January 20, 2014
For decades, there's been a nationwide shortage of men entering the seminary to become priests in the Catholic church.
Recently, that trend has been turning around for the Diocese of Richmond, which includes the Charlottesville area.
"When you know that God wants you to do something, it's pretty easy to just go ahead and do that," said Nicholas Redmond, a second-year seminarian in the Theological College in Washington, DC.
Redmond is a University of Virginia graduate who taught at Albemarle High School for 10 years. Now, he's among 21 seminarians preparing to become a priest in the Diocese of Richmond, which has more than 235,000 registered catholics.
"It came to a culmination in the summer of 2011 where I really got a smack upside the head that God wanted me to enter the seminary," he said.
The number of current seminarians is the largest it's been in decades.
"I think the younger generation is looking at priesthood differently as something that's needed," said Frank Petsche, a first-year seminarian.
Petsche just graduated from the University of Virginia last year and was active in the St. Thomas Aquinas parish.
"It was through watching the awesome priests at the campus ministry and the community, I just felt called to pursue serving people," he said.
The men enrolled in the seminary range in ages and backgrounds. Some of them are fresh out of college -- and others straight out of high school.
"And there are older guys like me who had jobs out in the real world," Redmond said. "God's constantly calling us, and what I think we're seeing now is people are taking a little more time, for whatever reason, to just sit down and listen to that call, to hear that call."
The program at the Theological College features rigorous academics paired with spirituality, where the men are pushed to build a stronger relationship with God.
"I, myself, have been really tested, figuring out just how am I relating to Christ, where am I called to serve people in their lives, what are my skill sets?" Petsche said.
These men are only beginning their journey with the church, and both say they're excited to see where their paths will take them.
"My big goal right now is preparing for ordination," Petsche said. "How can I best serve God and his people?"
Students spend six years in the seminary before they are ordained as priests. Following that, the priests can be assigned to any of the 150 parishes within the Diocese of Richmond.