Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian
They range in age from 19 to 55. They come from different parts of the Diocese of Richmond. Three have college degrees; two are recent high school graduates. But one thing they have in common is each is beginning his seminary studies this fall.
Interviewed following the Mass for seminarians and their parents, Friday, Aug. 17, at Our Lady of Lourdes, Richmond, each talked about how he got to this point.
Seth Seaman, 32, has had seminary experience. He holds a master of divinity degree from the Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky.
“When I was in Methodist seminary I always had a great affinity and love for the Catholic Church but there were various truth barriers that were kind of keeping me from it so when I was learning all different kinds of things about the history of the Church, I was just drawn to that beauty with greater and greater intensity,” said the member of St. Joseph Parish, Hampton.
Seaman said that as he learned more about the Church, his “misconceptions just began to fall away one by one.”
Now a pre-theology student at the Theological College in Washington, Seaman said, “I had a choice to either continue on with my one path toward ordination in the Methodist church as a pastor or continue on to something very different and unknown.”
As Matthew Kelly, 25, begins studies as a pre-theology student at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., at least one of his expectations of that experience is clear.
“I have a great desire to serve God’s Church and to seek formation to become a holy servant of God on behalf of his people,” the member of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, Newport News, said.
Kelly, who has a bachelor’s degree in music performance from Christopher Newport University, said he knew when he heard the call to enter the seminary.
“(It was) when I felt a deep and enduring sense of peace regarding the priesthood and a joy and a very strong desire to become a priest,” he said.
Jack Shanahan and Paul Thelen recent high school graduates — the former from Franklin County, the latter from James River, are entering Saint John Paul II Seminary, Washington. They will study at The Catholic University of America.
Shanahan, 19, said he was “excited” as he anticipated the new experiences simultaneously — seminary and college.
“The seminary is going to be a different experience than regular college,” the member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Rocky Mount, said. “There will be more obligations to prayer and spiritual upbringing.”
Shanahan said he has been discerning his vocation since middle school, but that by the beginning of his senior year, it became clear to him he was being drawn to the seminary.
“I’m excited to continue discerning whatever God has planned for me,” he said.
Thelen also expressed excitement in anticipating the college seminary experience.
“I’m nervous; it’s a whole new world, but I’m ready for it,” he said. “I’m excited that it’s this path.”
A member of St. Edward the Confessor Parish, Richmond, Thelen said he “sort of had a calling (to the priesthood) since around sixth grade.”
As he aged, it became clearer.
“I pushed it to the back of my mind until the summer of 2017. I was at UVA—Wise at the diocesan Work Camp when I made that decision,” Thelen said. “Ever since, I’ve been at peace with it.”
Brian Sarnecki, 55, can be considered a “late vocation” or “non-traditional” vocation, but at age 55, he is ready to begin his pre-theological studies at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis.
“I’ve been praying about it for a number of years,” the Baltimore native said.
With an undergraduate degree in organic chemistry from High Point University, and having done additional coursework at Johns Hopkins University, Sarnecki worked in hospital medical surgical units and then as a formulator and in sales for major cosmetic firms.
He thought about priesthood 15 years ago, but when family members experienced health problems, he turned his attention to caring for them. With their passing, he saw an “open door” for discerning his vocation.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said.