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Iowa’s seminarians gain insight about priesthood

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY – Seminarians from Iowa’s four dioceses participated last weekend in a tradition that may be one of a kind in the U.S. – a state seminarian convocation.

“We’re unique as far as states that gather all of their seminarians each year. Most dioceses wouldn’t have something comparable,” observed Father Thom Hennen, vocations director for the Diocese of Davenport, which hosted this year’s convocation. Iowa’s dioceses, including Des Moines, Dubuque and Sioux City, rotate hosting duties. The Iowa Knights of Columbus sponsors the event.

This year’s convocation, held Aug. 8-10 in Iowa City, offered an opportunity for camaraderie as well as education and formation. Participants say they gained insights from presenter Father Joseph Carola, SJ, about separating the essentials from the nonessentials in ministry.

Father Carola, who serves on the theology faculty at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, focused his presentation on ministering in the midst of a frenetic world. In his concluding talk, Father Carola reflected on John’s Gospel (6:1-15) account of the weary apostles being instructed by Jesus to feed the multitude.

Seminarian Dan Dorau of the Davenport Diocese said Father Carola offered insight into the priesthood worth pondering: “what we need to be aware of about living our priestly ministry.” That means focusing on the essentials: the sacraments, the liturgy, prayer. “Being at every committee meeting is not essential,” added Dorau, a student at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis.

Father Carola pointed out the need to “integrate rest into our lives,” seminarian Chris Starbuck of the Archdiocese of Dubuque said. Seminarians and priests can feel as if they have to save the world all the time, “but if you’re burned out you can’t give what you don’t have,” observed Starbuck, a student at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois.

“We’re still human and still limited,” noted seminarian James Downey of the Des Moines Diocese. The question becomes, “How do you serve when there’s infinite need?” The answer: “Allow Christ to use you in the way that he wills … it’s about not getting in his way,” added Downey, a student at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.

Father Carola’s talks addressed situations or issues the future priests may confront, which seminarian Tim Pick of the Sioux City Diocese found especially helpful. The seminarian, who attends St. Meinrad School of Theology in Indiana, also appreciated the overall formational aspects of each year’s convocation.

Father Carola said he felt energized in the midst of the seminarians who participated in the convocation.

“There’s real hope for the church in Iowa, thanks to these men.”

Arland-Fye is editor of The Catholic Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Davenport.

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