Jackson vocations office, New Orleans seminary both add staff

JACKSON – In February of this year Bishop Joseph Kopacz reorganized the Office of Vocations, forming a team to promote religious vocations within and outside the Diocese of Jackson. The office now has three employees, Father José de Jesús Sánchez acts as the director of recruitment, Father Brian Kaskie is the director of seminarians and Melisa Preuss-Muñoz is an administrative assistant.
Father Sánchez’s ministry is to travel throughout the diocese visiting Catholic high schools, parishes and colleges, to promote the priesthood as an option for young men, and religious life for both men and women. These visits provide Father Sánchez with the opportunity to discuss what it means to hear and follow God’s call.
Meeting with young adults enables him to discern who, among these young people, shows the interest and skills to enter into the religious life. He also continues to serve as associate pastor for the Catholic Community of Meridian.
In addition, Father Sánchez makes himself available to counsel those who find it difficult to hear God’s call, whether it be to the priesthood, religious life, marriage or single life. He commits himself to meet with the young people to talk about their dreams and God’s dreams for them. The end goal is to give young adults the means to evaluate themselves and God’s desires for them, so that they may reach holiness and help others to become holy as well.
Finally, if a young man decides to begin his priestly formation or a young woman, the religious life, Father Sánchez will help them apply to the seminary or religious community.
Father Brian Kaskie, director of seminarians, walks closely with those who are in seminary formation either at St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, La., where men pursue a college degree while going through initial discernment and at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans for graduate studies and final formation. Father Kaskie keeps in constant communication with the seminarians and helps to provide everything they might need during their years of discernment and formation.  He attends their evaluations and acts as a liaison between the seminary and Bishop Kopacz. He is also pastor of McComb St. Alphonsus Parish.
Melisa Preuss-Muñoz acts as a link between Father Sanchez, Father Kaskie, and the seminarians. She works in the chancery in Jackson. Her duties also include updating the vocations section of the website for the Diocese of Jackson, developing and distributing diocesan resources for religious vocations, and organizing and implementing various activities, such as Vocation Awareness Days, at schools.
“We are eager to answer any questions you may have about religious life and would like to help you in any possible. God calls us to the religious life in mysterious ways. If you feel you might hear the call or if you would like to speak with Father Sánchez about discerning God’s call, please call the office,” said Preuss-Muñoz.
Anyone can reach the Religious Vocations office by phone at 601-960-8484 or email at vocations@jacksondiocese.org.  Anyone can support the efforts to promote vocations by prayer and on social media by following Jackson Vocations on Facebook, Twitter (@jxnvocations), and the website (vocations.jacksondiocese.org).

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, http://www.saintjosephabbey.com.

Notre Dame provides graduate studies

Since the Diocese of Jackson does not have a seminary of its own, diocesan seminarians complete their formation and graduate studies at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. The original seminary was founded in 1838 in Plattville, Louisiana and moved several times before settling in its current location. All three of the diocese’s new priests graduated from there, as did Bishop Emeritus Joseph Latino. The following is an excerpt from the seminary’s history, written in part to celebrate the anniversary year:
Archbishop John W. Shaw (1918-1934) called a meeting of laymen at his Esplanade Avenue residence for the purpose of discussing with them the ways and means of erecting a substantial building on a site acquired in 1910.
An outcome of the August 20, 1920, meeting was the launch of a capital campaign. By the following January the campaign netted close to $1 million from some 50,000 subscribers. Encouraged by this broad-based display of interest and generosity towards a permanent major seminary, the archbishop commissioned the architect, General Allison Owen, to draw plans for Notre Dame Seminary.
The corner stone was laid for the handsome chateau-like building on May 7, 1922. The seminary began functioning on September 18, 1923, with 25 students from the three Louisiana dioceses registering for philosophical and theological courses. In 1925, the present Archbishop’s residence was built next to the seminary.
From the beginning of the seminary until 1967, the Marist Fathers of the Washington Province were in charge. The first rector was Father Charles Dubray, S.M. The number of students remained small through the formative years, not exceeding 60 until September 1932.
During his relatively short tenure, the Most Reverend John P. Cody (1962-1965) laid the groundwork for the emergence of Notre Dame Seminary into a provincial seminary exclusively for theological students.
Prior to the establishment in 1964 of the St. John Vianney Preparatory School, also located in the Carrollton section, diocesan seminarians normally spent six years at St. Joseph Preparatory Seminary (established by the Benedictines at Gessen, Louisiana in 1891) and then six more years at Notre Dame Seminary. St. Joseph Seminary College (in Covington, Louisiana since 1902) became a four-year college seminary in 1968, serving principally the province of New Orleans.
In addition to the Marist Fathers, diocesan priests and others of specialized competence have been professors and lecturers at Notre Dame Seminary since the arrival of Archbishop Philip M. Hannan in 1965.
Notre Dame Seminary observed its 90th anniversary during the 2013-2014 academic year.
As a graduate school and a seminary, Notre Dame Seminary continues to be an apostolic community of faith forming future priests for the church as well as a center of theological studies preparing the laity for ministry and leadership positions in the church. Take a virtual tour at www.nds.edu.
Editor’s note: to support seminarian education contact Father Matthew Simmons in the Office of Vocations, 601-960-8484.