My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I am writing this week from the state of Michigan, where I am visiting the Orchard Lake Schools near Detroit. The Orchard Lake Schools are celebrating their 125th anniversary this year. I am here with Father Christopher House, vocation director for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, since there is a vocation dimension to our visit that I will explain shortly.
The Orchard Lake Schools were founded in the late 19th century when the need arose for priests to care for Polish immigrants. In January 1879, Father Leopold Moczygemba, a Polish Franciscan priest, secured permission from Pope Leo XIII to establish a seminary in the United States to train men for the priesthood for that purpose. Father Moczygemba entrusted this papal charter to Father Joseph Dabrowski, another Polish immigrant.
In July 1885, the cornerstone was laid for Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary on Detroit’s east side. The first class of students enrolled in December 1886. After 24 years of growth and expansion, larger quarters were required and in 1909 the seminary was transferred to Orchard Lake, some 25 miles northwest of Detroit, to the scenic grounds of the former Michigan Military Academy.
Three distinct schools emerged from a restructuring of the seminary in 1927-28, each with a four-year program: Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, St. Mary’s College and St. Mary’s Preparatory. St. Mary’s College is now a college of Madonna University.
Originally intended to train Polish-American seminarians born in the United States, Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary now is dedicated to preparing foreign-born seminarians, primarily from Poland, to serve the Catholic Church in the United States. The seminary draws inspiration from the missionary zeal of its patrons, Ss. Cyril and Methodius, who brought Christianity to the Slavic peoples. The seminary sees its mission today as forming missionaries as evangelizers for our country in the 21st century.
In addition to coming to Orchard Lake to join in their 125th anniversary celebrations, Father House and I met with the rector of Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in the hope of recruiting some seminarians for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Although Springfield does not have a large Polish immigrant population, the priests that are ordained from Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary are not necessarily looking to serve Polish-speaking Catholics. With intensive training in the English language and American culture, the graduates of the Orchard Lake Schools are prepared to serve anywhere in the United States. In fact, priests ordained from Orchard Lake last year are now serving in such diverse places as the Archdiocese of Hartford in Connecticut, the Diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts, the Diocese of Bridgeport in Connecticut, the Diocese of Charleston in South Carolina, the Diocese of Orlando in Florida, and the Diocese of Santa Rosa in California. My prayer is that someday soon we will add the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois to that list.
Why don’t we just focus on recruiting seminarians born in Illinois or at least somewhere in the United States rather than from another country? Certainly a locally-born clergy should be a priority for any diocese, but one of my primary responsibilities as your bishop is to see to it that you have enough priests to serve in our parishes. As I visit parishes throughout central Illinois, I plan to bring our vocation director, Father Christopher House, with me so that we can make vocations a topic for each one of my parish visits. At the same time, our local church will be enriched by having seminarians and priests from other countries. The word “catholic” means universal, and as the Catholic Church is an international community of faith, an international representation among our clergy will give our local community of faith a flavor of diversity that reflects the face of the universal church throughout the world.
Please join me in praying for the success of these efforts.
May God give us this grace. Amen.