Four years ago, following a trip to Europe and pilgrimage to Lourdes, Ben van den Bosch was discerning whether he was called to the priesthood.
“Out of that experience I really felt called to the seminary,” van den Bosch said.
He consulted the archdiocese’s vocations director at the time, Father Patrick Baska, who recommended he go to a Come and See weekend at Edmonton’s St. Joseph Seminary.
That weekend opened his eyes to what the seminary is like and firmly established that entering the seminary was the right choice for him.
Father Shayne Craig, the seminary rector, gave a talk on seminary life and vocations. Prayer and Mass were held throughout the weekend. He enjoyed a social night playing board games and video games with the seminarians.
“It was my confirmation that I could see myself in this place, with these people,” said van den Bosch, now a seminarian for the Edmonton Archdiocese.
“It removed some of the illusions too. Some people think that if you go to the seminary, it’s kind of a monastic community and it’s all quiet.”
A dozen young men, seven of them from Edmonton, took one step in van den Bosch’s footsteps when they attended a priestly vocation discernment weekend, Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, at the seminary.
They spent three days in the prayer and company of the seminarians. The Come and See weekend is held twice yearly, in the spring and fall.
The idea is based on John’s Gospel where some men asked Jesus where he lived, and he replied, “Come and see.” Those men became his disciples and apostles.
Likewise, young men contemplating the priesthood have the opportunity to “come and see” St. Joseph Seminary.
Paul Kozinkiewicz, whose home parish is St. Joseph’s Basilica, came to gather more information about seminary life, the schedule and what happens in a seminarian’s typical day. “I am trying to find out if I have a calling right now.”
Kozinkiewicz loved the unity that he saw among the seminarians during the weekend.
Another prospective seminarian, Mathieu Denis came from St. Denis, Sask., a small community near Saskatoon.
Denis, 22, has been getting small signs lately that the priesthood might be his calling. When he shared this information with a spiritual director in his diocese, he was told that the next logical step was to check out the seminary. Denis opted to give it a try.
Discerning the priesthood “is still on my mind,” said Denis. “I don’t want that thought in my mind – ‘what if?’ – if I don’t try it.”
On the first evening of the Come and See weekend, the young men toured the seminary and Newman Theological College and participated in a Taizé prayer session.
“It’s a brand new building, so as soon as I walked in I was in awe,” said Denis.
“One of the seminarians is my close buddy. I spent some time with him just to learn more about the program. The talks, the discussions, meeting the other seminarians, it’s all giving me insight.”
The Saturday schedule included Morning Prayer, a talk on seminary life and formation, praying the rosary, Holy Eucharist presided by Archbishop Richard Smith, vocation testimonies with current seminarians, and solemn Vespers.
Formation directors were available Sunday morning for individual meetings.
For anyone who feels a call to the priesthood, van den Bosch suggested visiting the seminary and meeting with Father Paul Terrio, the archdiocesan vocations director, or with any priest with whom they feel comfortable discussing their vocation.
He further suggested, “Regular prayer is important and taking advantage of the sacraments, going to Mass, going to Confession, spending time with the Lord and just asking for guidance.
“If you do that on a daily basis, you will feel called and confirmation will come.”
Terrio said when potential seminarians approach him about their interest in the priesthood, he thanks them, asks them if they have been praying for guidance, and whether they are active in any ministries.
“If this is something they have been thinking about a long time, have they been consulting someone who can be a spiritual mentor or guide?”
The success of the open house, said Terrio, is measured on the young men’s willingness to talk to the Lord more about their discernment, and being intrigued enough that they want to pursue this spiritually, pastorally and in their social lives.
“When I was in South America, there would be sometimes over 50 per cent of the people at a Come and See open house experience who ended up entering the seminary,” he said.
Kayle Clark was another young man who came to the weekend open house to explore his personal call.
“I was not a Catholic for a bunch of years, and then I came back to the Church a couple of years ago and started feeling this call all of a sudden,” said Clark. “It was something I investigated a little bit on my own at first and thought about it some more.”
He did some spiritual reading, and tried to determine for himself if a priestly vocation was the direction in which God was leading him.
Eventually he spoke with a priest about his call, but mostly kept it secret from family and friends. Participating in the Come and See weekend seemed like an obvious choice.
“I just felt that this was the next step that I had to take,” said Clark.