Fr. Shayne Craig is seen with the icon of the feast of the Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple, a gift to St. Joseph Seminary from the Sulpician Fathers.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Fr. Shayne Craig is seen with the icon of the feast of the Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple, a gift to St. Joseph Seminary from the Sulpician Fathers.

September 28, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

The Sulpician Fathers are the cream of the cream in seminary formation. They run seminaries in several countries and are known for forming well-rounded priests. Many of their pupils and professors have gone on to become bishops and cardinals.

The Sulpicians have been in Edmonton for 25 years and under their watch St. Joseph Seminary has turned into a solid, stable institution.

In addition to stability, the Sulpicians brought a collegial and holistic approach to priestly formation at St. Joseph, says Archbishop emeritus Joseph MacNeil. He invited the priests to Edmonton.

"It was an inspired move to invite the Sulpicians to come," said Father Shayne Craig, former seminary rector and member of the current six-member team that runs the seminary.

"We have a long tradition of working in priestly formation and certainly are known throughout the world for that ministry."

The Sulpicians are not a religious order, but a society of apostolic life founded in France in 1641 and dedicated to the formation of priests. All its members are seasoned diocesan priests with a penchant for teaching.

The society runs seminaries in Edmonton, Montreal, the United States, Latin America, France and Japan. Society members recently met at St. Joseph Seminary for a Mass and a banquet to celebrate their 25th anniversary in Edmonton.

To mark their quarter century, the priests held a special blessing of an icon of the feast of the Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple, which is dear to the Sulpicians. They donated the icon to the seminary and placed it on a chapel wall.

Prior to the Sulpicians' arrival, the archdiocese had difficulty staffing the seminary. Rectors were priests of the Edmonton Archdiocese, such as Fathers Martin Carroll, Don MacDonald and Karl Raab, who all served for a limited time and then moved on.

When MacNeil couldn't find a rector in Edmonton, he turned to the Calgary Diocese for help. He was given Father Eugene Cooney, later named bishop of Nelson, who ran the seminary until the Sulpicians were asked to come.

MacNeil had been concerned about the stability of the seminary for a number of years. In 1989 he met with the provincial superior of the Sulpicians and asked for the society's help.

The Sulpicians agreed to come and in August 1990 they sent three priests: Fathers Lionel Gendron, now bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Que., David Brabant, now retired, and Luc Buchard, who later became bishop of St. Paul and is now bishop of Trois-Rivières, Que.

The team approach was perhaps one of the biggest changes introduced by the Sulpicians.

"That's part of our Sulpician methodology because we work as a team and model that collegiality for the seminarians," Craig explained.

For example, he said, the formation team does not have a table set apart for itself at meals. "We eat with the seminarians. We socialize with them; we participate in community nights."

The transition to "collegial direction" had a major impact on the seminary. "We weren't used to having that collegial approach and having so many priests," recalled Craig, who was in his last year of seminary when the Sulpicians arrived.

"Before, we had just Father Cooney so it was a very different approach to formation. I marvel when I think of Father Cooney. He was here all alone as rector. That's very difficult. They certainly didn't have the integrated and holistic approach we have now. We do a lot more in priestly formation than Father Cooney would have been able to do just with himself as rector."

GIFT TO THE CHURCH

The arrival of the Sulpicians was a great gift to the seminary and to the Church in Western Canada, said Father Stephen Hero, the current rector. "I'm not a Sulpician, but I was formed by them, and I have worked with them over the years."

Hero maintains the seminary has always been strong and has had good rectors, but he likes the Sulpician approach. "They never work just alone; they work as a team and that's certainly something that we want to model to seminarians – that priests work collegially with each other, in communion with each other and with their bishop."

MacNeil is greatly impressed. "(Thanks to the Sulpicians) a good number of the seminarians now come from outside of Alberta; in the past, practically all the seminarians came from Alberta or close to Alberta," he said.

"Secondly, there is no doubt that there are more priests on the staff of the seminary now. At one point, there was one priest on staff and he did all the formation. The seminarians took all their courses at Newman Theological College.

"The positive thing is that we now have this society of priests who are professionals in the formation and training of seminarians."

Over the years, the seminary has had a number of rectors, including Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who served in the mid-1990s along with Craig and Father Paul Terrio, now bishop of St. Paul.

One thing that struck the Sulpicians when they arrived was the way in which the archbishop of Edmonton has associated his brother bishops across Western Canada in governing the seminary. That relationship continues with an annual meeting between the seminary formation team and the bishops.

"We have had 25 years of slow but steady growth and certainly the bishops have been very supportive," said Craig, who served as rector from 2005 to 2012.

Currently, the seminary has 49 seminarians from about a dozen dioceses, including eight each from Edmonton and Calgary, and seven from Regina. Last year it had 50 seminarians.

"Even though it's still the seminary of the Archdiocese of Edmonton, St. Joseph's is a seminary that serves the whole region of Western Canada," Craig explained.

Under the Sulpicians, he said, every seminarian has a spiritual director, chosen from among the six priests on the formation team.

"We always see ourselves primarily as spiritual directors. We are called directors because of that special focus on spiritual direction which is the place where everything gets integrated for the sake of the candidate."

The Sulpicians also introduced pastoral internship to the seminary, where a seminarian spends a full year in a parish in his home diocese, sharing the life of the pastor and working alongside him to learn the ropes while discerning the call to serve.

SEMINARY'S GROWTH

The Sulpicians have brought stability to the seminary as well as continuity of formation, said Craig. "That, I think, has helped the seminary grow."

The Sulpician approach to formation is based on Vatican stipulations that call for seminarians to be formed in four dimensions: human, spiritual, academic and pastoral.

The academic part is done in partnership with Newman Theological College, where members of the formation team also serve as professors.

The pastoral dimension is done on an ongoing basis. It involves having seminarians doing ministry in parishes, schools and hospitals.

Not everybody who enters the seminary is eventually ordained. "Obviously over the years I would say that most seminarians do (get ordained), but we wouldn't be doing our job if everybody that came was ordained," said Craig. "There would be no discernment then."

There is a place and space in the formation process where a seminarian can address difficult issues in his own discernment and work through them, he said.

The seminarian, said Craig, must "really be open and honest before God and before himself about what his heart's desire is so he really does the Lord's will."