WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Carlos Nunez and Deacon Miguel Irizar compare notes on the old and new St. Joseph Seminaries.
A greater emphasis on faith formation and vocations is the reason for a sharp increase in enrollment, says the rector of St. Joseph Seminary.
With 42 seminarians registered in-house this fall and another five on internships, registration is at an all-time high, says Father Shayne Craig.
Last year, the seminary had 28 in-house seminarians and another six on internships. The maximum residency at the new seminary is 60 seminarians.
Eleven of this year's seminarians are from the Edmonton Archdiocese; the others come from elsewhere across Western Canada.
The former seminary, situated along Mark Messier Trail near St. Albert, was an essential part of the fabric of the Church in Western Canada and other dioceses for many years.
Seminarians have been in residence at the new St. Joseph Seminary on the grounds of the Catholic Pastoral and Administration Offices in central Edmonton since September 2010.
"The new building is really suited for all of the different elements of formation. We're finding that it works very well," said Craig.
"There's a balance with the gym and the chapel and the classrooms, and everything works really well together."
Carlos Nunez, from Edmonton, has been a seminarian since 2002, first at Christ the King Seminary in Mission, B.C., for three years, then at the old St. Joseph Seminary location, and now at the new seminary. He has witnessed a gradual increase in seminarians over that period.
Archbishops Thomas Collins and Richard Smith have both had a heart for vocations, each in his own way, he said.
Having bishops who encourage religious vocations has helped the seminary greatly, said Nunez. Not only are there are more seminarians, but their average age is declining too.
"One thing that is for sure growing is the number of younger seminarians coming in, right from high school. Especially before I came, if you notice the graduate pictures, it was usually guys who came in after getting a degree, so they're more late 20s, early 30s or older," he said.
While growing up in Millwoods, Nunez was not even aware Edmonton had a seminary. Having the seminary in plain sight, in central Edmonton, makes it more noticeable. He attributes the increase in younger seminarians to the greater culture of vocations in parishes and Catholic schools.
"I think there are more parents who are not afraid to have their daughter become a religious or their son become a priest," he said.
"Especially when you have a beautiful building like this, and it's in a visible area, central in the city, people will see it's beautiful and won't mind sending their son to study there."
While the old seminary served as an adequate space for faith formation, the building was used for other purposes beforehand. The new St. Joseph's was built specifically as a seminary, and it's evident in the architecture.
The new seminary building combines tradition and modernity and is conducive to prayer and study, making it an ideal place for faith formation.
Nunez said it's nice to have two chapels in the seminary. The beautiful building is professional looking, and he prefers the centrality of the larger chapel.
"You can see the chapel from anywhere in the seminary, when walking through the hallways. It really is a helpful reminder of why I'm here and what I'm studying for," said Nunez.
"I'm here for Christ, and he's the centre of my vocation. It helps me keep focused."
The bell is a nice feature, and Nunez also appreciates the quiet rooms. He can play music in his room, without disturbing his neighbours.
Deacon Miguel Irizar began his faith formation in 2005 at St. Joseph's, and was ordained a deacon May 23. He said God calls people to serve him through many different means. God uses family, friends, circumstances and the seminary to help a candidate hear his call.
"The increase in vocations from last year is from prayer," said Irizar.
"I know that many parishes and many people in many dioceses have been praying a lot for vocations. The Lord said, 'Pray, and I will give you people to work in the harvest.' Prayer is the first reason why we have more vocations recently, in this diocese particularly."
Fr. Shayne Craig
A prayer calendar was distributed to all parishes and Catholic schools throughout the archdiocese. The calendar shows photos of the seminarians. Parishioners and students are asked to pray for vocations and for the seminarians. The prayers of many have paid off considerably, said Irizar.
While both seminaries had chapels, he said the new one expresses the faith in a more beautiful way.
"This is an enclosed space within the world. The building itself gives you the opportunity for a quiet time with the Lord," said Irizar.
"Even here in the centre of the city, it is a quiet place. The building provides an atmosphere to be able to discern properly."
The seminary has many elements beneficial to his discernment, especially the prominence of the Virgin Mary.
"The great emphasis that they put on Mary in this seminary is very unique compared to other seminaries. For example, we have a chapel dedicated to Mary, and we have statues and sacred paintings of Mary all over the seminary.
"As we discern and spend time with the Lord, the mother of Christ is also very much present in this building."
The seminary was created to aid the seminarians in leading balanced lives. The weight room, entertainment room, study areas, refectory and lounges are modern conveniences they need to be well-rounded individuals and to help build a sense of community.
"St. Joseph Seminary is a place where we encounter the Lord in a real way, and it's a great place to spend at least five years with the Lord," said Irizar.
"That is something incredible, to have the opportunity to do that. If anyone is having questions about a vocation, St. Joseph Seminary is definitely a wonderful place to discern his call to the priesthood."