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Diocese back to seminarian headcount of mid-1960s

To ordain five new priests per year, diocese needs to maintain 40 seminarians

Published: August 29, 2013   
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The Diocese of Little Rock’s seminarian count is getting back to levels it enjoyed in the 1960s.

For the first time since 1965, the diocese boasts 41 seminarians, up 27 percent from 2012 and up 56 percent in the past 10 years.

“We have a very different future than we did eight years ago,” said Msgr. Scott Friend, vocations director.

In 1960 the diocese had its own high school and college seminary and educated 64 seminarians, with five ordinations. It jumped to 69 seminarians in 1961 with two ordinations. The numbers slowly dropped until 1965 when the diocese had 40 seminarians. From 1970 to 2009 the diocese never had more than 30 seminarians.

Msgr. Friend said he believes the diocese needs to enroll at least 40 seminarians a year in order to ordain more priests each year.

“Ideally it would be nice for us to have five ordinations a year,” he said.

The presbyterate is getting more diverse. Since Bishop Anthony B. Taylor arrived in 2008 he has ordained 12 priests, with several of them being native Spanish speakers. The average age of an active diocesan priest is also lower.

“We need to be providing our own priests for our diocese,” he said. “We have to sustain that. … There is a lot more ministry we can be doing if there are more priests.”

Msgr. Friend insists that Catholics in the diocese must continue to pray for vocations and believe that more vocations are possible.

“It’s very important for us to believe. Some people want to say this is too good to be true. This is just a spike. Incredulity is very bad for vocations and for that matter being a Christian.”

With the increased numbers, the seminarians’ presence at one seminary is standing out. Nearly half of the 41 seminarians will be attending St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana for their master’s level pre-theology and theology classes. The Diocese of Little Rock is the most represented diocese on the campus with 19 students.

Msgr. Friend said the diocese has sent men to the Benedictine seminary since St. John Home Mission Seminary in Little Rock closed in 1967.

“They have an excellent program,” said Msgr. Friend, who graduated from St. Meinrad in 1987. “The thing for me is, what is the best program for our seminarians?”

Msgr. Friend said it is more efficient for the diocese to send most of its theology students to one seminary. It is cheaper and it makes it easier for Msgr. Friend and Bishop Taylor to make their regular visits to the seminary to talk with the formation staff and seminarians.

“We don’t abdicate our responsibility of fathering guys into the priesthood,” Msgr. Friend said. “We do that in collaboration with the school, but it is up to the bishop and myself… We have been charged with that responsibility to form our guys for the priesthood.”

More importantly, 19 seminarians in one place mean that they can form better friendships with each other.

“There is a real sense of fraternity and brotherhood that develops between them,” Msgr. Friend said. “They are going through the experience together. Wherever we have our seminarians, they are noted for their sense of fraternity, they are noted for being men of prayer, they are noted for being leaders. … We have solid young men studying for the priesthood, very talented and very bright, very service-oriented.”

The diocese is also expanding its undergraduate philosophy program at the House of Formation in Little Rock. Nine men can live at the house and currently seven of them are studying at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock or Pulaski Technical College for their core classes as well as attending the Little Rock Theology Institute one weekend a month for some philosophy and theology courses. Through an agreement with St. Gregory University in Shawnee, Okla., seminarians will also be taking virtual classes with St. Gregory instructors in order to earn their bachelor’s degree.

“It is a lot cheaper plus the guys stay here, which is better for them,” said Msgr. Friend, who lives at the House of Formation with associate directors Msgr. Richard Oswald and Father Ruben Quinteros.

Finances are often on Msgr. Friend’s mind with the increase in seminarians. His office budget has increased to $2 million, and most of those expenses go to seminarian education. He said more funds from the Holy Thursday collection and Taste of Faith dinners are helping the diocese pay for some of those expenses but more is needed.

This fall nine new seminarians were welcomed by the Vocations Office.

