'Surviving' the Seminary

Posted by Holly Benner on Jun 29, 2022 4:58:25 PM


As a Catholic of only 23 years, I have participated in many different groups and organizations to try and find my niche in the Church. One of my favorite Catholic organizations that I have been a member of is the Serra Club. The Serra Club and its members are devoted to promoting vocations to the priesthood and Religious life.

June is typically the month when ordinations take place in my home Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Throughout this month, I often find myself spending extra time in prayer, praying for anybody who may be discerning the priesthood. I often reflect on the seminarians who I have met throughout my years in the Church, each one at a different step of their priestly journey. I have been fortunate to watch many seminarians grow into amazing priests, and I have attended quite a few ordinations over the last almost quarter century. Out of all the amazing people that I have witnessed take their oath, to this day there is still one ordination that stays particularly fresh in my mind.

With my devotion to the Serra Club developed during my early Catholic journey, I made it a point to visit seminaries on my mission trips. I was always so eager to meet the men who, many out of poverty, found strength and love in their hearts for God so strong that they wanted to devote the rest of their lives to serving Him. Out of all the seminaries that I had visited one in particular remains unforgettable.

I was in Nairobi, Kenya, staying with a group of Religious Sisters known as the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary. While there, I was asked to visit a local seminary and share my own calling to the Catholic faith. I, of course, said “yes,” and when I showed up that day, I was greeted and given a tour of the grounds. On this walking tour, I came to find out that most of the seminarians have been enrolled in the seminary since they were as young as 10 years old. This came as a surprise to me.

As I walked around with the priests in charge of the seminary, I was shown everything from the living quarters to the chapel to the dining area and recreation room. I will never forget rounding a corner on the last leg of my tour, and my heart sinking. To my surprise, I found out that the seminarians were drinking and bathing with contaminated water from a local river. Here the seminary was in dire need of a new water borehole and until funding was provided to fix the damaged borehole, the young men had to drink/use the local water supply.

Words will never do justice to how this water supply looked. To paint a less graphic picture for you, the water was making some of the men so sick that they were not surviving; thus, not living to see their ordination day. I knew that I simply must find a way to supply these men with a new water borehole! Eventually funding was provided to not only fix the damaged borehole, but also provide the seminary with two additional water boreholes.

After the completion of the construction, I made a return trip to that seminary. This was nothing out of the usual for me, as I often liked to check up on projects in person and experience firsthand the happiness from the funds donors have provided. However, much to my surprise, the day that I was scheduled to visit the seminary was also the first ordination day since the clean water had been provided. I will never forget witnessing the men being ordained that day, all of whom thanked me for helping provide them with the resources to “survive the seminary.” I always thought it was a slightly funny thing to say. Many people after graduating from college like to say, “I survived college.” However, for these seminarians they quite literally survived, while some of their peers unfortunately did not.

Sadly, these occurrences happen far too often around the world. Globally many seminarians in developing countries suffer due to the lack of hygienic resources. This is where the support of the Pontifical Mission Societies comes in, through the Society of St. Peter Apostle, one of the Pope’s mission societies which provides for the education of mission seminarians – like the young men I met in Kenya. And, from time to time, that support also includes providing a source of clean water for a seminary as well.

May the Lord bless all those preparing to be priests!  May our prayers and support especially accompany mission seminarians on their journey to the priesthood! 



 Hol(l)y Headlines!” ~ a bit of a play on words ~ is an "Extra! Extra! Read All About It" call to build missionary momentum as part of our ongoing effort to educate and motivate the next generation of the Catholic Church's missionaries.

With "Hol(l)y Headlines!" it's all about the "news from the Missions you can use in your life" and "how you can be a part of it through the Missionary Childhood Association (MCA) and the Pontifical Mission Societies."

The blog's author, Holly Benner, is National Coordinator for the Missionary Childhood Association. She's also the mission education coordinator in her home Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania. She has a passion for the missions and experience in making mission real at the diocesan level. For 10 years, Holly traveled frequently to Africa as president of a faith-based non-profit that she founded, one focused on developing sustainable water resources among poor communities.

Topics: Catholic Missions, help the Pope's missions, prayer, sacrifice, Kenya, Africa, priestly ordination, Society of St. Peter Apostle, seminarians

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