Our Lady of Providence Seminary opens new academic year


PROVIDENCE — Our Lady of Providence Seminary marked the opening of its new academic year on Sept. 6 with Holy Mass celebrated by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, followed by a dinner with the seminarians studying there.
The bishop, in his opening remarks in the chapel, said that he is always happy to visit the seminary, especially at the opening of a new academic year.
“We come to pray this evening in a very particular way for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will help us have the faith and the wisdom and the courage of the Apostles who Jesus called,” Bishop Tobin said.
According to Father Christopher Murphy, rector of the seminary, there are a total of 13 seminarians currently enrolled at Our Lady of Providence Seminary. Of the 13, three are beginning their priestly formation this year and six are studying from the Diocese of Providence. The other seminarians come from the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire; the Archdiocese of Hartford; and the Archdiocese of Boston.
The average age for those currently enrolled at Our Lady of Providence Seminary is 21. Besides their seminary training, every student currently enrolled at the seminary is also enrolled in college studies.
A major theme in the bishop’s homily was the reliance of the faithful on the Holy Spirit.
He noted how the Gospel reading for the Mass, which describes how Jesus set aside some of his followers to be Apostles and commissioned them to preach and to heal, can help the seminarians to better prepare for their future mission. Like the Apostles, those studying for the priesthood are preparing to proclaim the Gospel to a culture that is often apathetic or even hostile to their message, in a world that is constantly changing, he said.
Bishop Tobin noted that the Apostles, after the Ascension, were fearful of living out their mission, but were empowered to do so by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
“Jesus had left them at the Ascension. They knew they were supposed to do something, but didn’t know exactly what to do,” Bishop Tobin said. “They were hiding behind locked doors in the upper room, fearful to go outside, until the Holy Spirit came upon them.”
Because of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles were “confident in their message, they were convicted by their message, and they were empowered by the Holy Spirit,” he said.
Those who serve the Church, the Bishop continued, are able to proclaim the Gospel amidst the hardships of the modern world because they, too, receive the same gifts of courage and wisdom from the Holy Spirit.
When asked what he saw as the biggest challenge for seminarians in the upcoming academic year, Father James Sullivan, O.P., director of spiritual formation for the seminary, said, “I think it’s the same as in every year, that is, to discern what it is the Lord is asking of them.”
“The priesthood is a beautiful vocation,” Father Sullivan continued. “It just takes the right discernment to really understand oneself and the will of the Lord, to see if the two of those are the same.”
He also noted that the start of this academic year overlaps with the start of a year of Eucharistic renewal called for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Seminarians mindful of this can use their time in seminary to deepen their devotion to the Eucharist, and therefore better imitate Christ, he said.
The notion of imitating Christ was a major theme in the spiritual journey of many of the seminarians.
“The biggest lesson for me has been the fact that as a priest you are radically available,” said Adam Habershaw, a seminarian of the Diocese of Providence. “When the phone rings at 2 a.m. to go to the hospital, you are there. When a family needs something, you go there. As a shepherd is always with his sheep, keeping them safe, so is the priest with his flock,” he said.
Habershaw, a parishioner of St. Paul Parish in Cranston, said that what originally attracted him to the priesthood was his desire to bring people closer to Christ. “What draws me most to the priesthood is bringing God to man.” This expresses itself most poignantly, Habershaw noted, in the act of baptizing, absolving people of sins, and celebrating the Mass.
Father Murphy told the Rhode Island Catholic that many of the opportunities involved in seminary formation go hand-in-hand with many of the challenges.
For the seminarians there are opportunities for spiritual growth – including academic pursuits – along with opportunities to serve in ministry and participate in the liturgical life of the Church.
These opportunities connect them to “a sincere and strong commitment to spiritual growth,” while deepening their appreciation for the contemplative life through meditative prayer and study of the Scriptures,” Father Murphy said.
At the same time, seminarians must also learn to see and reverence God in the beauty of creation.
“This is not just a challenge for seminarians, but indeed for all priests,” he said.
Father Murphy noted that a unique strength exhibited by the current seminarians and any man discerning a vocation to the priesthood is sincerity.
“The men who show up at the door of the vocations office have no illusions about the challenges of living faith publicly today, not to mention the call to priesthood, which involves such counter-cultural aspects such as celibacy, obedience, commitment to prayer, and simplicity of life,” he said.
“Our men possess a certain degree of ‘holy grit’ or resilience if you want to call it that. They embrace the possibility of a priestly calling, well aware that they will face the cross in various forms. I find this particularly encouraging.”


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