Ad Multos Annos!

Recently I read an article in the Catholic Standard and Times about the continued effort to establish an alumni association over the past couple of years at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. The fascinating factor regarding this effort is the fact that those ordained, as priests from Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary are in perhaps the most identifiable alumni association that exists Holy Orders. Clearly, there is no need to establish an alumni association based on “priest-alumni”, that de facto already exists and these men are easily identified in priestly ministry. The article indicates there are 1200 to 1500 living alumni of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. Well I contend there are many more. For example, one needs to consider the alumni that attended the College division of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, received their undergraduate degrees and then choose not to pursue priestly ministry. Then of course, there are Seminary graduates that attended the College division of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary and went on to the Upperside and were received into various stages of preparation for Catholic priesthood and choose to leave. Then there are the many religious & laity that have attended Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary as students of the Religious Studies Division, have receive their undergraduate degrees, Master’s degrees or certificates in religious education. They too are alumni and alumnae of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary but remain however an unrecognized component of the long academic and spiritual traditions of the venerable institution.

A few months ago, I called the Development Office at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary to request a copy of The Brook. Please remember I attended the institution from 1978-1985, both college and graduate studies. I was told I was removed from the alumni list because; a. budget cuts had caused the alumni list to be limited to priest graduates and b. because I had not recently made a monetary contribution to Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary’s development fund I was considered a “dead” mailing prospect. Honestly, Overbrook needs to consider it really has more non-ordained alumni as part of its heritage than ordained clergy. Many men have gone through Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary as students and have chosen careers outside of priestly ministry. While my own personal career is one of a business nature, telecommunications and freelance writing, there are many other bona fide Seminary graduates that are college professors, lawyers, judges, military officers, husbands and fathers that all hail from the stock of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary’s educational traditions. In the 23 years, since I left Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary I have physically been on the campus twice. Once, I was there in the 90’s and was not permitted to give a friend a tour of the Chapel on the Lower Side because a “rent a guard” did not believe I was alumni, and the second time I attended the 175th anniversary dinner as the guest of a classmate Honorable Bernard E.DeLury who was unable to attend and asked me to make use of his tickets. The other ticket was used by the perpetually young Sheila at my request. During the dinner, I was asked for my check to pay for both of the previously paid tickets, or would I prefer to be billed. That was not a pleasant feeling considering I myself was a guest of another person that graciously abdicated the use of the tickets.

Over the years, I have endured many discriminations at the hands of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. They have included being charged for a copy of my transcripts( priest alumni are not charged), refused access to the campus(priest alumni have free access to the campus and the facilities), accumulating 79 graduate credits in theology and not having a conferred Master’s Degree. Then when wanting to return to Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary to pursue a completed Master’s degree in religious studies I was told that my credits in theology were too old and not acceptable and I did not qualify for graduate school admission based upon my sub 3.0 college cumulative average at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. However that same sub 3.0 college cumulative average thirty years ago permitted me to study graduate theology while I was enrolled in the Master’s in Divinity program while a seminarian. However, the M.Div degree was no longer a viable alternative of studies because I needed to be part of the day school in preparation for Catholic priesthood. But I could be considered for a undergraduate course of studies in theology at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary to “see how things went!”. I was then denied admission for studies to the only educational instition I had ever attended!

Still after thirty years of enduring humiliation Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary continues to imply there are no alumni out there that are not Catholic priests. What about all of the Catholic priest alumni that for various legitimate and sometimes illegitimate reasons were ordained and have left active ministry? Are they still on the alumni list of contributors? Have they been asked to attend alumni celebrations?

