Learning how and why about the faith at seminary

Learning never stops for a seminarian. Men studying to be priests in the Diocese of Charleston spend their days exploring everything from literature and church history to Scripture, philosophy, theology and languages, all part of a curriculum designed to give future priests firm intellectual and spiritual foundations for ministry.

Life at the seminary isn’t all in the classroom. Students have time to pray, attend Mass, work in the community and take part in hobbies and extracurricular activities. But the academic work is the real focus.

Christopher Crabb, second pretheology at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University, said a course on moral philosophy taught him important truths he will need in daily life as a priest.

“Our professor challenged us to really be able to explain why we say what we say,” he said. “You have to be able to do that when you’re speaking with parishioners, to really express in words why you believe something.”

This semester will be Crabb’s last at Seton Hall. In the fall, he and Andrew Fryml will both move to St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston.

Stephen Beach, first theology at St. Mary’s Seminary, especially enjoyed a Scripture course focused on the Gospel of Mark and how Catholics understand the Bible.

“It made me appreciate the magisterium, because Biblical scholarship has kind of gone crazy in the past 200 years,” he said. “With all the new research, a lot of scholars that don’t have faith try to pick apart the Scriptures and undermine them. It was nice to see how the church has responded to that by guiding us in the proper way to understand and interpret Scripture.”

Will Frei, First College at Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas, said a philosophy course showed him people have been asking important questions about life and faith since ancient times.

“They were questioning life, what’s important and what makes men happy, and those are important questions we still struggle with today,” he said.

Andrew Fryml, Fourth College at St. Andrew’s Hall at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, said a paper he wrote for a class on Blessed John Paul II’s philosophy taught him about the relationship between a man and woman, the gift of self, and the importance of faith-filled parenting. He was also struck by a concept from a course on the philosophy of the person.

“I was able to get a handle on what a person is philosophically, and how blessed we are to be living,” he said. “We can’t deny that God loved us into existence. It was only because He loved us until existence that we are here.”

A course on moral theology taught Javier Heredia, second theology at Blessed John National Seminary in Weston, Mass., what it means to live like Christ did.

“To live the way of the cross doesn’t mean one must suffer all the time, but we can learn to endure struggles and offer them to Christ,” he said.

Roger Morgan, first theology at St. Mary’s Seminary, especially enjoyed a class on the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.

“I got a very real sense of the very long aspect of God’s vision,” he said. “It took generations just to express the concept of one God. It really helped me understand God’s patience and our need for patience.”

Morgan said he also feels a special blessing at being able to study in Houston, because he was living there when he decided to become a Catholic.

“Coming back here really seemed to be part of God’s grace,” he said.

For Francisco J. Onate-Vargas, First College at Holy Trinity Seminary, his first semester was challenging because English is his second language.

He had to work doubly hard to read and write papers on classics like Homer’s Odyssey.

“There is so much reading, writing, literary analysis, and the translations can be very difficult,” he said. “I prayed about it, took advantage of a tutoring service on campus, just did my best and ended up getting good grades.”

Renaurd West, third theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., enjoyed a course in ecclesiology, which is the study of the church.

“It’s sort of eye-opening to see the vision of the church for the clergy and religious life, and for the laity. None of these things are in any conflict. It’s the Lord’s will that all of us work together to build up the kingdom,” he said.

West also liked a special class on the duties of a deacon because this year he hopes to be ordained to the transitional diaconate, the next step toward the priesthood.

At 60, Richard Wilson, first theology at St. Mary’s Seminary, has learned to adjust to being one of the older students in a class where most men are between 25 and 30.

He finds classes on Scripture, theology, church history and liturgy challenging, and the former soldier and businessman said the work is just the latest step in God’s plan for his life.

“God works with each person in a very special and unique way,” Wilson said. “It took me a while to see that this was a calling that he is giving to me. I’m thankful for the time in the military and in business because those experiences will help me when I work with people in my parish. Nothing that happens to us is lost … God uses it and builds upon it as we go through life.”

Deacon Mark Good, fourth theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, was on retreat at press time and was not available to comment.