Last week, a great priest friend and mentor of mine Fr. Damian Ference wrote an opinion piece in the Pain Dealer titled “The Comeback of Cleveland Seminarians.” The piece generated quite a buzz on my newsfeed. Seeing the great conversation that it generated made me realize really what the comeback of Cleveland seminaries means in my life.
Fr. Damian writes of his time in the seminary when the Catholic Church abuse scandal broke. The shame that the Catholic Church was put in at that time was horrible, and after his ordination class, a record ten since 1988, numbers dropped. But recently, just as Cleveland has become the comeback town, we have the Comeback Seminaries.
The fact that there are twelve high school graduates from the class of 2016 in Borromeo Seminary is astounding. Two of which are valedictorians. As a valedictorian myself, I know that people look at me weird when I tell them that I am studying Theology. Why am I not perusing a medical degree or engineering degree or really anything that holds higher value in modern society? Because of the Comeback Seminary.
I was never born to be a doctor. I can’t stand needles, and the thought of blood is enough to make me faint. Up until the summer before my senior year of high school, I was sure that I would be a teacher. High school chemistry or physics, which most people think sounds disgusting, but I really loved the subjects. Probably could’ve been pretty good at it too, figuring that I helped some kids with Chem. 101 last year.
But I felt a call to something greater, just as those twelve seniors did that are now in Borromeo. I am happily studying Theology, deepening my faith, and hoping to be an amazing youth minister. I love learning about the church and figuring out ways to make the outreach greater so that we can continue to expand vocations and passionate people within the church.
The people that I have met through the help and outreach of the Cleveland Seminaries have been instrumental in my own faith growth. The priests and faculty, those recently ordained to the priesthood, those that God-willing will be ordained soon, and those that still have quite a way from ordination, the youth groups that come from all over for XLTs and the lifelong friendships made at Tolle Lege, the best Catholic Nerd Camp around.
I know it is not only my faith. There are four other Clevelanders in my class, that I know of, studying with me at Walsh with majors or minors in Theology. And those are just the kids from Cleveland. Two of my best friends are joining different convents this year to further their own vocational call and I have great friends in the undergraduate seminary. It is because of the presence that the passionate priests and seminarians have in our lives that we are able to find the strength and courage to defy societal norms and authentically live out our faith.
People tend to tell kids that they are the “future of the church” which is totally wrong. We are the present of the church! The church in Cleveland is alive, young, and growing. The average age of incoming seminarians and newly ordained priests in Cleveland are 20 and 29 respectively, far below the national average. Vocations to religious life are thriving and those ready to devote their life to the church are increasing in number. Try and tell me I am the future again and I might laugh, because as you can see, my generation is going to change the world — or at least Cleveland. I can feel it already.