Benedictines form first steps in seminary

Most seminarians studying for the Diocese of Jackson start their studies and formation at St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, La. The Diocese of Jackson does not have a seminary of its own so they have to go out of state to begin their education.
“We count 10 seminarians right now with another man in the application process,” said Father Matthew Simmons, director of the Office of Vocations. “Two new seminarians, Colby Mitchell and Andrew Bowden, will be pursuing their undergraduate degrees at St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, La.
“An undergraduate seminarian is required to complete so many philosophy courses as a prerequisite to his graduate studies in theology that he will almost invariably finish with an undergraduate degree in philosophy. Two seminarians will be primarily studying English at St. Joseph Seminary. The others will be studying theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans,” he explained.
Students refer to St. Joseph Seminary College as St. Ben’s. It is part of a Benedictine Monastery and is marking its 125th anniversary this year.
The Abbey and Seminary College began it’s rich history in 1889 with the arrival of four Benedictine monks from St. Meinrad, Indiana. It was their humble task to repeat the ancient task of establishing a monastery and “a school for the Lord’s service,” in southern Louisiana. During the past 125 years, the college has educated many of the Gulf South’s civic and religious leaders.
It has founded and staffed numerous parishes in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas. By sponsoring and promoting programs in both liturgical and secular arts, the Abbey and Seminary College has had a significant impact on the area’s culture. An abiding spiritual presence which is manifested in its daily rhythms of prayer, has also been maintained in the community. This year the seminary broke enrollment records just in time for a new dorm to open to house all the students.
“Today, we continue to educate young men for the Catholic priesthood, and our reach has widened. We are home to seminarians from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee,” said Vanessa Courere, development director for the Abbey. “We have seminarians ranging in age from 18 to 38 who have received their call to serve. This year we graduated 27 fine young men, including three from the Diocese of Jackson, Nicholas Adam, Mark Shoffner and Aaron Williams,” she added.
The Abbey serves more than just future priests. St. Joseph sponsors an art atelier to teach drawing and painting to anyone who wants to learn. Brothers bake thousands of loaves of bread to distribute to the poor using donations to fund the program, called Pennies for Bread. It offers a retreat center and hosts one of the region’s largest youth gatherings, Abbey Youth Fest, a long weekend of worship, song, fun and exposure to vocation opportunities for high school and college students from across the South.
For years the Abbey has been making caskets for their Benedictine community members. Following Hurricane Katrina, which left many downed trees on the property, the abbey started crafting caskets to sell to the broader community. After some legal issues with funeral directors and state law, the courts granted the Abbey the rights to make and sell caskets to anyone wishing to have one.
The Abbey is offering a series of public lectures and concerts as part of its 125th anniversary celebration.  On Friday, Sept. 26, at 7 p.m. in Benet Hall Biblical scholar Luke Timothy Johnson will present  “The Prophetic Role of Monasticism Today.” Robert LeBlanc will play an organ concert on Sunday, Oct. 5, at 3 p.m. in the Abbey Church and on Sunday, Nov. 9, at 3 p.m. three men will present a concert and choral performance in the Abbey Church demonstrating Saint Joseph Abbey’s contribution to liturgical music.
See more about all the offerings at St. Ben’s on the Abbey website,