Hallmark might be a way to let someone know that “you care enough to send the very best.”
But there’s even a better way that young people throughout the state can let seminarians know that they are thinking about them, praying for them and in general, just how much they care. It’s through the New Jersey State Council Knights of Columbus’ Seminarian Letter Project.
The project, which was started 12 years ago, mobilizes students in Catholic schools and parish religious education programs to contact seminarians the old-fashioned way by sending hand-written greeting cards through the US Postal Service.
The Seminarian Letter Project got its start in 2000 by John Tirado, a member of the St. Jude Council Knights of Columbus, Blackwood, (Camden Diocese) who had become overwhelmingly concerned about the shortage of vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the Church. He wanted to find an easy way for Knights of Columbus councils and young people to work together where they could offer support to persons pursuing vocations in “our great Church.”
The letters are sent to various seminaries all over the country, as well as to the nuns of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, Ann Arbor, Mich.
“The letters are very much appreciated,” said Tirado. “There are some men, who are very young in age and are thinking about the tremendous sacrifices they would be making in order to become a priest – such as a lifetime of celibacy, and they need words of encouragement as they pursue their seminary studies.
“These men are dedicating themselves to spreading the Word of God and I just wanted to do what I could to help support them,” he said, noting that there are, on average, some 1,500 cards and letters sent to seminarians each year.
Not long after Tirado launched the Seminarian Letter Project in his own parish, other Knights of Columbus councils in the state wanted to make it available for councils and students in their own respective areas.
Three groups from the Trenton Diocese that have been diligent about sending heartfelt messages have been the Hopewell and Bordentown Knights of Columbus councils as well as students from St. Mary School, Bordentown.
“We want the seminarians to know that we realize the sacrifice they are making and that we greatly appreciate their dedication to God, his Church and the Catholic laity,” said Robert Rushnak, Grand Knight of the Hopewell Council, which participated in the project for the past two years. “We want them to know that our thoughts and prayers are with them as they continue their studies.”
Rushnak noted that last year members of the council’s Ladies Auxiliary as well as religious education students from St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell, and St. George Parish, Titusville, wrote letters, while this year, only the Knights wrote letters to the seminarians.
“By encouraging these men to continue in the seminary and become priests, I think 45 cents is a small price to pay for such a large investment,” he said.
Frank X. McAneny, principal of St. Mary School, related how fourth graders, Liam Brennan, Nina Burden and Alexandra Dompier gained a better understanding about vocations.
In their letters, McAneny said that students might ask random questions about how a seminarian arrived at his decision to become a priest; the difficulty of his seminary studies; how long does it take to become a priest; where would he like to go once he becomes a priest; do they get an Easter break, and their hobbies.
“Learning about the life of a seminarian makes the students realize how much work he needs to go through and how dedicated he must be to his vocation,” McAneny said.
One happy seminarian letter recipient has been Rev. Mr. Robert Cro, who is attending St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore.
“Receiving the letters from back home really does provide a boost especially since so many of them convey such warm wishes,” said Rev. Mr. Cro, who is a transitional deacon and eagerly looking forward to his priestly ordination on June 9 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.
Sifting through a packet of Easter cards he recently received from a second grade class, Rev. Mr. Cro said he especially appreciated the youngsters’ “Happy Easter” wishes as well as other sentiments.
“(One student) wanted to know what I gave up for Lent, others promised to pray for me, and one young man said that he hoped that I was going to celebrate the Resurrection!” Rev. Mr. Cro chuckled.
“How cute is that?”