Bishop’s Guild provides resources so seminarians can answer God's call
FORT WORTH — To answer God's call, the journey through seminary to priesthood entails nine to 11 years of school at a cost of roughly $52,000 per year.
“So obviously there aren’t many who can afford that, and then take a vow of poverty,” said Michele Purgason, president of the Bishop’s Guild Executive Committee.
The Diocese of Fort Worth, not to mention the Church in general, sorely needs new priests, which further compounds the challenge.
Which is where the Bishop’s Guild, created in 2012 by Bishop Kevin Vann, former shepherd of the Diocese of Fort Worth, figures in.
“We are one of few dioceses in the country that fully funds and pays for all of our seminarians' educations,” Purgason said. “Through membership we raise money. The vision is to reach 400 members because, at that level, we don’t have to take money from the diocese and that money can be used for other ministries and purposes.”
Several levels of commitment are available to parishioners able and willing to step up. In addition to corporate memberships, individual memberships of $2,500 for three years and associate memberships — $1,000 for individuals or couples younger than 40 — exist. There’s also a lifetime membership of $50,000.
The organization is strong but more needs to be done.
“Our current membership is 231,” Bishop’s Guild Coordinator Elizabeth Becker said. “So the focus is still to get word out through the diocese that we exist and what we do.
“For anyone who’s interested and has a passion to help our seminarians this is a real and tangible way to do that for our diocese. This affects their educations and the parishioners as well as they accompany the seminarians along their journeys.”
Guild members and about 24 seminarians gathered Dec. 16 at Fort Worth’s Omni Hotel for the Advent Celebration with the Seminarians event. At least one seminarian sat at each table during the breakfast, allowing them and the members to better get to know one another.
Brett Metzler, a seminarian in his second year of theology at Catholic University of America’s Theological College in Washington, D.C., delivered the keynote discussing his path to the seminary.
“I grew up in Denton,” Metzler said. “[St. Mark Church] was my home parish. As I grew up I was still kind of maturing in my faith. I saw faith as just kind of an obligation and something I was doing because I thought I had to. It didn’t really become my own until later on.”
Metzler said he began to wrestle with God’s call to the priesthood during his first year at Texas A&M University and, after much prayer, cemented his decision.
“I realized you do not do this because you have to,” Metzler said. “Not because it’s going to give you all these great things and you’re going to be happy, but because it’s sacrificing your life for Christ. Because only when you do that will you save your life.”
The path to priesthood at times feels like standing on the mountaintop with Jesus but frankly at other times feels terrifying, Metzler said. But even those moments play a role.
“The terrifying things are generated from realizing the daunting importance and beauty of priesthood,” Metzler said. “But as the journey goes on, Christ teaches us to trust Him.”
Metzler said he couldn’t fully express the tremendous gratitude he and his fellow seminarians feel for the Bishop’s Guild.
Blake Thompson, a first-year seminarian at St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College in Louisiana, agreed. Thompson, 19, grew up in Fort Worth and attended St. Jude Parish in Mansfield. Thompson entered the seminary straight out of high school.
“[The Guild] is invaluable to us seminarians and we could not function without them,” Thompson said. “Their support, spiritual and financial, is one of the most beautiful and treasured things we have as seminarians.”
Father Jonathan Wallis, director of seminarian formation for the diocese, said a difference over the past few years is the number of young men entering the seminary out of high school as opposed to after college, a phenomenon he credits to “a real movement of the Holy Spirit.”
“But absolutely more priests are needed,” Fr. Wallis said. “And part of our job as Catholics is to make sure every man in the diocese who is being called by Jesus Christ to become a priest has the support and resources to do so.”
A member of Good Shepherd Parish in Colleyville, Ed Gray has participated in the Guild since it started.
“The Catholic priesthood has been declining over many years,” Gray said. “And the future of the faith requires shepherds, but we can’t do that without young men hearing the call, answering, and following through to become priests. And it’s for that reason I became a member to help and to help motivate others.”
It is critical to support the seminarians both financially and through prayer, Gray said. It’s also a joy to get to know and play a role in their futures.
“Every time I meet one of these very impressive young men I realize why they’ve answered the call and how fortunate the future is for our Church,” Gray said.
Fellow Good Shepherd parishioner Butch Burcher also touted the benefits of Guild membership.
“The idea is, as a Catholic, what can I do to help the diocese get more priests?” Burcher said. “The Bishop’s Guild is a perfect way of helping and also a dimension for us members to learn more about the process of priestly formation.”
Bishop Michael Olson agreed and said it’s imperative to spread word of the Bishop’s Guild throughout the diocese to attract more members, and in turn, increase the number of seminarians coming out of the diocese.
“It’s a way of evangelizing to the people to come to a deeper awareness of what the nature and ministry of a priest is and to help young men in being formed in that ministry,” Bishop Olson said. “Not only that, but [Guild members] themselves become part of the process of how the ministry of the priest is essential for their own growth and development as Catholics.”
For more information on the Bishop’s Guild, visit advancementfoundation.org/sjp2-shepherds-guild or call Elizabeth Becker at 817-945-9443.