The Friday before Thanksgiving is a day of great rejoicing for many of our seminarians. For one thing, their Thanksgiving break has arrived and they’ll have a week to spend with family and friends and prepare for their final exams. That Friday is also the day of the annual bonfire at St. Joseph Seminary College. This tradition that goes back many decades and so many of our priests have taken part in it (including myself). The students at St. Joseph (which, because it is a Benedictine monastery, we know as St. Ben’s – confusing I know!) spend the early weeks of November gathering and stacking timber that has fallen around the
property and then stuffing it with as much brush as they can. Thankfully there are 1200 acres of trees at St. Ben’s and usually a hurricane will have pushed through earlier in the fall and provided plenty of raw material. The night before the bonfire the students and faculty have a gathering to bless the fire and ask the Lord to make the next evening a time of fraternity and community that will build up the future priests of the church. Then on bonfire day the men from Notre Dame in New Orleans cross Lake Pontchartrain to join their younger brethren for a football game followed by a great dinner and the lighting of the fire.
My favorite bonfire memories were usually from the football game. It’s amazing how pumped up you can get to compete against another team when there is only one other team to compete against and you only play them once a year. I used to always play receiver, not because I was athletic, but because I was a good field spacer because I knew all the routes and I could open up the field for our more athletic teammates to get open. One time, our quarterback threw me a bone and tossed me a touchdown pass on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line. I was so honored that he trusted me in that moment, but when we talked about it on the sideline, he said — “that was 4th down? I thought it was 3rd or I would have never thrown that to you!”
Those moments are particularly fun for me to reflect on now that I am walking with our current seminarians. Their great memories will be different from mine, but I know that the Lord will give them the same encouragement from these events that I received. The fraternity experienced in seminary is special, and it has endured long after ordination. We have so much great support for our seminarians throughout the diocese, and that support doesn’t just help them learn about theology and liturgy, it gives them opportunities to build friendships that will help sustain their ministry for decades to come.
Father Nick Adam