By Tim Lilley
The Message editor
Alumni and friends of Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology filled the dining room of The Bauerhaus in Darmstadt Sept. 14 for the 2023 edition of Saint Meinrad’s annual Evansville-area gathering. In comments to the large crowd, Evansville Bishop Joseph M. Siegel, a Saint Meinrad alumnus, observed that those in attendance were there because they had been impacted in some way by Saint Meinrad.
Several Diocese of Evansville priests and deacons attended, as did lay graduates of the theology program and friends of Saint Meinrad.
Deacon Ron Pirau of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, who serves as Director of the Permanent Deacon Formation Program at Saint Meinrad, delivered the keynote and discussed the history of the program, which is observing its 25th anniversary. Deacon Ron, a graduate of the program, was ordained in June 2012 and serves at Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood, Indiana.
He explained that the program started in 1999. Benedictine Father Denis Robinson, who now serves as President-Rector of Saint Meinrad, came up with the idea of developing a program that would provide formation to deacon candidates in dioceses that were unable to send men to Saint Meinrad in person. The first to participate was a group of nine men from the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia.
Instructors from the Seminary and School of Theology travelled to dioceses to teach on weekends, and Deacon Ron said the program had participation from eight dioceses in its first five years. Benedictine Father Godfrey Mullen, former Rector of St. Benedict Cathedral in Evansville, next directed the program for several years as it continued to group. He initiated a summer gathering at the Archabbey for adjunct lecturers and directors of formation serving in dioceses.
When Father Julian Peters became director of the program, he created a path to a Master’s Degree for those interested in pursuing it. Courses also were developed to form and support candidates for whom Spanish was their primary language.
Another element that came into being was an intensive week of homiletics instruction at Saint Meinrad, which Deacon Ron said some students referred to as Homeletics Boot Camp. Participants travel to Saint Meinrad to learn how to preach, he said, noting that a group from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia recently completed the week.
Deacon Ron said that 25 dioceses have partnered with Saint Meinrad in the Deacon Formation Program over the years, from dioceses in places like Wyoming, New Hampsire and even the Bahamas. He said that, to date, 722 men who participated in the program have been ordained permanent deacons. For 2023-2024, there are 195 enrolled in the program representing 12 dioceses.
Deacon Ron said that plans call for the entire intellectual-formation program to be available in Spanish within the next two years.
Benedictine Father Tobias Colgan, Saint Meinrad Vice-Rector, told attendees that Archabbot Benedictine Father Kurt Stasiak was unable to attend, but sent along his gratitude and best wishes to all who attended. Father Tobias noted that the Archabbey recently welcomed junior monks Brother Gregory and Brother Jude, and that Novice Andrew began his year of initial discernment a few months ago.
Father Tobias also talked about some of the monks who are currently away from Saint Meinrad pursuing studies. Father Nathaniel is at The Catholic University of America studying Scripture, and Father Lorenzo is also at CUA pursuing a doctorate. Father Gene has traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, to pursue a degree in art.
Father Denis told the crowd that the 2023-2024 year was off to a great start, noting that there are 116 seminarians enrolled. He also talked about the programs Saint Meinrad offers for continuing formation for priests, catechetical programs (including one with the Diocese of Evansville that he characterized as “very well done”), summer youth programs and the strong deacon-formation program.
Father Denis mentioned that the first 2023-2024 meeting of the Seminary Pastoral Council, which includes representatives from each year class and family, would take place Sept. 15. He said, “I believe you can always measure the spirit of the house by the agenda items they submit for the meeting. Here is one item, and I read it as submitted: ‘The return, please, of Tuesday morning donuts.’ I believe that suggests that the spirit this year is pretty good.”
He and Father Tobias encouraged those in attendance to visit Saint Meinrad any time. Father Tobias said, “Come to Saint Meinrad whenver you’re able. You don’t need a special invitation.”
For more information on Saint Meinrad, visit saintmeinrad.edu.