By David Kilby | Correspondent
As young men in their parishes, the 12 teens who visited the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary are already followers of Jesus.
How they continue on their faith journey was the lesson at hand as the young men from around the Diocese of Trenton visited the Wynnewood, Pa., seminary April 30.
“If I do become a priest, this would be a good place to start,” Luke Denn, 13, of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford, said as he toured the seminary located just outside Philadelphia.
Photo Gallery: St. Charles Borromeo Seminary visit
The visit, organized by Father Daniel Swift, pastor of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, and sponsored by the diocesan Office of Vocations, invited young men in grades seven through 12 to learn more about the seminary and the priesthood.
The boys heard a wide range of insights from Father Swift; seminarian Kevin Ludwig from St. Denis Parish, Manasquan; Father Joel Wilson, a professor at the seminary and priest of the Diocese, Msgr. Joseph Roldan, rector of St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, and Father Michael Wallack, director of vocation recruitment for the Diocese and episcopal secretary to Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Reflecting on his call to join the seminary, Ludwig said, “I wasn’t sure I wanted to enter. I was kind of afraid. I always thought I was going to get married, and have a family, but I just didn’t feel comfortable doing that.”
Ludwig said there were many aspects of the priesthood that drew him to the seminary, including that a priest prays, helps the community, is a spiritual father and assists in the Sacraments.
“So I went for it,” he said. “A lot of my answers came through prayer, through the silence and through listening.”
He said his seminary experience is giving him the chance to seriously discern his potential vocation. “In the meantime, I’m becoming a much better Catholic. If you decide you don’t want to become a priest, you’re still getting an awesome education.”
Ludwig said his favorite part of seminary is living in community and praying with other men who are pursuing a similar path. The young visitors from the Diocese experienced some of that community by joining the seminarians for Evening Prayer.
“These kids will never see that unless they come to a seminary,” said Father Swift, who is an assistant vocations director for the Diocese.
Elaborating on how all priests are called to encourage young men to the priesthood, Father Swift said he believes bringing the teens to the seminary “makes it real and gives them a visual ... Seventh and 11th grade are critical years for making an impression on a young man. So we’re just planting seeds. When I was their age, I would have loved to come and experience something like this.”
During their visit, the boys viewed “Fishers of Men,” a short film focused on how the priesthood is a supernatural and countercultural calling, a movement of the Holy Spirit within the hearts of average men, a call to greatness.
“It’s an amazing life,” Father Wallack said. “The most amazing thing is to celebrate Mass every day and to be able to celebrate the Sacraments. These are amazing things you don’t always hear a priest talk about.”
In talking to the teens, Father Wallack mentioned other joys and struggles of the priesthood, but emphasized that even the sacrifices he makes as a priest are not so bad when they’re done with love.
Sharing why he decided to visit the seminary, as well as some thoughts on the priesthood,
Zach Lichter, 15, of St. Rose Parish, Belmar, said he wanted to reconnect with Father Wilson, who served as parochial vicar at Lichter’s parish and inspired him to become an altar server.
“Many people think you’re sacrificing your life when you become a priest,” Lichter said, “but the priests make it fun here.”
Zachary Roe, 13, of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, said he was interested in becoming a priest when he was younger, and still is. Experiencing the seminary had a positive impact on him. “The priesthood is very exciting,” he said.
For Denn, visiting the seminary was familiar ground. He made a previous visit with Father Swift last fall. The priesthood, he said, is “a great way to fulfill God’s calling.”