Leading others to ministry

As formation director and assistant professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in the Archdiocese of Denver, Father Gary Selin’s job involves the formation of 12 men studying for the priesthood, “walking with them in their spiritual journeys.”

Denver’s seminary model is based on a model from Paris, where up to 15 seminarians are placed under the care of a priest called a house father.

“The idea is to create a more familylike atmosphere, where everyone gets to know everyone else,” said Father Selin, who was ordained a priest of the archdiocese in 2003. He is the author of “Priestly Celibacy: Theological Foundations” (The Catholic University of America Press, $29.95).

Father Selin’s coworkers say he has been a great blessing to the seminary. Father Andreas Hoeck has known Father Selin for more than 20 years and has been both his teacher and colleague at the seminary. “Father Selin has a great love for the priesthood, which flows into a desire to teach men in preparation for the priestly ministry,” Father Hoeck said. “He exercises his daily ministry with great humility, faithfulness and kindness. He is well beloved among the seminary community, not least because of his keen love for the Church.”

Father Jim Thermos noted that Father Selin had helped him in his own spiritual journey and has “a very deep and developed intellect as well as what I would call an intuition for holiness.”

He added, “His love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus is made manifest in everything that he says and does.”

Father Selin understands how the journey to the priesthood can be a long and complex one. He grew up in Idaho, where his father worked for the forest service. His Catholic family was “faithful to its obligations” while he was growing up, but it wasn’t until Father Selin was in the 10th grade that he became serious about his faith.

“I had a beautiful experience in confession, and my pastor took me under his wing,” Father Selin recalled. His years working in the seminary have taught him that many young men enter the seminary as a result of an invitation by their pastor.

He earned an undergraduate degree at Thomas Aquinas College in Southern California, where he devoted many hours to adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. “It was there I felt a tug on my heart; Jesus was inviting me to grow in a deeper relationship with him in the holy Eucharist,” he said.

Another influence was the appearances of Mary at Fatima in 1917. Twice he went on pilgrimages to Fatima, where he became convinced that he had a call to the priesthood. While on pilgrimage, he reconsecrated himself to Mary, which led to “an unfolding of graces which allowed me to answer the call to the priesthood.”

He joined a religious community in Fatima and took the name Brother Patrick. He spent six years in the community, after which he chose not to renew his vows. He had “discerned that God was calling me elsewhere.”

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In search of the next step for his vocation, he “showed up on the doorstep” in Detroit of the famous Jesuit theologian and writer Father John Hardon (1914-2000). Father Hardon extended the invitation: “Make a 30-day retreat with me, Gary, and we’ll see what God wants of you.”

At the end of the 30 days, Father Selin contacted two diocesan bishops requesting that they sponsor a new religious community he wished to start. Both declined, but one, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput (then of Denver) invited him to enter his archdiocesan seminary.

“Pope John Paul II came to Denver for World Youth Day in 1993, so I thought there was something positive about its spiritual environment,” Father Selin said. “So, I came.”

He entered the seminary for Denver in 2000, and because of his many years of study as a religious, was ordained a priest in just three years.

It was a long journey to the priesthood, and Father Selin believes his devotion to Our Lady of Fatima played a central role in his journey. In fact, he found it to be no coincidence that his first assignment as a parochial vicar was at a parish named in her honor.

Since his ordination, the archdiocese sent him to study at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he earned a doctorate in theology.

He gave his doctoral dissertation on the theological and scriptural foundation for priestly celibacy, and he used the material he’d compiled for his book. Among those offering an endorsement was Archbishop Chaput.

While some object to the requirement that priests in the Roman rite be celibate, Father Selin believes it is integral to the priesthood. “Celibacy facilitates a deep intimacy with Jesus Christ, enabling the priest to give himself body and soul, without division, to Jesus Christ and the Church,” he said.

Father Selin describes the seminary as a “beautiful environment” but admits that the constant demands on his time make it challenging. “It can be exhausting, but it is a parish of souls that the Lord has given to me, and in that I find my peace and joy,” he said.

Despite the difficulty, he loves his vocation to the priesthood.

“Through the grace of holy orders, I have become united in a profound and intimate way with Jesus Christ and participate in his priesthood,” he said. “I am called to be Jesus present in the world, starting with those closest to me.”

Jim Graves writes from California.