They are:

  • Guillermo Caballero, 28, who was originally from Colombia and attends Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Hot Springs Village. Caballero was a seminarian for the diocese from 2010 to 2012. The son of Juan Caballero and Rubiela Andrade, he will attend St. Meinrad.
  • John Taylor, 28, of Fort Worth, Texas. The son of Joseph and Lynnice Taylor and nephew of Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, he will attend St. Meinrad.
  • Michael Davis, 47, of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers. The son of Michael and Henrietta Davis, he will attend St. Meinrad.
  • Omar Galvan, 20, of Immaculate Conception Church in Fort Smith. The son of Baltazar Galvan and Florina Gonzalez, he will live at the House of Formation and attend UALR.
  • Alex Booth, 23, of Christ the King Church in Little Rock. The son of Rebecca Maxwell, he will live at the House of Formation and attend Pulaski Technical College.
  • Alex Smith, 18, of St. Jude Church in Jacksonville. The son of Jesus Elizondo and Gilda Enrile Bongayan will attend Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas.
  • Brian Cundall, 19, of Christ the King Church in Little Rock. The son of Yancy and Rose Cundall will attend Holy Trinity Seminary.
  • Steven Kelley, 18, of St. Theresa Church in Little Rock. The son of Doug and Karen Kelley will live at the House of Formation and attend UALR.
  • Cristian Andrade, 18, of St. Augustine Church in Dardanelle. The son of Jorge and Rosa Andrade will live at the House of Formation and attend UALR.

Three seminarians were accepted in January. They are:

  • Matt Heffron, 21, of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers. The son of Thomas and Lisa Heffron, he attends Holy Trinity Seminary. Heffron was a seminarian for the diocese from 2010-2011.
  • Patrick Saint-Jean, 30 of Haiti. The son of Celesson Saint-Jean and Dieu Donne Sidor, he lives at the House of Formation and attends English as a Second Language courses.
  • Daniel Ramos, 26, of Mexico. The son of Benjamin Ramos and Maria Soledad Hernandez, he is attending Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corner, Wis.

Other returning seminarians are:

  • Deacon Robert Cigainero of St. Edward Church in Texarkana.
  • Deacon Juan Guido, Martin Amaro and Emmanuel Torres of St. Edward Church in Little Rock.
  • Jack Sidler Jr. of Sacred Heart of Mary Church in Barling.
  • Deacon Rick Hobbs III and Dr. Joseph Chan of St. Boniface Church in Fort Smith.
  • Luis Miguel Pacheco, originally from Mexico., now attends St. Theresa Church in Little Rock.
  • Martin Siebold of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in North Little Rock (Marche).
  • Stephen Gadberry of St. Peter Church in Wynne.
  • Taryn Whittington and Jeff Hebert of the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock.
  • Mario Jacobo, originally from Georgia, and now attends Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock
  • Michael Johns of Blessed Sacrament Church in Jonesboro.
  • Norman McFall of St. Joseph Church in Pine Bluff.
  • William Burmester of St. Joseph Church in Conway.
  • Stephen Hart, Stephen Elser, Joseph de Orbegozo, Jon Miskin, Patrick Friend and Joseph Friend of Christ the King Church in Little Rock.
  • Robert Smith of St. Joseph Church in Fayetteville.
  • Jerry Wilkerson of St. Jude Church in Jacksonville.
  • Ramses Mendieta of Nicaragua. 
  • Karldy Isidor, originally from Haiti, now attends St. John Church in Hot Springs..
  • Luke Womack of St. Mary Church in Hot Springs.
  • Keith Higginbotham of St. Anne Church in North Little Rock.
  • David Aguilar of St. Raphael Church in Springdale.

Cigainero, Guido and Hobbs are scheduled to be ordained priests May 17 at Christ the King Church in Little Rock.

Two men are discerning a vocation to the priesthood and are living at the House of Formation. They are Jeff Heeter, 37, and Ben Riley, 19, both of Christ the King Church in Little Rock.

Video interviews with seminarians can be seen at www.youtube.com/cdolr.


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