A feature story in today's Post-Dispatch covers the 2008 Archdiocesan ordination class, one of the largest in years. The story makes it clear that Archbishop Burke has been an important factor in the increase of vocations.
Burke's efforts lead to biggest Catholic ordination class in decades
By Tim Townsend
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Once or twice a year, each student at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary will drop by Archbishop Raymond Burke's residence in the Central West End at 4:30 p.m. From there, they set off down Lindell Avenue and into Forest Park..
"The walks," as the seminarians call them, are opportunities for young men to have heart-to-hearts with a man who regularly meets with the pope, a heady prospect for a young priest-in-training. The conversations are usually casual, and the seminarians get to see a more personal, human side of Burke — like when he gets a little skittish around off-leash dogs.
Kenrick officials organize the walks using time sheets. When the sheets are posted, there's a rush to sign on.
"It's like when you throw pellets at the Japanese fish at the Botanical Gardens," said seminarian Edward Nemeth, 26. "Guys falling over each other to get their names on the list."
On Saturday, Nemeth and eight of his colleagues at Kenrick will be ordained as priests in the St. Louis Archdiocese — the largest St. Louis ordination class in 25 years and one of the largest in the U.S. It's also the same number of ordinations in St. Louis as the last three years combined.
"He's the center and the core of this whole thing," said the Rev. Michael Butler, the vocations director for the archdiocese.
The student body at Kenrick-Glennon, which includes the undergraduate Cardinal Glennon College and graduate-level Kenrick Theological Seminary, is 112 students, the largest enrollment in two decades and a 50 percent increase over last year.
At Kenrick, it's not just Burke's involvement that is cited for the turnaround in enrollment. The archbishop's conservatism, too, is an appealing aspect to young seminarians.
"The people who are attracted to the priesthood today tend to be much more conservative than their peers," said the Rev. Thomas Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center in Washington. "Even in the 1950s, the people attracted to seminaries were more conservative than their peers, but not to the degree they are today."
Seminarians say Burke's conservatism helps him connect with them. The seminarians openly discuss how they see Burke as a spiritual father and embrace the traditional atmosphere Burke has championed in the archdiocese and the seminary.
Burke, for example, is considered one of the most devoted supporters of the old Latin Mass among U.S. bishops, and last year, Kenrick began celebrating the traditional liturgy on Fridays. More formal vestments are now required at morning and evening prayers. Burke said such "little things" help him "encourage a strong identity among the seminarians, especially with the celebration of the sacred liturgy."
Noah Waldman, 39, a former architect, was studying with a traditionalist group of priests a number of years ago. Eventually, he felt called to be a diocesan priest rather than part of an order. The problem, he thought, was that most bishops would think he was too conservative.
"I was told there were two bishops in the U.S. who would be interested in me," he said.
Burke, however, plays down the notion that he's the main attraction. "More traditionalist men have come on their own; it's not that I've gone out to look for them," he said. "When men say they feel very confident in my leadership, I tell them that they have to come to the archdiocese of St. Louis because they're devoted to the archdiocese, not me."
Nemeth remembered when Burke first got to St. Louis, the archbishop promised to make the seminary the heart of the diocese. Nemeth believes Burke has made good on that promise, and in doing so, has become "like a father" to the seminarians.
Strength, Nemeth said, came from watching Burke deal with controversy in the succeeding years, an example the archbishop continues to set for future seminarians.
"He stands for truth when he knows that's not going to be easy," Nemeth said, "so we know he'll support us when we have to do the same."