authority and would be dismissed. Yet, despite everything, I did it to the best of my ability.
In the end, all it took was one vaguely worded letter of complaint that I was not a suitable candidate – from one of the vocations director's closest friends, go figure – and I was out. I got a text from the vocations director two days before Christmas in which he indicated that all was well and that I was doing great. When he arrived, however, he had a look on his face that suggested otherwise. 9am: I was golden. 10 am: I was not good for the job and out. That was it. Merry Christmas to me, right? There was no explanation or exit strategy; the decision was made. It was nice seeing you, goodbye.
After everything, I was essentially kicked to the curb and spent the next year in a deep depression. I even went so far as considering ending it all, but didn't want to leave a mess for my landlord. I have since bounced back, thanks be to God, and am doing quite well now. But the sudden end to it did a number on me.
Sorry that got long. Like I said, it's been on my chest for a while. Sorry to offload. Rant over.
While this is published anonymously, the author confirmed his own identity for me, as well as the name of the vocations director named in the story. I verified that the author was a seminarian of the diocese in question at the same time as that vocations director, and confirmed that said vocations director served alongside a close relative. The author remains a practicing Catholic.
Do you have a story, good or bad, to tell about your experience in seminary? For the good of the Church, please reach out to me. --JJH