Learning for Life
Seminarians step up to defend life
By Molly Mulqueen
Two groups are helping tomorrow's priests become the Church's next pro-life
The next generation of priests committed to the pro-life cause may be the
best trained yet to help Catholics confront the Culture of Death. Two pro-life
organizations recently were formed by seminarians for seminarians. Both groups
aim to round out pastoral and classroom training with practical training in
Seminarians for Life and Seminarian
Life Link offer information and support ranging from tips on pro-life
homilies to organizing effective activities for parish pro-life groups. Using
the Internet, these groups also put seminarians from across the United States in
touch with one another, broadening the base of pro-life leadership.
"We ask them to use the formation process of each seminary to form their
priestly identity on the fundamental truth that all life is created by God in
his image and likeness. We encourage them to use their class assignments to do
research projects that would strengthen this truth of the Imago Dei
[image of God]," explained Eric Bowman, national director of Seminarian Life
Link and a student at Mt. St. Mary's Seminary of the West in Cincinnati. Bowman
is a member of Beavercreek (Ohio) Council 7981 at St. Luke's Parish, where he is
currently a pastoral associate.
"We do encourage the men to be involved with local crisis pregnancy centers
to offer them support," Bowman said. "We encourage our brothers to be visibly
present at abortion facilities to pray for all of the women and their babies,
and especially to pray for the workers and supporters of the abortion industry"
He added, "We really encourage the men to begin to develop strategies to
discuss life issues from the pulpit and to have the confidence to boldly
proclaim that the Gospel of Christ is the Gospel of Life. So, in one sense, we
ask them to use what the seminaries already have present for them to strengthen
their pro-life stance. Then, we also ask them to be present and visible for the
laity who are working very hard to stop abortion and all attacks on the
sacredness of life."
"This is about seminarians serving other seminarians. We hope that makes for
an organization of peers, a brother-to-brother approach," said Deacon John Cyr,
national director of Seminarians for Life, a member of Bishop McNamara Council
1622 in Frederick, Md., and a Fourth Degree Knight. "We are trying to organize
some information that will help seminarians in their pro-life activity. We are
trying to keep each other up-to-date and on the same page."
The Knights of Columbus Supreme Council has provided financial assistance to
Seminarians for Life for its operations.
A Thirst and a Fervor for Life
Father Frank A. Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, is encouraged
by these new organizations. "These two groups have come to me, on their own,
because they see that this is a logical progression. We [Priests for Life] work
to train priests. If they help on a peer-to-peer level with their brother
seminarians, not only to get more training, but also the inspiration to join the
pro-life cause, it certainly makes our job easier," he said. "It is also a great
satisfaction for us when we speak in seminaries, because we see this thirst and
we see this fervor. So there is an integration here that makes a lot of sense
among all these different groups."
It is no small task to stay abreast of the most current information regarding
the legislative debates, court decisions and biotechnology breakthroughs that
surround pro-life issues in the 21st century. But Seminarians for Life and
Seminarian Life Link both make information, ideas and the support of like-minded
seminarians easily accessible.
"An open response from seminarians is necessary, and a willingness to get
involved is crucial," said Steve Pokorny, a student at St. Mary Seminary in
Cleveland and member of Immaculata Council 3767 in Euclid. Ohio. "Seminarians
need to step up and take a stand. Although we need to be attentive to our
studies, sometimes we get caught up in the mentality of society that says, 'The
issue is too big; there's too much to be done, so why bother?' It's a mindset
that needs to be overcome through education and prayer, as well as by keeping
our souls open to the needs of others."
Pro-life education is a part of the curriculum in every Catholic seminary to
differing degrees. At Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, for example, it is
addressed both in the classroom and outside of it.
"In his apostolic exhortation after the Synod on Priestly Formation in 1992
[Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Give You Shepherds)], the Holy Father talks about
apostolic, pastoral, intellectual and spiritual formation for seminarians. I
would like to think that we are making an effort to include formation for
respect for life in all four of those areas," said Father Patrick E Halfpenny,
vice rector and dean of seminarian formation at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.
