The Boards of Trustees of two of the three seminaries which our students attend met Thursday at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and on Friday at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. Our collegians are formed and educated at the former as are college graduates who lack the credits in philosophy and need also to spend some time acclimating to the spiritual life, spiritual direction and to prayer prior to beginning theology studies. The College Seminary is owned by the Archdiocese of Miami which assumes both the financial and staffing responsibility, a sizable commitment of money each year and priests. It was my special privilege to have served as the fifth Rector of St. John Vianney from 1979 through 1984 so a part of my heart is invested there. The program as it exists today is far superior to what I superintended in those five years and the current Rector, Father Roberto Garza, is doing a fine job. All the students major in philosophy which puts them in good intellectual stead to take on the study of theology. Both disciplines are somewhat abstract with very practical applications to life and belief nonetheless and the faculty at the college is, I believe, second to none in the United States. The interviews and time I spend with our seminarians always seems to return to the same thematic and that is the college has an excellent, demanding academic program but the professors are dedicated to helping all the students comprehend the subject matter. A Board meeting at the college level, however, is reasonably easy for me to attend as I have neither a financial nor priest personnel “dog in the hunt.” I am very grateful to the past and present Archbishops of Miami for their unfailing support of the program at St. John Vianney which is expensive monetarily and priest-personnel wise. In hard times in both instances, critics always take aim at the college seminary and suggest its demise. Instead it has grown stronger with a larger number of students and an even more capable administration and faculty than in my time, myself included.
The Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul, however, and its Board are another matter. Since all seven Florida dioceses own that seminary and must provide the priest personnel, at each Board meeting we always do at least two important things: set and monitor a budget and expenses and plan for priest faculty members. The cost-per-seminarian at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary hovers around $55,000 per year depending mostly on the size of the enrollment. More seminarians, the less the per capita expense as one would expect. Each diocese pays for the room, board and tuition of its seminarians which currently is set at approximately $30,000 per year. The balance is made up through a yearly subsidy payment charged to each diocese based on its Catholic population. Additionally, the seminary opened in the early ’60′s and is in constant state of repair and replacement so additional monies are sometimes required for that. When the seminary went “regional” in the early ’80′s, the original six bishops who agreed to join ponied up about 7.3 million dollars for an endowment fund and later in the late ’90′s when the one hold-out Florida diocese decided to join, they made a contribution of an additional $700,000 to that same endowment fund. The funds are invested in equity and fixed market funds and are supervised by a very diligent committee of lay women and men from the Diocese of Palm Beach who meet regularly to gauge the success of our investment managers. We were pleased to learn that after experiencing the same significant drop in value as most of the rest of us endured when the housing market and banking pranks of three to four years ago, the endowment fund now sits at a value of 12.7 million dollars. A covenant in the original agreement of the founding bishops of the regional seminary concept was that the corpus could never be invaded to the point that the fund would be less than the approximately 8 million dollars the owning dioceses have contributed. There have been raids on the endowment fund in the past (a loan subsequently repaid to the trust for 1.2 million dollars for roof replacement, for example) and had we left the endowment fund alone since its inception, it would most likely sit somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million dollars.
But money is one half of the challenge of maintaining a superior seminary for our men. Providing the faculty is the other part. I have always said any bishop will be more willing to write a check than assign away for special service a gifted priest to form and educate our future priests. The Diocese of St. Petersburg currently has given for the last ten years to the seminary one of its greatly gifted priests, Father Michael Muhr, who is a spiritual director to the men and who is loved and admired by faculty, staff and students alike. Additionally, we have two priests currently pursuing graduate studies who will be available to join the faculty in 2012 and 2013. I am deeply committed to giving to the seminary any priest of this diocese who would be an excellent role model for our seminarians as well as a gifted teacher and/or spiritual director. It is probably this diocese’s most important gift or commitment to the vitality of priestly service and ministry here in the years ahead.
So the two seminaries are “treasures we know not” in this state. If any reader has the resources and wishes to make a contribution to the development funds of either place, contact me. In the months ahead, I will try to brush away more of the “sand” which covers the pearls of great price which are St. John Vianney College Seminary and the Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul.