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St. Mary’s Seminary receives million dollar grant from Lilly Endowment


Bishop Michael W. Fisher visits with the Buffalo seminarians studying at St. Mary’s Seminary & College in Baltimore. (Photo by Gregory Tucker)

St. Mary’s Seminary & University, the nation’s first Roman Catholic seminary in the United States, has been awarded a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to support the design and implementation of St. Mary’s Institute for Pastoral Leadership. The institutes mission will be to strengthen St. Mary’s recognized leadership in forming 21st century pastors equipped to minister collaboratively with lay ministers and parish leaders to address the spiritual and pastoral needs of those served through the wide variety of ministries and outreach programs in Catholic parishes.

The initiation of the institute is being funded through Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative, a three-phase initiative designed to help theological schools across the United States and Canada respond to their most pressing challenges as they prepare pastoral leaders now and into the future.

“We could not be more grateful to Lilly Endowment for its recognition of St. Mary’s commitment to forming authentic and effective pastors, equipped in every way for the rigors of pastoral ministry in the 21st century,” said St. Mary’s President-Rector Father Phillip J. Brown, PSS. “With this significant grant, we will be able to accelerate and expand programs to provide model human and pastoral formation, not only for those seminarians currently in formation, but continuing education and essential resources for priests already in parish ministry addressing the varied pastoral needs of those who depend on them and their pastoral teams each and every day.”

Buffalo seminarian Joseph Franz sees the effective use of limited resources as an ongoing challenge for church leaders.

“I think the most pressing challenges for pastoral leaders today include managing the commodities of time and resources in a way to make most effective one’s ministry,” said Joseph Franz, now in his fourth year of theology. “In addition, knowing and understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses and the strengths and weaknesses of those around you in order to empower one another in order to give all glory and honor to God and help one another get to heaven is of greatest importance.”

St. Mary’s already provides a holistic curriculum focused on the human, spiritual, pastoral and intellectual dimensions necessary for effective priestly ministry. The changing landscape of the Church in America demands ongoing assessment of the way seminaries prepare men to serve the needs of parishioners in the present day.

“The academic aspect of seminary formation is probably less than a fourth of the actual formative preparation of the seminary,” said Joseph Tokasz, now in his diaconal year of formation. “We study philosophy, theology, psychology and counseling, Scripture, history, canon law, and much more, but along with this is the spiritual, human, pastoral formation. All of them are directed towards the pastoral end. Every aspect of the seminary life is seen to be formative. We pray, we eat, we play, we work, we minister. St. Mary’s specifically has us ministering in local parishes, hospitals, or other ministerial assignments and has multiple pastoral ministry formation sessions that are also a part of the seminary life on top of our classes.” 

As part of the Institute for Pastoral Leadership initiative St. Mary’s will utilize the Lilly Endowment grant to upgrade and expand its existing Center for Continuing Formation.

In developing the Institute for Pastoral Leadership, St. Mary’s will create a nationally accessible innovative formation program as a resource for other seminarians and priests across the country. It is envisioned that the impact of the institute will reach far beyond St. Mary’s seminarians and alumni and the parishes they serve.