I am indebted to Reverend Monsignor William Cleves and to Deacon
Joaquin and to Tracy Becker and to Father Shawn McKnight and to Father
Avram Brown and to Deacon Farley and to Father Jarrod Lies and to
Jesus M Garza II and to the staff and to the seminarians and to the
alumni of the Pontifical College Josephinum who inspired this
Pontifical College Josephinum
It's as true to say "I discovered this place" as it is to say "This
place called me to it.". Or perhaps the latter is truer.
One of the benefits of
my career leading technical
is I've really seen these United States. I've traveled to
all but eight of the fifty states on assignments. The days are pretty
intense. I'm on my feet eight hours a day for up to five days straight
either verbally presenting material, or working hands on
demonstrating how it's deployed in computer operations. In the evenings
after work, I get into my rental car, look at the local map to see
where there are fewest roads, then head in
that direction. Away from the freeways, off the beaten
track is where you really discover real America.
And so it was one evening during a winter snow storm in Columbus Ohio
when it started getting dark and I looked around for a place with some
local flair where I could eat. Intently watching the road ahead,
willing the snow to clear (driving in snow isn't something
I enjoy nor have a lot of experience with), I first saw it in my wing
mirror as I negotiated a lane change. I saw its tower bathed in light
... and then it was gone, obscured by a passing truck. Clearly it
wasn't a church's steeple. It was too robust to be a steeple. It was
almost gothic. It wasn't so much that it seemed out of
place in this middle American village. It's that
whatever it was commanded attention.
What's that? I wondered. What ... was ...
As soon as I could, I turned in its direction, driving to where I
estimated it must be - I could no longer see it, and neither the softly
falling snow nor the now dark night was helping me any.
Suddenly there it was again - in front of me, the focus of my
attention. Now I could see the tower was one of many hewed stone
buildings on a huge forested campus. It occurred to me it looked like a
dark and foreboding and yet at the same time beckoning and
warm. I find a gate, slowly drive through it towards a massive
wooden front door set in a stone arch, park and walk up to it. The
sense of expectation is palpable. I have to know what this
place is. I just have to ...
There's a doorbell. I ring it. I hold my breath.
A man with an open face and an intent yet welcoming stare, wearing a
black robe which almost touches the floor, escorts me in. He introduces
himself (appropriately, as it turns out) as Jesus which he
pronounces "Hay-zooz ... but you can call me Jessie.".
Named after its founder Monsignor Joseph Jessing nearly one hundred and
ten years ago, the Pontifical College Josephinum as Jessie
tells me it's known, is the only seminary in the world outside the
Vatican which is immediately subject to the Holy See (the Pope, the
pontiff) to prepare Roman Catholic priests. That's why it's the
We're in a vast entrance hall exquistely paneled in dark wood,
furnished sparsely yet richly with antique furniture. Displayed on the
walls are rows and rows and rows of carefully framed photographs of the
men who have prepared for the priesthood here and who are now its
alumni. It takes me a while, as I slowly walk along the rows, taking in
each face, to get what they all have in common: they're
radiant, they're glowing. The next thing I notice is their
extraordinary mode of clothing. These men clearly aren't
"suits" working in a government bureaucracy.
I'm usually not a dress up guy. I'm most comfortable in a
casual long sleeved cotton shirt, Levis, and my favorite pair of
Chinese artisan steel toed boots. To be sure, I clean up
pretty good when it's appropriate. I can wear Ferragamos
well, and I appreciate haute couture. Still, I'm not big on
fashion. That said, what these priests are adorned with is simply
gorgeous. Scarlet sashes, robes, capes, and occasionally skull
caps of linen and satin of the most subtle yet vivid,
brilliant hues give life to the phrase "men of the
cloth". They also explain why, if a priest is decomissioned and
his vestments are taken away, he is said to be
de-frocked. These photographs show men young, old, tall, short,
chubby, skinny, of all races. What moves me is what brings each of them
here: their calling to serve
My reverie is interrupted by Jessie asking if I would like
him to take me on a tour of the college and its cloisters and chapels.
Would I? I thought he would never ask.
