As Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan stood this month in the back of St. Peter’s Basilica in front of the Chair of St. Peter and its accompanying altar, one word came to the former Saint Paul Seminary rector’s mind.
It was at this same altar that, 50 years ago Friday, Callaghan was first ordained a priest. He began his seminary studies in Rome in 1966, just off the heels of Vatican II, and today is back there as rector emeritus and helping lead Saint John Vianney College Seminary’s study-abroad program.
“I’m so humbled,” Callaghan said, the sun shining through the basilica’s Holy Spirit window behind him. “This was the place where I’d been praying for and hoping for from the time I was a young boy. It was an answer to my parents’ prayers and everybody else’s prayers and all the nuns that knew me. I remember almost distinctly the feelings that I had of joy beyond imagining at this altar … I’ll never forget it.
“It brings a certain resilience to with it to know that I could be able to be saying Mass each day for 50 years and God willing will do it for many more.”
That’s not hard to imagine for a priest who’s 75 years old but still as vibrant as ever. He jokes that he began his own priestly formation in Rome after coming “with Christopher Columbus on his way back” to Europe from the New World.
It was that same loving charisma that allowed him to relate to seminarians, staff, faculty and supporters during his time as rector from 2005-18. That period saw significant growth in all of the seminary’s efforts to from joyful, Catholic leaders.
Before that, the Irish-Catholic Pennsylvania native served on the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, working closely with Mother Theresa of Calcutta in canonical affairs concerning the Missionaries of Charity. He later spent a decade as Vicar General of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, ministering to the United States’ armed forces.
“With all the challenges we’ve had as a church the past 50 years, besides this pandemic we’ve been living through, we’ve had challenges but that’s when our young men — and those not so young — they stand up, they rise to the occasion,” Callaghan said. “And they really want to make a difference. The difference is they want to show Jesus to people and let them know He’s the person who loves them most. You as the priest are privileged to act in His name and in His person. That fills everybody with joy.”
And while he’s no longer rector, he couldn’t stay away from seminary formation long. He’s in Rome this school year because of his work with the college seminary across the street from The Saint Paul Seminary, leading eight Saint John Vianney seminarians as they study in the Holy City.
Callaghan calls them “the eight beatitudes.”
“They keep you running,” Callaghan said, “but they make you proud.”
The same can be said for a rector who achieved legend status in priestly and Twin Cities Catholic circles thanks to his love for the Blessed Mother, ability to relate to people and energy for forming good, strong, holy priests.
What’s been his secret?
“Jesus excites me. The Blessed Mother took care of me. I can’t say anything more, because it’s been the gift of a lifetime.”