Seminarian, parishioner ties emphasized at St. John Paul II Shepherd’s Guild celebration
FORT WORTH — Priestly ordinations remain robust in the Diocese of Fort Worth, Advancement Foundation Executive Director Clint Weber said, and the St. John Paul II Shepherd’s Guild has been integral to providing financial and prayer support for seminarians.
“Since [Bishop Michael Olson’s] ordination as bishop of Fort Worth, more than 19 men have been ordained as priests of the diocese, including six last year,” Weber said. “That’s the largest group of men ordained at one time in the 53-year history of the diocese.
“Bishop Olson brings strong conviction to vocation and seminarian formation and has fostered greater participation among the lay faithful in support of answering the call to serve as our future.”
A July 30 Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral followed by a breakfast provided Guild members the opportunity to visit with and celebrate 26 seminarians before their return to fall studies.
“These are good men born and nurtured of families here in the Diocese of Fort Worth,” Bishop Olson said. “That in itself is significant. That every one of them is from a different part of the diocese seems to indicate to me a healthiness of the local Church.”
Originally called the Bishop’s Guild, the St. John Paul II Shepherd’s Guild predates Bishop Olson’s tenure in Fort Worth. The Guild’s original intention was to provide financial support for seminarians who face years of expensive education on their journeys to priesthood.
“In the earliest days the intent was to get 250 couples to donate $2,500 per year, which totals $1 million against a very expensive budget item,” Advancement Foundation Chief Development Officer Renée Underwood said. “Those committing to that were called members of the Bishop’s Guild.”
Reasoning that it’s not about the bishop, rather the seminarians in formation and their discernment journeys, Bishop Olson rebranded the name to the St. John Paul II Shepherd’s Guild and expanded the levels of giving, Underwood said.
“It’s not intended as an exclusive club but as a way for people to give as little or as much as they can,” Underwood said.
Bishop Olson stressed more than financial support.
“He wanted people to be on the journey with and know our seminarians,” Underwood said. “To pray for them and understand the process they’re going through.”
Another hope is that those involved will become ambassadors for vocations within the diocese.
To those ends, Guild events are held at Advent and in summer, shortly before seminarians return to school, although COVID-19 canceled three such in-person events in recent years.
The return of such events is vital, Bishop Olson said.
“We are called to give of ourselves,” Bishop Olson said. “Members of the Guild come together to meet seminarians to renew our zeal with this mission that’s been entrusted to us by God.”
Bishop Olson called continued support vital as well, noting that, in 1988, the diocese had not had a priestly ordination in five years and had suffered the abandonment of about 21 priests in a span of six years.
“That does not go on here today,” Bishop Olson said. “But it’s important for us to remember that it did.”
Father Brett Metzler, who serves as diocesan vocations director, spoke of the essential need for seminarians both for the Church and the secular world often at odds with Church teaching, and the need for parishioners to support seminarians.
“These young men are concrete examples of real hope for the future,” Fr. Metzler said. “That even in the midst of craziness they have said ‘yes’ to Jesus Christ to give their lives to Him and His Church.”
Seminarian Isaac McCracken spoke of his desire to excel throughout life — be that in the Boy Scouts of America, karate, or seminary studies, and the instances throughout his life that brought him to the seminary.
“None of those things are possible without support from other people,” McCracken said. “Thanks for your support, encouragement. It is absolutely necessary. It’s a long journey. It’s not easy. I ask that you keep praying for me and my brother seminarians.”
Seminarian Michael Marincel recalled being asked at a young age, by a priest, if he thought he might grow up to be a priest.
“That and some other events I remember as being influential” led him to consider a priestly vocation, Marincel said. “There wasn’t really a big moment so much as the idea of becoming a priest stayed in the back of my mind. Other things came and went, but that stayed.”
Marincel’s parents, Joseph and Sue Marincel, praised the efforts of the Guild.
“In some [dioceses], I believe seminarians are asked to fund their own education,” Joseph Marincel said. “Which, many can’t. This allows them to focus on their studies without that pressure. It’s almost the responsibility of the laity to step up. It’s that whole unit of body and soul, allowing seminarians to focus on studies and parishioners to see God’s work through their financial and prayer support.”
Other support for seminarians
In addition to the St. John Paul II Bishop's Guild, the Knights of Columbus, the Annual Diocesan Appeal, and others provide support to seminarians.
General Agent Chris Stark said the Western Metroplex Chapter of the Knights of Columbus recently donated $212,589 toward seminarian education and deaf ministry in the diocese.
“They’re the lifeblood of our diocese,” Stark said. “We have a priest shortage. Probably half our priests are on loan from other orders. That’s great, but I think it would be awesome if we had a whole diocese of diocesan priests.”