The Priesthood is Growing
One would be hard pressed to guess the century, much less a particular decade or year, watching the group of four young men engaged in quiet conversation walking across the timeless campus. Their cassocks softly sweep at the ground as the fireforged yellows and reds of the setting sun give way to a still and calm twilight blue that settles like a veil. Perhaps they are headed to Bar Jonah, the Athenaeum of Ohio’s inhouse pub reserved for the seminarians and priests who keep room and board onsite. Or maybe they are going to the library to study for an exam after vespers.
Yet, it is clear that wherever this meandering gait leads them for the evening, they have their sights set on a goal significantly beyond this moment. They are searching out their holy orders. Specifically, they are there to be formed into our new priests.
As tranquil and eternal as the Athenaeum of Ohio’s facade appears, there is an energized current of potential and momentum that is palpable even in the evening calm. During the work day, the site is not at all quiet. The Athenaeum, specifically the seminary division, Mount St. Mary of the the West, is bursting at the seams.
Archbishop Schnurr introduced the Prayer for Vocations (2011) which we now say at every Sunday Mass in all the archdiocese parishes. Fr. Ben O’Cinnsealaigh— former seminary rector and Athenaeum president for 7 years— labored with a dogged determination aided by grit, charm, and keen acumen to grow enrollment and draw new seminarians. Fr. Brausch succeeded Fr. O’Cinnsealaigh in 2018 as rector and president of the Athenaeum. While new to his current position, he has been instrumental in the blossoming and growth now taking place having served as vice- rector and director of both the seminary and the permanent diaconate program since 2011. It is under his current leadership that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati expects to ordain its largest class of priests in over 40 years.
The electric spark of hope in the air is not composed only of prayer and fine leadership, indispensable as they are. It is also constructed and nourished by bulldozers, hardhats carpenters and engineers.
It is the funds provided by the faithful, by generous donors, that bring to fruition God’s plans in the most practical and concrete of ways. It enables the faith to bring more into the fold and build the future of the Church, quite literally, one stone at a time. The record breaking classes of seminarians streaming into the Athenaeum has brought to a head a much welcomed problem. More room is needed! Construction for a new seminary residence hall, Fenwick Hall, is currently underway so when the 90+ seminarians immerse themselves into their formation process becoming our next generation of priests, we will have made them welcome in their new home. The Athenaeum conducted a separate capital campaign to fund the project.
The construction has been thoughtfully designed to keep within the style of the current architecture. The stone and tenor remain the same— timeless in beauty and the purpose served. This thoughtful and forward looking stewardship which has brought us this far will continue to bear fruit far into the future. It is easy to imagine this time to come. Seventy, eighty, or maybe even a hundred years from now— long after most of us are gone— there will be a group of young men walking across the grounds. Their black cassocks will sweep noiselessly along the walkways as they return from evening prayer. Maybe they are on the way to study in the library. Or maybe they are going to Bar Jonah for rousing theological conversation over a pitcher of good beer, part of an eternal line of an eternal order. Let us pray for all the priests and seminarians. And let us also pray for all of those who made their path possible.
Written by: Rebecca Sontag
Photos by: Margaret Swensen
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