By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Ever wondered how seminarians are able to afford four years of seminary college, two years of pre-theology and two more of theology while in formation for the priesthood?
This year, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has 26 seminarians in various stages of formation, including 10 first year students, who entered the seminary shortly after the seven ordinations of the past spring. The diocese helps provide financial support for the young men by covering a portion of their tuition, room and board, as well as other expenses, including books and health insurance for older seminarians.
According to Father Richard Rocha, diocesan Director of Vocations, tuition, room and board at a major seminary college like Conception costs about $30,000 a year. For fiscal year 2012-13, the diocese has allocated a little over $880,000 for seminarian support. The funds are generated in part through endowment interest and other sources, but the majority, more than 80 percent, of the funds come from the Bishop’s Annual Appeal.
Father Rocha said, the number of seminarians now in formation “is a blessing — we need priests. But with such an increase in the number of seminarians, there comes an increased need for funding.”
He explained that the diocese pays about 48 percent of the costs for the seminary college students, and 100 percent for pre-theology and theology students.
“We have five college seminarians,” he said. “We pay 48 percent and the family pays the remaining 52 percent. Of course there are scholarships and financial aid to assist the families with the costs. The Diocese pays the health insurance premiums for 23 of the seminarians, he added. Three of the college seminarians are still covered by their parents’ policies.
There are also retreat costs, books and the $200 monthly stipend the seminarians are paid to help with incidental expenses, all paid for by the Diocese.
A number of supplementary sources of seminarian support helps pay the bills, Father Rocha said. The Knights of Columbus and Serra Clubs provide scholarships and Christmas extras; Mission Possible, a group of young area businessmen who see the needs of seminarians and pull together funds through the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and help promote vocations, also provides financial support.
The Catherin B. Merrill Foundation funds summer work at Seton Center and the Bishop Sullivan Center to enable seminarians to make some money and serve the poor.
Proceeds from the annual Support Our Seminarians Banquet are divided between the Diocese, the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and Conception Seminary College.
Bequests also come in from time to time, Father Rocha said, designated to help with seminarian support. But the largest source of funds remains the Bishop’s Annual Appeal.
Dave Malanowski, Diocesan Finance Officer, said funding for seminarian education is divided between funding the Vocations Office, which is supplemented by the November collection for Tomorrow’s Priests, and the education, room and board of the young men.
Trevor Downey and Andres Moreno, two men in formation at Conception Seminary, spoke with the Catholic Key about the financial support of the diocese and its effect on their answering the call to priesthood.
Trevor, whose home parish is St. Margaret of Scotland in Lee’s Summit, is finishing his second year in pre-theology and plans to graduate in May.
He earned an engineering degree from the University of Nebraska, where he had been involved with campus ministry. After graduation, he devoted two years to the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, serving as a missionary for one year at the University of Kansas and one year at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. He became acquainted with Father Rocha through FOCUS and realized he had been attracted to the priesthood for some time.
The funds generated by the Annual Appeal for seminarian support made the seminary much easier, he said. “It eliminated a lot of excuses. Not having that financial assistance would have made the seminary tougher, a much greater challenge.” When asked about his commitment to the priestly vocation, Trevor thought a moment before answering.
“When you’re really young, you don’t really appreciated what the seminary is. Besides a time for the study of and about your faith and its applications, the seminary is a time of discernment. A young man can learn a lot about God, life and himself, even if he does not become a priest. The seminary challenges you to grow to become a better man, whether as a priest or a husband.”
Trevor said he most likely will attend Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, to begin his theology courses.
A native of Colombia, South America, Andres Moreno had already earned a degree in philosophy when he came to the United States to study English. He arrived at Conception Seminary a little over a year ago.
For Andres, trying to make it through the seminary without the Diocese’s assistance “would have been a huge challenge! We don’t have that kind of money.”
For quite a while, Andres has been “really sure God has called me to be a missionary priest — a bilingual priest to serve his people in Spanish and in English.”
He considers the support from the diocese a gift from God. “People are thirsty for God,” he said. “I believe if I give myself to Him, I will receive many blessings. I already have, in the help from the diocese.”
Andres strongly believes that God wants holy priests. “The priests I have met are respectful and holy,” he said “A priest needs to be holy and I believe that is my call also. That is the best way I can answer to God and equate his will with my life. God is helping us, the seminarians, to be holy priests, and He is helped by the people of this diocese.”