February 8, 2012 |The Long Island Catholic Vol. 50, No. 39 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
Last Saturday we had the regular quarterly meeting of the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) at St. Matthew’s in Dix Hills. The DPC is composed of about two dozen members of the faithful, most of whom are active in their parish pastoral councils and have been suggested to me by the respective deans of the 14 deaneries. Members serve a three-year term and act as a board to give me counsel and advice and to share with me their thoughts and their hopes for the good of the Church of Rockville Centre. I enjoy these meetings and learn a great deal from the exchange and the conversation with such committed laity along with some religious.
Last week among the agenda items was a report I shared with them on the progress being made regarding seminary formation and ongoing formation for priests in the three “downstate dioceses” of New York, Brooklyn and Rockville Centre. I thought later it might be interesting to the faithful of our Diocese as a whole. So here it is!
A few years ago, Cardinal-elect Dolan, Bishop DiMarzio and I shared breakfast at the archbishop’s residence on Madison Avenue. We gather from time to time just to talk about the pastoral challenges we face together and, through that means and telephone calls, we have a very positive and, we hope, productive relationship of three friends who rejoice that we are together in our pastoral service as your bishops. One area where we have had some sharing but needed more reflection and possible development was our mutual concern to have the best possible seminary formation for men discerning a call to priesthood. The institutions currently in existence were our seminaries for “major seminarians,” the post-college programs that form men for ordination. Among us we had two: St. Joseph Seminary in Dunwoodie, N.Y. and Immaculate Conception Seminary at Huntington here in our Diocese. For college level and pre-theology, we had two: Immaculate Conception Seminary Residence in Douglaston, Queens and St. John Neuman House in Dunwoodie. In addition Brooklyn has a pre-seminary, Cathedral Prep High School in Elmhurst, Queens.
Our idea was to see if we could offer the best possible formation with the best possible faculty in the best possible facilities for all three dioceses together. Our commitment was to ensure that all three major institutions, Dunwoodie, Douglaston and Huntington, would continue as institutions dedicated to formation and education, each with its own specific purpose and expertise.
Last year we accomplished phase one of the project when St. John Neuman Residence in Dunwoodie closed and the college seminarians from New York joined the seminarians of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre at Douglaston. This September, phase two will complete the basic amalgamation part of the project when the Brooklyn and Rockville Centre seminarians, along with others studying at our seminary in Huntington, will join the New York seminarians and others at St. Joseph Seminary in Dunwoodie, which will be now the major seminary for all three dioceses and other dioceses and religious congregations who may wish to be part of that program.
Does that leave Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington empty? Not at all! The three bishops are committed to making our seminary the place where ongoing formation, conferences, study weeks and retreats for priests will take place for the priests of all three dioceses. We will do that by establishing at Huntington the Sacred Heart Institute for priests. I have already named Msgr. Richard Henning S.T.D., Professor of Biblical Theology, as the new rector both of Immaculate Conception Seminary and of the Sacred Heart Institute. He has been teaching at our seminary and has a well founded reputation as a teacher, a scholar and as one of the leading exponents in seminary of the kind of new forms of long-distance teaching and learning that are accomplished through the media of communications, Internet and web, Skype and others. This is an exciting new venture and will be one of the few places in our country where there is an institute dedicated to the ongoing spiritual, theological and professional updating and formation for priests as they continue their own priestly ministry in their respective dioceses and religious congregations.
In addition, our Immaculate Conception Seminary will maintain the many programs it currently has. These include the formation program for permanent deacons for our diocese with offerings for future permanent deacons in all three dioceses; the very successful and extremely important Master of Arts and Master of Pastoral Studies programs for the laity of our dioceses and others; the Pastoral Formation Institute (PFI) as well as retreats for priests, religious and laity both in English and Spanish. There is great potential for our institution to become a real leader in the field of formation and catechesis for all the People of God.
One example of this is a special four-day workshop on preaching to be held there June 4-8. A Festival of Preaching will bring together outstanding preachers and ministers of the Word such as Scott Hahn, Father Peter John Cameron, OP, and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, to name a few.
The transition is frankly much more complex than many would have thought. At present we are blessed to have the leadership of Father James Massa Ph.D., a priest of Brooklyn, professor of Systematic Theology both at Blessed John XXIII Seminary, Weston, and our own seminary. He has done an outstanding job of organizing committees to work on the many different issues that must be addressed and resolved. With him has been the able and dedicated work of Msgr. Peter Vaccari, the current rector of our Seminary who has been named the new rector of St. Joseph Seminary as of June of this year. Along with Msgr. Robert Thelen, rector of Immaculate Conception Seminary Residence in Douglaston, we three bishops have been blessed with the best of counsel and the wisest of collaborators.
As we move forward I ask all of you to support our seminarians and these institutions. Pray for vocations daily. Pray that the Spirit may guide us bishops and our colleagues in this most important endeavor to form the best of priests for tomorrow and to deepen and strengthen our priests of today for their life of priestly service to all the People of God in our dioceses.
Bishop Murphy has written a letter on recent government health rulings and conscience issues that will be read at all parishes this weekend. Visit our website for the complete text next week.