By Alan Hodge
Tuesday, September 15 saw the official opening of the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte’s St. Joseph College Seminary near Mt. Holly. Bishop Peter J. Jugis cut the ribbon for the 30,000 sq. ft. facility which is located on 86 acres just off Perfection Ave.
The school will be home to 40 young men who are exploring a vocation to the Catholic priesthood while also pursuing their undergraduate degrees at Belmont Abbey College less than two miles away.
“Priesthood is a special calling that requires a certain intellectual, human and spiritual formation,” Bishop Jugis said. “Though we’ve been blessed with many good and holy priests, we need more to meet the needs of our rapidly growing flock. So it is essential that we make every effort to help form young men to be ready to serve in our parishes when the time comes.”
St. Joseph is the only college seminary program between Washington, D.C., and Miami. It has proven so popular since it began in temporary quarters just four years ago that enrollment has tripled, construction had to be accelerated, and donors have already contributed more than $15.5 million toward the $20 million project.
With Gothic architecture and brickwork inspired by Belmont Abbey, where in 1876 Benedictine monks planted the roots of Catholicism in western North Carolina, St. Joseph College Seminary includes 40 dorm rooms, a chapel, classroom and library, faculty offices, a dining hall, and a picturesque cloister walk where students go to meditate and pray.
“We broke ground on St. Joseph in the middle of a tropical storm two years ago and are opening the doors in the middle of a pandemic – because the work of the Church goes on amid any challenges,” said Father Matthew Kauth, who serves as St. Joseph’s rector. “This is an enduring structure that is both traditional and modern, with beauty and function, that we hope will inspire future generations of Catholics in western North Carolina to continue our mission to share the Gospel.”
With a Catholic population that has grown by double digits in the past decade, the diocese launched the college seminary program in 2016 with eight students and now has 27 in residence, with young men from communities across the diocese including Arden, Boone, Charlotte, Forest City, Gastonia, Huntersville, Lenoir and Salisbury.
The college seminary program provides an opportunity for young men to study and discern a possible vocation to the priesthood close to their home. Upon graduation, most will go on to major seminaries elsewhere to pursue graduate degrees in theology and receive more specific training before returning to be ordained as priests for the Charlotte diocese.
At Tuesday’s opening ceremony, more than two dozen college seminarians standing at attention six feet apart punctuated their bishop’s remarks by singing the seminary’s Latin fight song, the hymn “Salve Pater,” which salutes St. Joseph as the college’s patron.
One of the seminarians, Clement Akerblom, explained what led him to St. Joseph.
“Since I was young, I had a desire to give myself to something,” Akerblom said. “I responded to the call and asked God where I should go. He led my family from Sweden to Charlotte. I understood seminary was where I needed to be to get to know Jesus and myself. I think it’s important for young people to understand that life is an adventure and to trust God.”
Since his episcopal ordination in 2003, Bishop Jugis has prioritized efforts to nurture potential priests from within the diocese, starting their training locally to help prepare them to serve the growing Catholic population. While the number of priests has grown 76 percent since the diocese was founded in 1972, the number of Catholics has grown by 900 percent – which means large parishes and a reliance on priests from elsewhere to help serve local spiritual needs.
Overall, the diocese has a total of 41 men in various stages of formation for the priesthood, between the college seminary and major seminaries, up from 16 four years ago.
Learn more about St. Joseph College Seminary: www.stjosephcollegeseminary.org
.About the Diocese of Charlotte
The Diocese of Charlotte encompasses 92 parishes and missions and 19 schools in the 46 counties of western North Carolina, with a growing Catholic population estimated at more than 400,000. The diocesan website is www.charlottediocese.org