From the rector: Honing shepherds in a ‘modern age’ of seminary formation

Fr Joseph Taphorn during mass
Fr. Joseph Taphorn, rector and vice president at The Saint Paul Seminary.

A letter from Fr. Joseph Taphorn, rector of The Saint Paul Seminary:

Dear friends,

This past spring, I celebrated my 25th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. As the saying goes, how time flies! I am grateful to God for these many years of ministry. Around the same time as my anniversary, the Church was celebrating the 30th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s landmark instruction on priestly formation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, or “I Will Give You Shepherds,” which launched what I call the “modern age of seminary formation.” This instruction was brand-new when I was entering seminary, so I was not able to benefit from its full implementation.

For example, when I went to seminary, we often said, “I am going off to study for the priesthood.” We cast the process in mainly academic terms — you went to seminary, earned a degree in theology, and then were ordained a priest when you completed your “studies.” But it was St. John Paul II who gave voice to and emphasized the need for a robust human formation that undergirds everything else. He coined the now-familiar language of the “four dimensions of formation” — human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral — or, in other words, formation of the whole person. It’s a much broader vision of priestly formation than just academic studies. And since then, the Church has gone on to stress the importance of integrating these four dimensions, so that they do not stand alone, but really strengthen and build on one another.

The mission of our seminary takes its cue from this language: “To provide integrated, Catholic formation for those called to serve as priests, deacons or lay leaders in their local Church.”

This sums up our work at The Saint Paul Seminary. First in the list of those we serve are priests and future priests, and that is intentional. We were founded by Archbishop John Ireland more than 125 years ago as a seminary, so priestly formation will always be at the heart of what we do. During the last fiscal year, we saw unprecedented growth in enrolled seminarians (30 percent) and welcomed five new sending dioceses.

At the same time, we know that to fulfill our seminary’s ultimate vision, “a Church on fire with the Holy Spirit and a world transformed in Jesus Christ,” we need not only well-formed priests, but also permanent deacons and lay leaders to animate and serve the faithful. Our vision calls for the entire Church to go out and preach the gospel in confidence and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So we are thrilled to also be able to serve the Church in the areas of permanent diaconal and lay formation.

Our benefactors and friends have positioned us to be a center of ecclesial formation in the upper Midwest. We have secured long-term funding to provide for our core program of seminarian formation, even as we have launched important initiatives to provide formation for permanent deacons and lay leaders. We have also been able to launch significant programs to accompany those men who are already ordained, so that they can continue to be the joyful shepherds that our Church needs today.

As faithful donors and supporters of this great mission, you, too, can be proud that with sound fiscal management and the generosity of so many, we not only successfully completed the Joyful Catholic Leaders campaign, but we also exceeded our annual fundraising goal. We remain confident in the future thanks to people like you who stand with us and are enthusiastic about our mission.

Thank you again for your generosity and support in making a way for these courageous men and women to serve as joyful, Catholic leaders in our Church and our world.

Sincerely Yours in Christ,

Reverend Joseph C. Taphorn
Rector and Vice President, The Saint Paul Seminary

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