The St. Joseph House of Formation beginning to bulge at its seams
The idea of a minor seminary in Wichita was deliberated and explored for years, but ultimately it was shelved, according to Fr. Chad Arnold.
Bishop Carl A. Kemme pulled the idea off the shelf after he was installed as the ordinary of the Diocese of Wichita.
“He liked the idea of having all of the guys studying in the same place,” Fr. Arnold said. “Some guys never got to know some of the other guys they would eventually serve with. So bringing all of those things together, it just made sense to say, ‘Hey let’s try this and see if it works.’”
The St. Joseph House of Formation was established in 2017 and was so successful that after the 2017-18 academic year it was expanded, he said. “It was just obvious that the Holy Spirit was present. We decided to expand out to a full four-year program where they would get their philosophy degree through Newman (University). We just started adding guys and we haven’t looked back.”
Largest cohort ever
The House initially had seven seminarians. This year there are 28, the largest cohort since its blessing.
“So we’re both excited and maybe a little nervous about where everyone’s going to sleep. It’s gonna be a little crowded, but it’s a great problem to have,” Fr. Arnold, the director of the House, said.
One of the great advantages of the Saint Joseph House of Formation is its proximity to the diocese and its bishop, he said.
“The mission of the House of Formation is to localize formation for the men to really learn where they’re coming from and who they’re going to serve – to be in the midst of that in their formation. We also desired for the men that they would experience, in a very real and firsthand way, what parish life is like.”
Fr. Arnold said the Benedictine monks at his seminary were very good but weren’t examples of parish life.
The St. Joseph House of Formation is in the heart of the city and a part of parish life. “We’ve got a school next door, we go to Mass with the people – letting them (seminarians) grow in a natural way that is centered around parish life.”
That allows the seminarians to be initially formed in their own diocese with some of the families they may eventually serve, he said.
The House of Formation builds fraternity
“Community and fraternity are especially important for us here at the house. And we do it in ways that are unique to us,” he said. “For example, we have no hired staff here at the house. We do all of our own cleaning. Every Saturday morning everybody has a job – just like when you were growing up – and we clean the house from top to bottom.”
They come together as a community every day for prayer and Mass before breakfast, he said.
Learning to cook for 30
“We have five sit-down meals a week where we all come together and eat. We do all of our own cooking. We do all of our own cleaning. The guys learn how to cook. You really get to know someone when you have to make a dinner for 30 people with that person. You just can’t avoid it. And then you have to do the dishes afterward – there are conversations happening in that way.”
The seminarians have access to a rec room, they watch the Kansas City Chiefs games on Sunday, and movies on Friday night.
The family atmosphere fosters fraternity, community, and conversion, Fr. Arnold said.
That has resulted in a higher retention rate, he added, compared to when the seminarians were sent outside of the diocese.
“They tend to remain longer and are more likely to continue on to theology. So we have seen both our numbers in retention and those who continue on in seminary rise,” Fr. Arnold said.
Another benefit: getting to know the bishop
“One of the beautiful fruits is the guys that come to the House of Formation know our bishop and he knows them. He comes over once a month for dinner. He comes in sometimes to have Mass with us.”
Many bishops of other dioceses don’t have the opportunity to get to know their seminarians, he said.
“Our bishop has the code to the door and knows he can walk in anytime he wants to,” Fr. Arnold said.
Seminarians are close to home
Yet another benefit of having the House of Formation in the diocese, he said, is that the seminarians are usually within minutes of home.
“When dad has a birthday or little sister makes her First Communion, guess what? They get to go home and be a part of that. They’re still very much invested here, but they are not so completely divorced from their families.”
Other dioceses inquiring
Father Arnold said that because of how Wichita seminarians represent themselves, carry themselves, and live their faith, when they go off to theology, other dioceses are calling him and asking about the House of Formation.
They ask: “How do we do this? We like what we see with your men. How do we bring some of that to our place? That’s the greatest compliment that we can be getting. It’s not just they hear about, they read about –they see our guys who have graduated from the House of Formation and how they serve and live and they say ‘I want that in our diocese.’”
Fr. Arnold said a quote from St. Francis de Sales sums up the human formation at the House: “Have patience with all things but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage when considering your own faults, but each day start the task anew.”
“That’s what we do here,” he said.