|Sacred Heart School of Theology near Hales Corners, Wis., instituted eight seminarians from across the United States and Canada as readers at a March 2011 rite. Courtesy of Sacred Heart
Charles Broderick pondered his future after his wife died in 2009. Should he return to politics, or become more involved in the Church?
The couple had been in many parish lay ministries in the Archdiocese of Moncton in New Brunswick, Canada, so, he said, “My wife Helen would not in the least have been surprised by my decision.”
Broderick, 71, is studying at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., and expects to be ordained to the priesthood within two years. He was a teacher, school principal and administrator before retiring, then was in municipal government.
“I think that I can bring the fruits of my life into the Church, especially the fruits of caring for Helen for those years,” he said, adding that his experience will help him to minister to the sick and the elderly.
“Older men bring a rich life experience to the Church,” said Father Douglas Mosey, seminary rector. “Some might say that a younger guy will bloom and that after 40, the personality is set. But you can grow spiritually until the day you die. ”
Although not specializing in older candidates, Holy Apostles has a tradition of accepting mature men.
“We look for a proven track record in older candidates,” Father Mosey said. “If they have been successful in family life, business and in Church life, then you know that with God’s grace, you will have someone who is likely to make the transition to priesthood. And they come extremely well prepared to offer the sacraments of healing. Some have experienced the illness and death of their wives so they would be excellent as bedside chaplains or in grief ministries. They are tremendous gifts to the priesthood.”
Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., offers formation for men between the ages of 30 and 60. There are 65 men enrolled in graduate level theology, all from a variety of backgrounds. Most are between 48 and 52.
Father Thomas Schmitt, dean of seminarians, entered the program in 1987 when he was 31. He considered a vocation when he was a teenager, then considered family life.
“The idea of vocation was always there and I had a long period of discernment until I met a priest who helped me to figure it out,” he said.
Seminaries for older men look for involvement in parish life as a sign of the candidate living his faith, and dioceses are interested in the men’s health and their ability to take on the challenge of intense study.
“The classes are different because mature men learn in different ways,” Father Schmitt said. “They have a lot of capabilities intellectually, but they’re not kids anymore, so they can’t do a lot of memorization. So we have training in other ways, like more hands-on learning.”
Mature men may hesitate to relocate if they have grown children and grandchildren. Others see retirement in the near future, and here they are, starting over.
“But it works,” Father Schmitt said. “Some people may be skeptical that you can form men at a later age, but if he’s motivated and feels called by God, he can be a good priest and carry on from the strengths of his previous life and really serve the Church.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
Of the 12 men ordained last year from St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, Calif., six already had careers in software engineering, insurance, teaching and marketing, and the others included a law clerk, architect and a restaurant manager.
“Back in my day, most of us entered in our teens or early 20s,” said Msgr. Craig Cox, rector/president of the seminary. “Now men are coming in with a little more life experience.”
Back in fold
Fourth-year student John Palmer, 51, was getting more fulfillment out of parish ministry than being a patent attorney. He especially liked the program that reached out to lapsed and inactive Catholics.
“I was away from the Church for almost 20 years and came back in 2000,” he said. “There’s no simple answer why, but it was probably due to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and by my praying the Rosary for the first time since I was 11. I immediately felt that I wanted to go to Mass, and it was the middle of the week and I had to find a church.”
He expects to be ordained next year in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and would like his parish work to include encouraging the return those who have drifted from the faith.
“I think I have something to offer from my own experience, and that God is leading me in this direction,” Palmer said. “I’m just going to offer all that I have, all that I am, and let God do the rest. I will just surrender to his will.”
Sharing good news
Nabor Rios, 44, also a fourth-year student, will be ordained a deacon on Nov. 19, and will be ordained to the priesthood in June.
“I always knew that I wanted to be a priest,” Rios told OSV. “When I was 9 and I made my first Communion, I knew that God was calling me to something, but I didn’t know what.”
Rios did some initial seminary studies in his native Mexico, then later worked in restaurant management in California. He received the call again in 2002 when he was doing volunteer work with incarcerated youth.
“I just love sharing God’s good news for people, and I want to share the love that God has given me,” he said. “I want to make it tangible for other people.”
Rios is looking forward to a diocesan assignment and in being able to fill the Church’s growing need for Hispanic and bilingual priests.