Every day a gray van stops outside of the Erie Club on Sixth Street around 7:30 a.m. and a group of guys jumps out and heads to the cafeteria.
You may find yourself wondering who they are and what they are doing on campus, or even why you recognize a face or two.
These men are from the Dioceses of Altoona-Johnstown, Buffalo, Erie and Greensburg and they have been assigned by their bishops to study for the priesthood at Gannon University.
It may seem strange that in today’s world, people still feel called to live celibately and almost certainly alone. But the men at St. Mark’s Seminary all share that calling, despite noticing it at different points in their lives.
Some men have known they wanted to enter seminary for as long as they can remember; others have been out in the world, working jobs or studying in college. Together, though, they have all decided to pursue this calling to find out if God wants them to be a priest.
That being said, not everyone who enters seminary will be ordained a priest. The seminary has an open-door policy, which means that at any point a man may decide this is not what God is calling him to do; he may leave with no questions asked.
The whole purpose of the seminary is to help men ask themselves what God desires of them and help them to respond appropriately. It does this through a set structure of prayer, personal formation and study.
The living arrangements at the seminary are similar to a college dorm in design. Each man gets his own room, complete with a bed, a desk and a sink. A common bathroom, dining room and television lounge round up the necessities of life.
St. Mark’s also has a gymnasium for the seminarians to play sports or exercise and a chapel where Mass is celebrated daily by either the Rev. Michael Kesicki, Gannon’s associate vice president for Mission and Ministry and rector of St. Mark’s Seminary, or the Rev. Nicholas Rouch, vice rector of the seminary.
The guys are expected to attend Mass every day, as well as set aside time for morning and evening prayer in The Liturgy of the Hours. These are the main forms of living a life of prayer in seminary, although everyone is encouraged to develop a devotion to the Blessed Mother through the rosary and to learn to pray outside their comfort zones so they may better prepare themselves for life in a parish.
To work on personal formation, every man is assigned both a member of the seminary faculty and an outside priest to help them become a holy and spiritual priest.
The formation directors are responsible for helping the men adjust to life in seminary, holding them accountable to their commitments and guiding their spiritual lives closer to that of Christ.
Gannon is responsible for intellectually forming the men considering priesthood. Founded by Archbishop John Mark Gannon, fifth bishop of Erie, as the only diocesan Catholic university in Pennsylvania, Gannon is uniquely able to train seminarians in philosophy, as well as let them develop friendships with nonseminarians.
“Gannon has given me the opportunity to explore my calling more fully,” Eric Eggert, a freshman philosophy major and seminarian from the Diocese of Buffalo, said.
But the seminarians aren’t the only ones who benefit from the partnership.
“It is inspiring to see people discerning God’s will around us,” Ashley Kruise, a junior criminal justice major, said.
It is the hope of seminarians that being present in people’s everyday lives will inspire others to reflect on God’s calling. After all, the only way to truly be happy is to do what the Lord calls.
If you think God might be calling you to the priesthood, please call the Diocese of Erie Vocations Department at 814-824-1200.