Perhaps Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary would be better served if it welcomed home ALL of it’s graduates as faithful sons and daughters. The article by Lou Baldwin in the Catholic Standard and Times does not reflect the true span of alumni and alumnae of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. Rather the article emphasizes the unfortunate clericalism that sometimes discriminates against its most successful laity or religious graduates.
While a student at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, this author might not have been the brightest bulb in the packet of incandescent lights that now rank among the various stages of clerical Holy Orders, but I am still one of the bulbs that continues to successfully shine in a professional capacity outside of Holy Orders. The newly air-conditioned Chapel of the Immaculate Conception saw plenty of knee action from this former student that left at the end of third theology. The manicured lawns are that way because this graduate used a butter knife on the onion grass, painted the walls of the back stairs, planted quince bushes on the upper side and participated in many other social, spiritual and academic exercises as a Seminary student.

While a “new man” in the college this author too followed along and sang the Magnificat in Latin from reading it off the ceiling of Saint Martin’s Chapel. Every year I still look forward to the period of 40 Hours at the Seminary, Saint Charles Day, and ordinations to the diaconate and priesthood…but am never invited to attend any of our traditional heritages or activities.

When the Seminary community celebrated the beginning of it’s 175th anniversary at Old Saint Mary’s, I was there. However, I really was not welcome. The seminarians looked on the presence of a layperson in their midst as an intruder. I celebrate the fact that I attended the second oldest educational institution in the State of Pennsylvania. However, the institution does not even invite me or others like me to even enjoy a cup of coffee in the Seminary refectory to muse over our common experiences with seminary friends and companions.

Perhaps the day will come when a Seminary graduate that is not a priest or bishop or deacon will be part of the advisory board that convenes at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. The existing board doesn’t have one member that has ever spend a night at the institution. However, it does appear their ability to write substantial checks to the institutional advancement of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary is apparent.

Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary administration officials also forget the lay alumni in notifying us of important milestones about people at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. We lay alumni also would like to celebrate with our Seminary brothers the lives and deaths of Seminary staff members, new additions to the extended Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary family, promotion of priest to bishops or even to the rank of Cardinal and so on. Unfortunately we never have the invitation to come out to Overbrook for Mass and have lunch or dinner in our old haunt(We would even go Dutch if given the chance!)

It might even be advantageous for Overbrook to look up some of its second class and third class graduates. Perhaps if given some acknowledgement and consideration we would even make a substantial contribution in time, money, energy and influence to support our alma mater. After all, there is life outside of Catholic priesthood.
I would like to return to the halls of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary and view the art and the architecture and soak up the cumulative excitement of generations of students that are presently students there and share my own pleasant memories of my days as a student there as well. Perhaps there should be a monthly lay alumni open house dinner…pot luck, come as you are, type of gathering for all of us. Both ordained, non-ordained and religious of both sexes could come and share our common experiences we collectively call Overbrook. Maybe even we could all come out and share in the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, or the celebration of Holy Eucharist together, then have a Sunday brunch, or seminary alumni family day. Wouldn’t it be great to hang out and network with other men and women with which we have shared so much of our formative educational and spiritual journeys in Catholic faith. This author would especially enjoy catching up with former professors, former classmates, current priests and even meeting the families and children of fellow former seminarians.

Despite all experiences both positive and negative at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary…it is still a place I call home in a bittersweet manner. As a graduate of the venerable institution, 2 visits to the campus over the past 30 years are really not enough to appreciate the great depth of personal and spiritual growth and development my seven and a half years there truly represented. It would be a great thing if someday my own daughter attended Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary’s Religious Studies division, not as a rebellious Catholic that seeks to pursue Holy Orders, but as a faithful Catholic that seeks faith through understanding in the tradition of Saint Anselm.
In the meanwhile though, I will read my copy of The Brook online and continue to wait for former Seminary associates to never return phone calls, respond to emails, letters or invitations.

Every time I pass by Wynnwood Road I remember great moments like the sudden flood of September 1978 (remember Bishop Burbidge), metaphysics with the future Cardinal Foley, Christine dishing out good soup in the dining room and exorcising the property of onion grass with a butter knife. I hope every new class learns the words of Mary’s Song of Praise from the ceiling of Saint Martin’s Chapel. Cherish those days, you will be never welcomed back if you never get ordained.

Ad Multos Annos!

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