Get a group of priests together today and, as often as not, if they are of the more senior variety, the subject of seminaries and seminarians will enter the conversation. The result is not always a ringing endorsement of the current system, but always, always, I reply that I am convinced that the present formation provided at least by seminaries in this country and, by the way, at the North American College in Rome, is first class and, in fact, superior to the past.
This I know. The programs of spiritual formation are very good.
On Sept. 4, William Carmona, a seminarian in graduate theology for the Diocese of Nashville, Tennessee, who had had a bout with cancer, suddenly became very sick. Officials at Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, where he was studying, took him to the emergency room, and the report was grim. Immediately, he was admitted to the critical care unit. Doctors felt that nothing could be done to halt the disease.
He had dearly wanted to be a priest. Back in Nashville, apprised of the situation, Bishop David R. Choby made plans to fly to San Antonio. If the medical situation was conducive, and if William wanted it, the bishop planned to offer William ordination as deacon and then as priest. (The ritual gives bishops the right, under certain circumstances, to ordain a candidate a deacon and then a priest in quick order.)
William asked for ordination. Bishop Choby, in the presence of the Archbishop of San Antonio, the seminary rector and three priests and a deacon from Nashville, ordained him. The Mass of Ordination was Father Carmona’s only Mass. Later that day, a serious hemorrhage came, and he went to God.
I write this column in thanksgiving for Father William Carmona, who reached the threshold of heaven as a priest of God. He also came before the Lord as a humble, gentle, kind soul who deeply loved the Lord and wanted nothing but to serve God’s will. He never protested his illness.
Pray for him, also in thanksgiving, but also that God will be merciful, because Father Carmona, devout Catholic that he was, would admit that he was a sinner in need of God’s love and mercy. I also pray for the other seminarians whom I know. I pray for the dedicated seminary faculties who teach them and who counsel them.
This much is sure. God may have called us Catholics to struggle with many things in the recent past. After the Second Vatican Council, the departure of so many priests from active service was disillusioning. Then, with the force of an earthquake came the terrible sex abuse crisis a decade ago.
The brush of disgust and disdain and worse swept across all priests — and by extension seminarians.
The response of Church authorities, from Rome down to local seminary staffs, is edifying, and testifies to their determination to give to God’s people only the worthy to serve as ordained ministers. Specifically, the difficult times of the past taught lessons. From these lessons learned the hard way, new, exacting, efficient programs have been put into place. High on the list has been a process by which seminarians look long and deeply into their hearts, ponder what the priesthood is about, but more basically, what loving God truly means.
And, they learn how to pray — from the heart.
I was not surprised that Father Carmona’s fellow seminarians were profoundly shocked. Likely many had never before experienced the effect of death so near to them. I am convinced that they will withstand the shock, and they will be at peace. They are part of a fine new breed. Father Carmona will be at peace. Alleluia!
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.