Every summer, St. Catherine of Siena in Ft. Thomas, Ky., hosts a seminarian while he is on break. This gives him an opportunity to interact with the parish and work with the clergy staff. Fr. Michael Hennigan was assigned to work with St. Catherine of Siena while he was in seminary, which is where he met General Agent Tom Kaelin. At one point, they began to talk about Fr. Michael’s journey toward priesthood, and he described how he would receive cards from parishioners. “It means a lot to seminarians,” Fr. Michael said.
For many seminarians, one of the reasons they want to become a priest is to help members of the church and be part of a faith-filled community. However, to become a priest, they must enter seminary which can take up to eight years to complete. In seminary, they are removed from their communities and are required to focus on their studies. With this, seminarians quickly become homesick and lose sight of the original reason they wanted to join seminary. “It is difficult to be away from the very thing that gave them energy,” Tom elaborated. It is after they become a deacon when they are assigned to churches and interact with parishioners.
Seeing how much Fr. Michael appreciated receiving the cards, a simple gesture on behalf of the senders, inspired Tom to create a program at St. Catherine of Siena School. “I wanted to do something to let the seminarians know we are supporting them while they are at the seminary,” Tom described. Tom and his wife, Caroline, started to work together to create the Adopt-A-Seminarian program.
The program started with the 2016-2017 school year. Each grade of students “adopts” a seminarian. “This adoption becomes personal to the students. They are focusing on their seminarians throughout the school year,” explained Tom. The kindergarten classes start with the new seminarians so they can grow together, and the eighth grade classes work with seminarians who are finishing up seminary and will be ordained in the next year or two. With permission of the Diocese of Covington, a headshot of their seminarian is then proudly displayed in the classroom all school year. The students are encouraged to pray for their seminarian and send him cards.
Caroline is experienced in graphic design so she is in charge of making oversized cards for special occasions. Whether the seminarian is about to go into exam week or spring break, the whole student body signs every oversized card to make sure each seminarian receives a card filled with signatures and well wishes. “We generally use colorful marker pens just to add a level of excitement reflecting the student’s excitement,” Tom says. Fr. Michael explained, “It is very beautiful to see cards with many signatures.”
Fr. Joey Shelton is a priest that was adopted by a class at St. Catherine of Siena School and was recently ordained a priest. He described a time where he was feeling overwhelmed with all the work ahead of him, and he reached for a series of letters from his class. He found the cards were not only encouraging, but also entertaining. “You know they mean well, but sometimes the things they write are hilarious,” he said laughing.
While the concept is simple, the impact has been profound. During the two years this program has been in place, four of the seminarians have been ordained as priests. During the 2017-2018 school year, the school worked with 15 seminarians. Fr. Joey is thankful for the program because it puts focus back onto why he entered seminary in the first place. “It served as an arrow of encouragement,” he says. “The reason I’m going through seminary is to be connected with the parishioners. This program serves as a lifeline back to the diocese.” For Fr. Michael, the program was all about being spiritually fed while in seminary. “The cards gave me reassurance and comfort in knowing that people are praying for me,” Fr. Michael revealed. “Prayer itself is so powerful, it really does something.”
Article by Audrey Kopecky.