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‘Shepherds’ campaign to help seminaries

 
It’s no secret that in recent years enrollment has skyrocketed at both Notre Dame Seminary and St. Joseph Seminary College – the seminaries where vocations to the priesthood are nurtured in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and dioceses across the state of Louisiana and beyond.

 
At Notre Dame Seminary, 115 seminarians from dioceses across the South – the highest enrollment in nearly 15 years – are completing their theological and pastoral formation for the priesthood. St. Joseph Seminary College has 135 students, its highest enrollment since 1978.
 
To accommodate both seminaries’ growing needs, the Archdiocese of New Orleans launched the “I Will Give You Shepherds: The Campaign for Priestly Formation” in 2012 to provide funding for badly needed capital improvements at each campus.

$25 million campaign goal
Entering its third and final year, the Shepherds campaign has raised nearly $17 million in donations and pledges toward its $25 million goal. While most of those contributions have come from major donors, the final months of the campaign will focus on reaching out to Catholics in every parish as well as to potential donors in the other six Louisiana dioceses, said Peter Quirk, executive director of development for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
 
Archbishop Gregory Aymond mailed letters to more than 102,000 local Catholics this week to explain the campaign and ask for support. The other six bishops of Louisiana are supporting the campaign in various ways in their local dioceses. The campaign funds will be used for major upgrades at each campus.
 
“Priestly formation is an important priority for me and for the future of the Archdiocese of New Orleans,” Archbishop Aymond wrote in his letter. “St. John Paul II reminds us that without priests we cannot celebrate Eucharist, and without Eucharist, we cease to be the Catholic Church. Therefore, we must do our utmost to make sure that quality priestly formation continues.”

50 refurbished rooms
At Notre Dame Seminary, St. Joseph Hall – the dormitory building located to the left of Shaw Hall, the main seminary building – will be renovated to provide 50 new seminarian rooms, offices for additional faculty, conference rooms, classrooms and spiritual direction rooms. Work is scheduled to begin at the end of the current academic year in May and be completed by August 2016.
 
St. Joseph Seminary College will build a new library building near the current swimming pool and parking lot, which will then allow the Benedictine monks to renovate the current library, which had been built as a dormitory, into new student housing.
 
Father James Wehner, rector-president of Notre Dame Seminary, views the Shepherds campaign as “Phase 3” of a master plan to upgrade the seminary’s formation program and facilities over the last several years.
 
Local businessman Joseph Canizaro led a $2 million campaign in 2012 that allowed the seminary to recruit and retain faculty members, and New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle contributed $7 million toward the complete renovation of Shaw Hall in 2013.
 
“This campaign is a direct response to the growing number of seminarians as well as the growing number of programs that the seminary offers to the local community,” Father Wehner said. “In addition to priestly formation – which is the primary mission of Notre Dame Seminary – we also offer degree programs for laity and religious. The campaign is providing us with the needed resources to offer these programs as well as future programs to the community.”

It’s a tight squeeze
Right now, the space is so tight at Notre Dame Seminary that 30 seminarians have to live either off campus or in adjacent buildings: 10 live at the former St. Rita Convent, 10 at a convent behind the main seminary building and 10 others at a house owned by Loyola University on St. Charles Avenue.
 
“The seminarians have been very cooperative and enthusiastic about all of this,” Father Wehner said. “There might be a little inconvenience for a year, but they’ve been stepping up to the plate.”
 
Father Wehner said the renovation will produce a building that has excellent heating, air-conditioning and electrical systems, and the latest in technology.
 
“Priestly formation is an unchanging reality in the church, but the needs of the church are changing,” Father Wehner said. “The pastoral needs of the 21st century include technology, social communication and leadership training.”
 
Benedictine Father Gregory Bouquet, president-rector of St. Joseph Seminary College, said he is grateful the archdiocese has partnered with the monks to provide for new facilities.
 
“The campaign itself really does breathe in a lot of new life and enthusiasm, especially for our monastic community,” Father Gregory said. “One of the abbots mentioned years ago that the responsibility on the monks (to keep the seminary going) would be very great. This is a tremendous relief and a blessing.”

New library for St. Ben’s
The new library, which will have many of its holdings on computer, is expected to cost about $5.2 million.
 
“The current needs of a library are not what they used to be 50 years ago,” Father Gregory said. “Some monks don’t want to have a library with no books. We’ll have books, but because of digital capacities, you don’t have to have as many books in the holdings.”
 
Woods and Peggy Allen, who run the Deacon Ed Food Bank at St. Francis Xavier Parish, said they were compelled to help the campaign after getting a personal tour of the seminary by Father Wehner.
 
“He gave us a wonderful tour of Shaw Hall and took us over to St. Joseph’s Hall, and obviously there was a great need to fix up St. Joseph’s Hall,” Woods Allen said. “We felt this might encourage these young men in their efforts of becoming priests. This will allow them to feel at home and give them the opportunity to grow in their spiritual life.”

Helping with the ‘call’
“This also will allow more candidates to study at the seminary because more rooms will be available,” Peggy Allen said. “We want to give everyone the opportunity who has that call. That new wing will allow more potential candidates to become priests.”

Campaign donor Richard Kethley said he felt moved to donate a piece of rental property to the Catholic Foundation after hearing about the campaign.

“I hope whatever donation the Catholic Foundation gets from the sale of the property will help the seminary,” Kethley said.

Of the 250 total seminarians at Notre Dame Seminary and St. Joseph Seminary College, 116 are studying for the seven Louisiana dioceses: New Orleans (29); Alexandria (3), Baton Rouge (19); Houma-Thibodaux (16); Lafayette (32); Lake Charles (12); and Shreveport (5).

For more information on the campaign, contact Peter Quirk at 596-3063 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

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