Diocese Sets Up Fund to Help Educate Seminarians
As any parent with a child in college knows, a college education is not cheap. With that in mind, several years ago, Bishop Emeritus R. Daniel Conlon identified a need for there to be a permanent avenue to fund the education of seminarians in the Diocese of Joliet.
The cost for educating a seminarian can be up to $50,000 per year, said Brian Schroeder, the diocesan chief financial officer. Usually, those on the road to becoming priests spend an average of six to eight years in seminary before being ordained.
“It’s a growing cost for the diocese,” added Jane Lagger, the diocese chief development officer. The reasons for the increases are because the diocese has more seminarians to educate — 29 as of November 2020, as compared to 20 in 2006 — and because of the rising costs of a collegiate education.
“Creating an endowment was the smart thing to do,” Lagger said.
She was referring to the creation, in 2016 by Bishop Conlon, of “I Will Give you Shepherds — The Seminarian Endowment Campaign,” whose mission is to raise $15 million to establish a permanent endowment fund to help defray a portion of the costs of educating seminarians on a long-term basis. Thus, the money will go to pay for their room and board, tuition and living expenses while they are studying for the priesthood.
So far, the Seminarian Endowment Fund has received more than $10.7 million in donation and planned gifts.
“I am incredibly grateful for the generous support and sacrifice so many men and women make in our diocese to educate and form our seminarians and future priests,” said Father Steven Borello, the diocesan vocations director. “I can only carry out my work if I have people to support me.”
Schroeder also is grateful for those who have donated because of what is at stake.
“The education of seminarians is a primary ministry for the diocese,” Schroeder said. “This cost is a major investment for the diocese, but of utmost importance is to ensure well-formed priests are available to minister to the faithful in the years to come.”
He added that, through the years, the diocese has been able to cover these costs, and the costs of our other ministries, through the generous gifts that it receives from donors during its Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal (CMAA).
But the rising educational costs meant that having the Seminarian Endowment Fund as a separate trust, with the donations there restricted for the sole purpose of educating seminarians, would be an added benefit to help ensure funds will always be available to assist seminarians with their formation.
“All donations placed in the trust are professionally managed following United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’ guidelines,” Schroeder said. “A portion of the earnings from the trust are eligible to be distributed annually to aid in covering educational costs. As these costs continue to increase, distributions from the endowment will allow us to meet these costs and free up funds from the CMAA to support the 30 other valuable ministries of the diocese, such as Catholic schools, Catholic Charities, and youth and young adult formation.”
Jeff Kennedy, a parishioner at Visitation Church in Elmhurst and a member of the diocesan development council since 2011, is a faithful supporter of the fund — with donations and effort, specifically — and of vocations, in general.
He is aware of the decline in the number of men pursuing a vocation to the priesthood, which is one of the reasons why he sees helping more men get educated in the seminary as vital. He is encouraged by the success of the diocese in recent years in recruiting, forming and ordaining highly-qualified young men to the priesthood and placing them in the parishes.
In paraphrasing what he has heard Bishop Conlon say in the past, Kennedy said, Priests are the heart of our parishes. Without priests, there is no Eucharist. And without the Eucharist, there is no Church. It’s a powerful statement.”
One of the men who was the recipient of people’s generosity, Father Eduardo Flores-García, is the parochial vicar at St. Petronille Church in Glen Ellyn. He was ordained a priest in 2019, and he reflected in a recent homily on how the generosity of people in the diocese helped him as a seminarian.
“Many of you know that, before coming here five years ago, I was in a specific religious community in Mexico,” Father Flores-Garcia said. “Living as a religious brother within the same community for more than a decade, I didn’t [have any financial resources]. So, when I left that community to become a priest, I was as poor as a ‘church mouse,’ as the American expression goes. Definitely, when God brought me to this diocese — which I love — I had not a single penny in my pocket, nor any pesos! Believe me, the new reality was difficult. I knew that, even though my parents are living here, I could not ask them for financial support. I thought to myself: you are too old to be asking them for money.
“Fortunately, thanks to the generosity of you and many other people throughout our diocese, my two fellow missionaries, who ‘happen’ to be my close friends, and I arrived here to start our preparation for the priesthood in this diocese. Coincidence? I know not. It was God’s plan.”
Father Flores-Garcia then went on to share what some of the things that the diocese provided he and his other seminarians with, including fees for their passports, visas, airline tickets, English classes, and their entire education at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, OH.
“With all my heart, I have to admit that without your support and your generosity, [the three of us, who are now priests] could not have achieved those things,” he said. “I can say from my heart that we three are blessed. I am deeply blessed. And, through us, many have been blessed.”