Ashes to Ashes: Bob Jones University, et al.

One could be forgiven for finding that the above title gives him a start. Bob Jones University in the columns of Crisis? What ho?

What ho, indeed. And the et al. there: To whom might that refer? Well, Dallas Theological Seminary, for one. And Wheaton College in Illinois. And probably all Assemblies of God institutions, and most (or all) Southern Baptist seminaries.

What about them? They are all packed with zealots, that’s what about them. Furthermore, they don’t have to beat the bushes for postulants. They don’t have vocations directors out plucking men by the sleeve, timorously wondering if perhaps these youngsters might think about thinking about a “vocation.” They have admissions directors whose time is spent with tweezers, picking out the suitable candidates from the mountainous haystack of applicants.

Only a reader very slow to react to what he is reading will still be wondering where we are going here. We are talking about Roman Catholic seminaries, if anyone needs to have the topic spelled out. One is aware of at least two that are full. There are probably several more. John Paul II obliged the Legionaries of Christ to build yet another dormitory at their then-new Rome campus in order to accommodate what he foresaw would be a surge of applicants. At least, this is what I was told by my priest-guide as I was being shown around the campus. And heaven only knows (maybe Rome, too) how things are going in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America; but short of cold statistics, one at least has the impression that in some areas there is virtually a glut of men in the Catholic seminaries.

And in your average diocesan or archdiocesan seminary in Europe and the United States? I know from my own teaching experience of one that is (or was, anyway) emptying out in the bleakest possible manner. Buildings are sold off or entire institutions are shut down.

This jeremiad scarcely constitutes late-breaking news. We have all read a hundred articles, books, and columns about the “crisis in vocations.” Lots of sociological reasons are adduced: the world is more secular (how can the world get more secular? Anybody remember his Latin here?). Boys and young men are so hag-ridden by the pressures of modern life and gainful employment that they haven’t got time to think about such unreal options as the sacerdotal priesthood after the order of Melchizedek (whoever he might be). The Church jolly well has got to get with the times; what boy is going to opt for anything as stuffy and irrelevant as this Church that refuses, on point after point, to “respond” to the busy and urgent agenda of contemporaneity (this agenda comprising a rather short list of demands from half-a-dozen caucuses who are eager to re-draw the moral and metaphysical map of the universe)?

I don’t buy any of these reasons. The problem is not sociological. It’s not even historical. It is, to put it baldly, spiritual. Period. Why should I, an eight- or ten- or 15-year-old altar boy, want to throw away my life in the priesthood, forsooth, when what I get in CCD is retailed for me by the dissident, and even angry, cadre into whose hands religious ed appears to have been placed in diocese after diocese, parish after parish? (And God bless the hundreds of godly, faithful, sacrificing, praying, and saintly folks who are teaching the ancient Faith with courage and clarity.) Or again, why should I be interested in a Faith that seems to be drawn mainly from Hallmark cards, if we’re talking about homilies?

At Bob Jones et al., they teach a fiery gospel—for good or ill, from the Catholic point of view. Anything worth thinking about here?


  • Tom Howard

    Tom Howard is retired from 40 years of teaching English in private schools, college, and seminary in England and America.

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