Salina — One quarter of the seminarians for the Salina Diocese are leaving, Father Gale Hammerschmidt told a crowd of more than 200 at the fourth annual “An Evening with Our Seminarians” June 1 at St. Mary, Queen of the Universe Parish in Salina.
“I’m talking about the quarter of our seminarians who are leaving because they’re going to be priests,” the co-vocation director said in reference to the upcoming of Father Leo Blasi, Father Ryan McCandless and Father Justin Palmer. “That’s an amazing thing. It’s been a long, long time since we’ve had three guys ordained on the same day. “We will have more priests ordained this decade than we have had since I think the 1950’s,” Father Hammerschmidt said. “Keep praying.”
He said in talking with other chaplains from around the country, the consensus is that men lack courage on college campuses. “I can stand here with these guys who are loaded with courage,” Father Hammerschmidt said. “To say yes to entering the seminary is a scary thing. Maybe they’re not being called, maybe they are, but to just go and figure it out is an incredible thing.”
The evening began with Vespers, also known as evening prayer, in the church. Following the time of prayer, cocktail hour, dinner and a recognition of the seminarians followed in the parish hall.
Each seminarian introduced himself, as well as any family and pastor who was in attendance. “Hello, my name is Andy Hammeke and I’m from Hays, Kansas,” Deacon Andy Hammeke said. Father Hammerschmidt interrupted: “What’s your name?” “Deacon Andy,” he corrected himself.
The others who were deacons at the time also chimed in about the support of the diocese. “I went to school at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, but I’m not going back,” said Father Justin Palmer. “I’m going to be ordained a priest in two days.”
Each seminarian introduced his family, including Father Leo Blasi, whose children were in attendance. “Most guys introduced two generations up, I introduced two generations down,” Father Blasi said after introducing his daughter-in-law and granddaughter. “Everyone in this room is now my family. I appreciate all of the support I’ve had while at the seminary.”
Bishop Edward Weisenburger said this is the fourth year for the event, which began in 2014 when Catholic Extension offered a one-time matching grant to mission dioceses for seminarian education. “Even though they won’t give matching grants anymore,” Bishop Weisenburger said, and was interrupted by Father Blasi’s granddaughter, Nora Jane’s, cries. “I cried too because it’s a lot of money. But anyway, it was such a blessed evening that we kept it going. The money you provide is extremely helpful.”
He continued to explain that the diocese pays all of the first year expenses of a seminarian, as well as all pre-theology and theology expenses. Additionally, the diocese pays much of the college tuition. “We never want any young man to say ‘I don’t want to run up a big bill if that is not where I’m supposed to be,’ ” Bishop Weisenburger said. “So there’s never a concern. It’s a pretty hefty expense, running about half a million dollars a year.”