Monday, September 12, 2016

Mount Angel Seminary Begins Its 128th Year of Forming Men for the Priesthood of Jesus Christ

By Phillip J. Shifflet; Photos by Br. Lorenzo Conocido, OSB

St. Benedict, Ore. – In the opening verses of his Holy Rule, St. Benedict urges monks to pray to Christ the Lord most earnestly to bring every good work they begin to completion. Faithful to his exhortation, the monks, seminarians, faculty, staff, and friends of Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary gathered on Monday, August 29, to celebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit, thereby inaugurating the seminary’s 128th academic year.

Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, processes in, followed by seminarians from the Diocese of San Diego, Deacons Nathan McWeeney and Bill Zondler III.

Abbot Jeremy preaches his homily.

The recently-elected Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, celebrated the Mass in the Abbey Church, during which the Holy Spirit was invoked upon the endeavors of the coming year. Monsignor Joseph Betschart, President-Rector of the seminary; Abbot Peter Eberle, OSB, and Fr. Terry Tompkins, Vice Rectors; and other priests from the abbey and various religious communities concelebrated. Ethan Alano and Luke Stager, seminarians for the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, and Phillip Shifflet, a seminarian for the Diocese of Orange in California, served as cantors.

Following over three months of summer vacation, during which students return to their home dioceses for pastoral assignments, Abbot Jeremy began his homily with these words: “How beautiful it is to see the church so full of students, new and returning, with Msgr. Betschart at the helm, along with professors, formation directors, spiritual directors, support staff of every kind, other hilltop employees, friends, volunteers, and at the center of it all, this monastic community. As Flannery O’Connor once rightly remarked of the Catholic Church, ‘Here comes everybody.’”

Commenting on the significance of invoking the Holy Spirit, Abbot Jeremy said that it is “a gift that is always given when asked for in faith. What does the Spirit look like? How will we know if it has been given? Ah! there will be all sorts of ways . . . many different gifts and manifestations. That is Mount Angel! Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary hard at work on any given day. A place full of gifts that differ but, says St. Paul, one and the same Spirit produces all of these. This is the Holy Spirit, for whom we are praying at the opening of this school year.”

Following the Mass, Dr. Seymour B. House, Associate Dean for the Graduate School of Theology and professor of church history and literature, delivered the Inaugural Address. Entitled “The Trouble with Facts,” Dr. House presented a comically brilliant reflection on the nature and pitfalls of historical narrative. “We all think of facts,” Dr. House said, “as things that are true, some sort of absolute real, like the speed of light or the number of players on a baseball team. Or facts are things that have happened in the past, like the birthday of Henry VIII or the discovery of radium. But they can also be things that didn’t happen, like the dog that didn’t bark in chapter sixteen of The Odyssey, or the missing 18.5 minutes of the Nixon tapes, or the marriage of Elizabeth I. So facts are things that happened or didn’t happen or happened but we only know about it because they’re missing. Already we’re on slippery slope.”

Dr. Seymour House delivers his Inaugural Address.

“Facts are not simple. We want them to add up to something, but we don’t agree what that should be.” Speaking from his vantage point in the field of history, Dr. House remarked, “Historians select and arrange facts to tell stories, to say something truthful, but once you have to start choosing about what to include and what to forgo, your story loses some of its scope, some of its range. It becomes less like life, and more like a story.”

In the afternoon, Msgr. Betschart gave his first Rector’s Conference of the year; and in the evening, gathering after Vespers, the entire hilltop community enjoyed a community barbeque on the lawn in front of the Abbey Church.

Mount Angel Seminary began forming men for the priesthood in 1889 and is now the oldest and largest seminary in the western United States, and the only seminary in the West that offers both a college and a graduate school of theology.  Since its inception 128 years ago, MAS has educated and formed thousands of priests, and many qualified religious and lay men and women as well, for service to the people of God in nearly 100 dioceses and religious communities across the country and around the world.