Cardinal Seán and Redemptoris Mater Seminary
I was asked to prepare an article for the Boston Pilot edition of October 16, 2020 commemorating Cardinal Seán O’Malley’s 50th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood. The Cardinal’s logo, “Do Whatever He Tells You” served as a model to begin in the Archdiocese a reform of the seminaries and priestly formation.
Redemptoris Mater Seminary – “Do whatever he tells you”
On the day that Cardinal Seán celebrated 50 years as a priest, we interrupted our retreat in the seminary to sing him a song and to wish him a Happy Anniversary. Since the day of my first Mass in Fall River 27 years ago and in all the years that I have known the Cardinal, I have seen how he has made his own the words of Mary to the servants at the wedding feast of Canaan, “do whatever he tells you”.
We know that many things can go wrong in a wedding, but to run out of wine (which is a sign of joy and of happiness) is the surest way to dampen the spirit of the guests and to begin married life off on the wrong footing.
When Cardinal O’Malley landed in a spiritually bankrupt Archdiocese of Boston in July of 2003, someone could well have greeted him with the words, “They have no wine”.
As part of his strategy to rebuild the Church and to restore joy to the wedding guests, the Cardinal stepped out of Jesus’ way and followed his instructions. Having seen that priests were at the nadir of the sickness that enshrouded the Church in one of its darkest moments ever, the Cardinal turned his focus to priestly formation and seminary reform. Thus, on March 25, 2006, at the end of the Eucharist on the day after he was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal O’Malley signed the decree of erection of the Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary. With the stroke of the pen, the Cardinal revealed a decision that had matured over the years as he, much like Pope St. John XXIII on the eve of the Council, also felt that “the moment had arrived to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the missio ad gentes”.
Faced by the daunting task of rebuilding a Church that was plagued by a culture of elitism and clericalism among some of the priests, the Cardinal’s approach was to bring the problems of the day “into contact with the vivifying and perennial energies of the Gospel”. At a time when some people were urging him to close the seminaries, the Cardinal opened a diocesan-missionary seminary to signal that the Church needed a new type of diocesan priest, one whose preparation reflected both lay involvement and missionary formation. At Redemptoris Mater Seminary, the constitutive elements of priestly formation (human, academic, pastoral and spiritual) are woven together in the seminarians’ participation in the Neocatechumenal Way. Present in various parishes of the Archdiocese, this “special gift which the Holy Spirit has given to our times” is where the seminarians continue their Christian initiation and mature their vocation under the guiding discernment of the People of God. Even though acting on his prophetic vision in 2006 was not without personal sacrifice, to date the Cardinal has already ordained 14 priests formed at Redemptoris Mater Seminary, where twenty-two more seminarians from nine different countries are currently in formation for the priesthood.
Since the days of St. Augustine, we too have learned to speak of the Church as “ecclesia semper reformanda est”, to mean that the natural state of the Church is to be in a state of constant reform. Although it takes time and humility to transform hearts and to “do whatever he tells you”, there are signs today that the seeds sown in the tears of 2003 have begun to bear fruits of joy and holiness in the life of the Church and to rekindle hope in the hearts of many people. If the Church is to carry out her mission as “light of the nations” and as “sacrament of salvation for the world”, we must remain vigilant and ever open to the creative action of the Holy Spirit. This will help us to join Cardinal Seán and say for many more years to come, “Do whatever he tells you!”
Dear Cardinal Seán, Congratulations and Ad Multos Annos!
Very Rev. Antonio F. Medeiros