This fall, high school graduates can start on the path to seminary without leaving Wichita.
The Catholic Diocese of Wichita will start its first “house of formation,” a two-year program for seminarians who will live on the campus of St. Joseph Parish and pursue associate degrees at Newman University while interacting with local priests.
“When the men actually see the people they will serve one day, it does open their heart, because it’s just a very concrete and tactile way they can picture themselves in the shoes of a parish priest,” said the Rev. Mike Simone, diocesan chancellor and director of the vocations office for the Diocese of Wichita. “Rather than going somewhere else, there’s no more disconnect, because they’re doing it in their own hometown.”
The program will be called St. Joseph House of Formation. Using the former rectory at St. Joseph Parish, the program will start small with three to five men but is expected to grow to up to 16 or more in the next five to seven years.
Many applicants in the diocese want to enter seminary formation immediately after high school, Simone said. Until now, those men had to leave Wichita.
Now, they will be able to obtain their associate degrees from Newman, then transfer to a college seminary to complete their requirements for a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before going on to a master’s degree in theology, then ordination to the priesthood.
The Rev. Carl Kemme, bishop of the Diocese of Wichita, said the idea for a house of formation started with his predecessor, who considered a four-year program. That idea didn’t take root but was later revisited and altered by Kemme.
“It will mean those first two years of a young man’s formation will take place right here in the heart of the diocese,” Kemme said. “It will give our priests a chance to know these men better and have a hands-on part to play in their formation spiritually and intellectually.”
Wichita’s seminarians now study at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Maryland, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Missouri, Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, Conception Seminary College in Missouri and Holy Trinity Seminary College in Texas.
The Diocese of Wichita has 58 seminarians, according to an April issue of the diocesan newspaper. The ratio of seminarians to parishioners dwarfs the ratios of much larger archdioceses such as Los Angeles and New York.
Kemme said he hopes the men at St. Joseph House of Formation will have a chance to see what serving as a priest in Wichita looks like, to understand who the people of Wichita are, from a new perspective.
Simone and Kemme said they expect St. Joseph House of Formation to positively affect recruiting even more men to vocations.
“Formation” is a time during which the Catholic Church educates and works to create habits in a man’s life so he is able to live well as a priest or member of a religious order.
“This process allows the man to kind of in a sense walk in the shoes of a diocesan priest for these years while he’s also discerning or trying to figure out if this is God’s call for his life,” Simone said.