Msgr. Robert Panke, the rector of Saint John Paul II Seminary in Washington, said the fact that Cardinal Donald Wuerl chose to celebrate Mass there on Dec. 17, the exact day of the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, “says everything” about the cardinal, and “where his heart is.”
The rector noted that the cardinal, in addition to founding the seminary in 2011, as a priest had served as the rector of St. Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh, and as a bishop helped shape the priestly formation program used in the United States. Cardinal Wuerl celebrates Masses there for the opening of the school year and the feast day of St. John Paul II, and also visits the seminary at other times during the year, to meet with the seminarians and offer them personal encouragement.
“He loves being present to the seminary and the seminarians,” said Msgr. Panke. “He’s got a very profound commitment to the work of priestly formation.”
Five years after the seminary’s founding with its 20 original students, the seminary has expanded with a new wing to accommodate its nearly 50 seminarians, and another wing is being built that will include a large conference room for seminarians and the archdiocese’s priests, and a new dining room.
Praising that growth, the rector added, “The most important thing is that the fruit of the work will be men who will bring Christ and his sacramental presence to the people of God, bringing His love and mercy. That’s why we have the seminary.”
Father Carter Griffin, the seminary’s vice-rector, praised Cardinal Wuerl for offering “a great example of fidelity to the Church, and a generous response to the needs of the Church. The cardinal has shown, by building a seminary, that he really loves the priesthood and has taken such a personal interest in the formation of priests.”
After the cardinal’s anniversary Mass, three seminarians studying at Saint John Paul II Seminary spoke to the Catholic Standard about what Cardinal Wuerl’s priestly example means to them.
Steve Castellano, a seminarian for the archdiocese, said the fact that the cardinal chose to celebrate his 50th anniversary with a Mass at the seminary “highlights the importance of the priesthood. This is a really special day in his life.”
Cardinal Wuerl’s joyful demeanor offers “a really good witness of what it means to be a priest,” said Christopher Weyer, a seminarian from the Diocese of Richmond.
Karl Discher, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said, “I appreciate his desire to be present, the frequent (times) Cardinal Wuerl tries to be present with us and get to know us, even those of us not from this diocese. He takes an interest in us and our future.”
The next day, several seminarians of the Archdiocese of Washington who are studying at the St. John Paul II Seminary served at a Mass that Cardinal Wuerl celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle commemorating the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Afterward, they told the Catholic Standard what they admire about the seminary’s founder.
“He’s a great pastor,” said Jonathan Barahona. His fellow seminarian Jerry Andrews said he admires the cardinal’s “love for Jesus and his teaching” and his efforts to share that teaching and encourage the work of evangelization.
Seminarian Danny Baxter added, “I really love his love for the priesthood. It shows in the way he visits us and prays with us. He wants to share the grace of priesthood and the gift it is with us as future priests.