Seminarians' strength

I never met this seminarian, but I wish that I had met him.

He was Brian Bergkamp, 24, a seminarian for the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, just two years away from priestly ordination. Kayaking with friends on the Arkansas River, July 9, he spotted a woman fall into the water from another boat. He jumped into the water to rescue her, and he himself drowned.

Learning of the tragedy, Wichita Bishop Carl A. Kemme said that he had known Bergkamp well and had looked forward to ordaining him a priest. It is striking, the bishop said, that this seminarian died on the weekend when the parable of the good Samaritan was read.

Msgr. Andrew Baker, rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmittsburg, Maryland, where Brian Bergkamp was a student, said he was a “thoughtful and prayerful” young man, “a very effective leader.”

His parents, Ned and Theresa Bergkamp, live in Garden Plain, Kansas. His brother, Deacon Andy Bergkamp, will be ordained a priest next year.

To them, and to all the Bergkamp family, and to Brian’s fellow seminarians, our prayers go out. May he rest in peace.

While I never met Brian Bergkamp, I have met and have known many seminarians, recently or currently studying to be priests. As I meet any seminarian nowadays, I think of how times have changed, and what following their vocations requires of them as a result.

In my day, people, even if not of the Catholic Faith, respected seminarians, because people esteemed wholehearted commitments to great causes and giving lifetimes to the service of others. Catholics held perpetual virginity in high regard.

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That day has gone in too many instances. The sex abuse scandals dealt a terrific blow, but even without it, society in general, and even Catholics, practicing Catholics at that, have lost so much regard for the values that priests represented.

Offering a lifetime to any ideal, no questions asked, no return expected in this life, and giving everything to God and to the service of God’s people, seems increasingly ridiculous.

Priestly celibacy, so ancient a Christian tradition, so solidly resting on the recorded words of Jesus in Matthew 19:10-12 regarding marriage and perfect discipleship, evidenced by so many saints, is judged as odd, even downright pathological.

Being associated with any church, let alone submitting to a church, is dismissed utterly — at times furiously. Even belief in God becomes the exception.

This atmosphere surrounds us. Indeed, seminarians now studying for the priesthood have lived in this spiritually toxic environment. It has been in the air that they breathe, in the speech of friends whom they hear, bombarding them through the social media and mass communications. It is everywhere. It is the unquestioned “wisdom” of the day.

Despite all this, they turn to the Lord. The seminarians these days want to be priests, first, foremost and always because they want to follow the Lord, wherever the Lord leads them. With this belief as the foundation, they choose to be priests, to answer the Lord’s call, to be as close as possible to Jesus.

The intellectual demands of seminarians now are as great, if not greater, than ever. The spiritual formation nowadays is, I think, better than it was in the past. Seminarians are led to know themselves. Do they truly wish to be priests? To serve the Church? To be celibate? Do they take the priesthood seriously? Realistically? Prepared for the distractions and temptations that lie ahead, do they trust and love the Church?

It is working. The seminarians whom I know willingly give the Lord everything, and they are being well trained. God bless them. Knowing that they will walk the less traveled road, they wish to follow the Lord.

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.