Over the years I've returned here many times. This isn't an open
doored museum you can simply approach, buy an admission
ticket for, and come in and look around. I've maintained relationships
with the seminarians here who've kindly allowed me to visit when I'm in
town. When my connections have
and moved on to pastures anew (if I may say it that way),
they've introduced me to new seminarians who'll host me next time.
Some places you visit are places you just walk through and look around,
almost like watching a movie. While captivating, it's superficial and
temporary. The Pontifical College Josephinum isn't like that. When you
visit this place, you're in the middle of something about to
happen. You're aware there's something going on here,
something profound. Being here is an immersion into
something, rather than a view of something.
This is my sense as I walk around. Each building on the campus is
interconnected by a series of corridors. The corridors, mostly empty
except when classes and services are over, are pleasantly heated
against the winter cold. Through windows I can see the snow storm
outside. I have a sense of being cozy and protected in here. There's
another interesting feature: the corridors are unlit, dark until silent
movement sensing switches turn the lights on as we walk through.
A special temperature controlled room stores a collection of priceless
antique bibles. Seminarians whose work entails studying them are
required to wear gloves to prevent skin oil and perspiration from
touching their ancient paper thereby accelerating their decomposition
The cloisters within the complex are paved or grassed from stone wall
to stone wall. Some of them have simple fountains. Others have statues
of, I assume, Father Joseph Jessing and other founding faculty. Many if
not all have plain benches, elemental places to sit and contemplate, to
to inquire, to pray.
I'm shown to the priests' quarters: comfortable yet spare. They each
have a bed, a closet, a desk, and shelves for books and study
materials. These are places of learning, reflection, and rest. What
they facilitate is managing basic physical comforts in support of the
seminarians' intentions to
themselves from lay people into priests. This course, this
path isn't easy. It's designed to filter out those who
don't have the right stuff. It will ordain those who do.
to be invited to attend vespers, the evening service.
A deacon escorts me to the chapel. He asks me if I would like to meet
the Monsignor, which I do. We walk up the stairs just as he's entering
the chapel to lead the service, so I don't get the chance to meet him
and to thank him in person. Later I contact him by e-mail. A generous
The walls are punctuated with stained glass windows. Towering vaulted
ceilings draw your experience upwards, an architectural feature
of most houses of
which supports the intention, which forwards the action -
in other words, which
Light from spotlights and candles has been perfectly aimed and placed.
There's an exactness here, an immaculateness, an
impeccability I can relate to. There are texts written on the walls in
a language I don't recognize, and in a script I don't
recognize. I guess the language could be Latin? Could the script be
The service is marvelous. There's a long duration of silent
at the start. I calculate it's close to a half hour although I don't
wear a watch. It's very deep and profound and powerful. When it ends,
the service proper begins. Some of it is in English. Some of it is
responsive reading. There's some chanting which,
when in English and I understand what's being said, is transportive.
But even when it's not in English and I don't
understand what's being said, it's still transportive.
It's the sound of the chanting rather than its
meaning which touches a place in me beyond any specific
language. It occurs to me it's similar to other chanting I've heard
in other religious orders, the
order, for example. There's something profoundly similar
about what the chanting brings out for me in both orders.
I'm moved by the way the Monsignor, a big man, leads the
service. He gets down on one knee a lot, just as people entering and
leaving the chapel get down on one knee. It's says devotion, respect,
and adoration. But it's more than that actually. Although it doesn't
happen when I'm here, I've seen photographs of the service when the
priests are ordained which show them laying fully stretched out face
down on the ground, a full prone position which speaks
It's very pious and deeply reverent. And again I notice it's mostly
joyful. You can go to church to atone, to be absolved, to be
forgiven. Certainly that's going on here also. But the
overriding sense I get from the people here is they're
happy to be here. This is where they want to
be. In fact this is the only place they want to be - at
least for now, until they go out into the world to serve their
communities. The passion and
is palpable. It's inspiring to be around.
Peace. Be Still.
The drive away from here back to my hotel is inevitably a
still, quiet affair. You don't see every day what I've been invited to
witness here. You may see the results of it in churches on
Sundays. But you don't often see the melding of it. You
don't often get inside the forge in which it's shaped. You
don't often get to witness the process.