Father Halfpenny is a member of Msgr. A.X.M. Sharpe Council 600 in Keego Harbor,
"Both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, the students have courses on
moral theology which make extensive use of the Catechism of the Catholic
Church and papal documents, such as the Holy Father's encyclical on the
Gospel of Life (Evangelium
Vitae). So, intellectually they are being formed," Father Halfpenny
explained. "Pastorally, they are being formed in ways that are more overt. We
always send a delegation from the student body to the
March for Life in Washington every
January. We try to make sure that different students get the chance to attend.
When they come back, we give them an opportunity to give personal testimony to
their respective student communities. Then locally, on a voluntary basis, there
are significant numbers of students who participate in the Life Chain, and
weekly there is a group who goes to different abortion provider clinics in the
metropolitan area to witness and pray. Spiritually, of course, their concern for
pro-life issues shows up very frequently at morning and evening prayer and at
daily Mass with their many intentions for recovery of respect for life from
conception until natural death."
Action, Knowledge and Prayer
Action as well as knowledge is needed to fight the Culture of Death, and
Bowman and Deacon Cyr agree that priests need to take an active role in the
"I believe that in order for the Culture of Death to be defeated, there needs
to be a revival of sorts among the people of faith. Until we imitate our Lord
and empty ourselves and embrace the cross of victory once again, the Culture of
Death will remain a strong influence on society," Bowman said. "I also believe
that our priests must speak out against the horrors that are taking place
against life directly, such as contraception, abortion and euthanasia. Our
priests need to be actively encouraging our faithful. That may mean that our
priests be seen at abortion facilities protesting, or helping out at pregnancy
centers, and it most assuredly means that they continue to study and learn about
the next wave of attacks on life, and that is the bio-tech area."
He continued, "Where I believe that priests will have the biggest impact is
the post-abortive age that has begun. There have been roughly 35 million
abortions since Roe v. Wade, so that means almost 70 million
individuals suffer directly from post-abortive symptoms. Our priests need to
work to heal and forgive these individuals. They need to bathe these individuals
in the oceans of God's mercy."
Both groups acknowledge that the demanding life of a seminarian and a priest
may not allow as much time for pro-fife work as they would like. But both groups
put a lot of emphasis on the importance of preaching about pro-life issues to
their congregations, no matter what else they are able to do for the cause.
"One of the primary things a priest can do is to preach the pro-life message
from the pulpit directly at least twice a year," Deacon Cyr stated, such as near
the Roe anniversary in January and on Respect Life Sunday in October.
"There are little ways to be constantly pro-life from the pulpit, even preaching
at daily Mass and every weekend. When a pro-life theme comes up in Scripture,
even if it is not the main focus in every homily, it can be something that is
underneath everything we are preaching and everything that we stand for."
A Pro-Life Vocation
Many young men currently studying for the priesthood credit their pro-life
activities with helping them to discern their vocation and to answer the call.
"It does seem to me that a significant number of candidates who present
themselves for priestly formation these days come with a deep conviction of the
importance of respect for life and a willingness to evangelize," said Father
Father Pavone agrees. "I have found throughout the United States that more
and more of the men who go into the priesthood today have found their vocations
through the pro-life movement. Many of them have been brought up by parents who
had them at their knees while the parents walked back and forth in front of
abortion clinics protesting and peacefully praying. A lot of these seminarians
today have grown up with this movement and now are going to be even better
equipped to lead the next generation into this movement - hopefully a generation
that will bring the movement to its intended goal."
There are a lot of seminarians and priests with a passion for pro-life work
who would like to devote themselves entirely to prayer and activism for this
cause. Some new religious orders of women were founded with pro-life
apostolates, such as the Sisters of Life in New York and the Servants of the
Gospel of Life in Indianapolis. But due to the shortage of priests in most U.S.
dioceses, most priests are not able to do pro-life work full time. Many of them
hope that in the future the Church will allow the formation of a religious order
of men dedicated to pro-life ministry.
Molly Mulqueen writes regularly for the Catholic press from West
Bloomfield, Mich., where she is a wife and mother.