St. Joseph House of Formation expanding to a third residence

Three diocesan priests will help oversee the expansion of the St. Joseph House of Formation from two to three houses. From left are Fathers Joseph Gile, Chad Arnold, and Garett Burns. They are standing in front of the former Dominican convent just south of St. Joseph Church in Wichita. It will soon undergo renovation to house seminarians. (Advance photo)

Want to help renovate the Vianney House?

Michael Wescott, the director of Development and Planned Giving for the Diocese of Wichita, said the St. Joseph House of Formation is the fulfillment of a dream for the diocese. “This year we are at capacity for seminarians, but God is always there in our time of need. The Vianney House will allow us to continue to provide our college-age seminarians with the formation in our diocese to continue their discernment of God’s call to the priesthood. Your gift to support the remodeling and updating of this third house will help us continue this strong formation for generations to come.” Those wishing to donate to renovate the Vianney House may contact Wescott at [email protected] or 316-269-3915.

If you asked Fr. Chad Arnold five years ago if the Diocese of Wichita would need a third residence for the St. Joseph House of Formation, the diocesan seminary program, he might have looked at you and given you a pat on the head.

“That’s silly. We’ll never need it,” the director of the House of Formation said, answering his imaginary question.

“We thought the two houses would fulfill all our needs, and they have – up until this year. In year seven we have a very large group of guys in the House. The most we’ve ever had – 27 guys – and the House is full. We’re managing, but it’s very tight.”

Seminarians at Newman U

The seminarians, all of whom are philosophy students at Newman University, live in either the Borromeo House, a former rectory named after St. Charles Borromeo, the patron saint of seminarians; or the Hennessy House, a nearby former convent named after Bishop John J. Hennessy, the first bishop of the diocese. Both are on the St. Joseph Parish campus in central Wichita.

“In the midst of all of this, another convent that used to belong to the Dominicans of Great Bend, just kind of got offered to us,” he said. “It’s really an amazing Holy Spirit moment. So much of the story of the House of Formation is everything we’ve needed has just kind of appeared when we needed it.”

The House of Formation is struggling for space, he said, and a former convent suddenly becomes available? “What other place could talk about having two convents and a rectory within less than a block of each other? That doesn’t even exist in other places in the church, but they all came at the right time – when we needed them.”

Diocese buys convent

The diocese recently purchased the convent built in 1965 and located across the street, just south of St. Joseph Church.

“Since we are focusing on priestly formation, we have renamed it the Vianney House, after St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests,” Fr. Arnold said. “The Dominicans kept it immaculately well. So we are in the process of updating it to make sure it provides the needs we have.”

Because the House of Formation has three priests involved, one of the priests will be able to live in each of the residences. The other priests are Fr. Garett Burns and Fr. Joseph Gile, both assistant directors of the House of Formation.

Will be used for various purposes

In years during which there are more than 21 men in formation, some of the seminarians will live in the Vianney House, Fr. Arnold said. In years when there are 21 or fewer the Vianney House will serve as a computer lab and a study area, among other things.

“Guys are regularly looking for quiet places for focused study where it’s easy to write papers. So we’ll be able to do so, even when there are no men living there. If they need more quiet space, they can go over and study there. The men have small bedrooms and they can keep their computers there but there’s a desire to be free from technology. In the past, we haven’t been able to meet that need.”

All three residences have chapels, the largest of which is a relatively new chapel in the Hennessy House.

Gardening and woodworking

Fr. Arnold said the Vianney House has a large fenced-in backyard where some seminarians have expressed interest in raised-bed gardening. “Its principal use previously has been as a Nerf battleground,” he said.
The third house also has enough garage space for the men to maintain their cars and install a shop area for woodworking.

The Vianney House will also have room for a faculty lounge, Fr. Arnold said. Currently, the priests working with the seminarians have to meet in each other’s rooms.

“To have a designated space when Bishop comes to visit, or if we have to talk business with someone, we can take it into a spot that is suited for that. It also makes us very flexible for years like this year. If we have other years that are larger or if any diocese were to seek to be a part of the program, we now have the space to facilitate that and continue the quality of our program without pressing too much discomfort upon the men.”