1968 was a tumultuous year in America, which affected us at St. John’s. I witnessed our seminary rector, Fr. Bill Coleman, being very distraught and wearing a black arm band following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. We would later deal with the killing of Robert F. Kennedy, the riotous Democratic convention in Chicago, and the release of Humanae Vitae, the encyclical letter of Pope Paul VI, addressing the delicate matters of family planning and use of artificial means of birth control. In the discourse that followed, I began to hear about the importance of conscience that somehow seemed to take first position at times over the more hard and fast code of conduct, which was embodied in the Catechism and taught to me in my Catholic education. There was something about the supremacy of conscience that just didn’t quite ring true to me.
Around the seminary, word was out that the future of our school home was in question. Gerard Frey, then Bishop of Savannah, sent out a diocesan letter in May 1968, explaining that a new approach in priestly formation was necessary. Bishop Frey wrote: “Since the priest is increasingly called upon to share the life of his people and be a part of their lives, he needs an education which is more centered among them”. The message was clear – young men discerning a vocation would be best served living at home and attending the local high school, thus making the high school seminary superfluous. When we heard the news from our conflicted rector that St. John’s was closing, and we would not have the opportunity to graduate the following year, our sense of loss took a long time to fully appreciate. Returning to Augusta, living at home again and attending Aquinas High School would just not be the same.
To help keep priestly vocations alive among our students, Fr. Coleman was appointed to lead a community-based Fraternity of John XXIII, and I attended a few meetings at Sacred Heart Church in Augusta. The distractions of living at home, adjusting to Aquinas and having the freedom to begin dating became a greater focus, and I never felt the strong pull that I have heard about to continue a pursuit of the priesthood. Within two years, I met my wife and God’s will and purpose was made manifest through a call to become a husband and father of a rather large family. My “Journey of Faith” would continue, drawing on my parent’s influence and upbringing in the St. Joseph Catholic Church years and, of course, the St. John’s seminary experience. Subsequently, I received many blessings and was presented with lots of opportunities to serve Jesus and His kingdom. Praise God!
More to come later. Thanks for reading!