It was unusual for me to have come to the Josephinum as a seminarian. I was exceptionally cantankerous as a prospective seminarian so much so that it is a wonder that I ever became an actual seminarian. There were some of the seminaries that the diocese sent seminarians to that I simply would not go to. I asked the diocese to consider three other seminaries, and they agreed to send me to the Josephinum, largely I suspect because we had a priest of the diocese finishing a term on the faculty: none other than then-Fr. David Choby.
Anyhow, up I came to Columbus in the fall of 1989. Don't get me wrong, the Josephinum of those days was no traditionalist stronghold. As a matter of fact the main chapel's wreckovation was just being completed, and we were obliged to play the Emperor's New Clothes as seminarians in talking about it openly. Here are side-by-side images of the chapel before and after:
The "after" shot is actually after a number of improvements had been made along the way: tabernacle and crucifix in the middle, statues at the sides. None of these were there initially. All this to say that I am not uncritically nostalgic in my memories of the Josephinum.
Nevertheless, I received many things for which I am very grateful from the Josephinum. The academic formation was excellent with the exception of canon law. Fr. Leonard Glavin did manage to get more than a bit of philosophy into my bones as well as my head. He would be proud to know that I can hold my own at cocktail parties! Particularly fine was the theology I learned at the feet of Fr. Francesco Turvasi and Fr. William Lynn. This intellectual formation has served me incredibly well during my priesthood. Although we complained about it a lot a the time, my pastoral formation both at the seminary and in the diocese in the summers was also excellent.
When it comes to human formation, I think that the program was pretty lacking: literally lacking. There just was not much to it. But there was an element of human formation in the place itself. The rector when I arrived at the Josephinum quipped that: "it wasn't home, but it was much." He was referring to the undeniable stateliness of the place. (That's the Josephinum in the picture above the previous post.) However, "home" is just what the Josephinum became. This unreconstructed Southerner surprisingly became quite at home in the land of Sherman, Sheridan, and Grant!
I think the "homeyness" of the Josephinum came from the fact that it was a home, initially an orphanage that turned into a seminary. In my days, there were still some of the "lifers" at the Josephinum: old men who had come as boys to enter high school seminary and then had stayed to be formed into professors and had served their entire priestly careers in the service of the Josephinum. They had wonderful German names. They were all old priests by my time. In fact, I served at a number of their funerals. (Go read about the history of the Josephinum to get the full story.) Anyhow, this meant that in the halls of the Josephinum, there were these old priests who lived there all the time. There was never a time that the Josephinum completely closed down.
Although those days are now long past, the place still has something of that feel. I was treated well here humanly speaking, especially in my last year as my mother was dying and my ordination was moved up. On that very human level, both the seminary and the diocese treated me as a son. This includes the rector at the time, Msgr. Blase Cupich. It was a good lesson in human formation. Anyhow, I am always glad to come back to this place. It has been a while since I was here. I still feel at home.