The Archdiocese of New Orleans has launched a capital campaign called “I Will Give You Shepherds: The Campaign for Priestly Formation” aimed at funding $25 million in capital improvements to Notre Dame Seminary and St. Joseph Seminary College.
About $15.5 million in gifts and pledges already have been received during the silent, major-gift phase of the campaign, and Archbishop Gregory Aymond said the money will be used for badly needed physical upgrades of buildings on each campus.
“Many dioceses don’t have a seminary, but we are blessed with both a college seminary and a theologate,” Archbishop Aymond said. “The second blessing is that at both St. Joseph Seminary College and Notre Dame Seminary, we have extraordinarily qualified faculty and formators.
“On the other side of the coin, in both cases we have facilities that are aging. It’s important that we not only have good, quality programs but also adequate facilities for the students to live, to study and to pray.”
Bensons are chairing
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle, who already donated $7 million for the extensive renovation of Shaw Hall at Notre Dame Seminary in 2013, are the honorary chairs of the “Shepherds” campaign. Major donors will be announced by the archdiocese in the future.
Father James Wehner, rector of Notre Dame Seminary, said about $10 million is needed for a renovation of St. Joseph Hall, which is located to the left of Shaw Hall, the main building on the South Carrollton Avenue campus. That would provide for 30 new seminarian rooms, classrooms and office space for faculty. Seminary enrollment will be in the high 90s next year, Father Wehner said, with room for a future enrollment of 140.
St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict recently completed a major renovation of Vianney Hall into a new student dorm, but it needs a similar renovation at Borromeo Hall, which would provide between 45 and 50 new seminarian rooms, said Benedictine Father Gregory Boquet. St. Ben’s is anticipating starting the fall semester with 130 students, one of its strongest enrollments in decades, Father Boquet said.
The physical upgrades, coming at a time when the faculty at each seminary is considered top notch, also will allow both Father Wehner and Father Boquet to persuade bishops to send their seminarians to the Archdiocese of New Orleans for priestly formation.
More dioceses signing up
Already, three new dioceses are sending men to Notre Dame for their education, Father Wehner said.
“As rector, it’s my responsibility to invite bishops to look at our program and for me to explain why we believe we have one of the best, if not the best, faculty in the country and that their men would be well-served in coming here,” Father Wehner said.
In 2012, a $2 million campaign spearheaded by Joseph C. Canizaro helped Notre Dame Seminary enhance salaries for its theology and philosophy faculty.
“We have secured what I believe are the best theology and philosophy faculty of any seminary that I’m familiar with, and this is my third
seminary,” Father Wehner said. “We’re very grateful to Archbishop Aymond that he would allow that type of campaign to recruit renowned theologians and philosophers from around the country.”
Father Boquet said after the separate renovation of Vianney Hall was already underway – with major gifts from the Turner family in Baton Rouge and the Bolinger family of Lockport – Archbishop Aymond, as chancellor of both seminaries, decided that a unified, targeted campaign for future capital needs would benefit both.
Thankful for the help
“The monks and the seminary are very appreciative that the archdiocese is taking a leadership role,” Father Boquet said. “It’s not since Archbishop (Joseph) Rummel that we’ve had an archbishop who has taken such an active role. Archbishop Rummel helped to build the seminary, and now Archbishop Aymond is helping make sure that the seminary plant will be in good shape as we enter the next 125 years of our history.”
Archbishop Aymond said the buildings at both seminaries were adequate when they were built and have been updated, “but not to the extent that has been needed.”
The archbishop said it was vital for the archdiocese to take special care of its seminaries because “the seminary is at the very heart of the church.”
“Without the priest, we don’t have the Eucharist, and without the Eucharist, we don’t have the Catholic Church,” he said.
Peter Quirk, executive director of the Office of Stewardship and Development, said about 275 people have made substantial gifts, payable over a five-year period, as part of the $15.5 million that have been raised.
Mail campaign coming
Sometime in the first four months of next year, the archdiocese will launch a direct-mail campaign to registered Catholic households. Also, the bishops of the state may participate in the campaign.
Archbishop Aymond said there are very few seminaries in the South, which makes it important for both St. Ben’s and Notre Dame to offer quality programs. He is grateful for those who have supported the campaign thus far.
“I think when people come to see the need and the importance of the seminary – and when they see the conditions of the seminary that need attention – they have been very generous in digging deeply into their pockets to help,” the archbishop said.
Seminarians and other priests who teach at Notre Dame Seminary will be speaking at churches throughout the archdiocese on designated weekends in the fall.
In addition to the Bensons, members of the “Shepherds” cabinet are John Becker, Ron Cambre, Joseph Canizaro, Joseph Exnicios, Calvin Fayard II, Tom Kitchen, John Laborde and Phyllis Taylor.