16 May AD 1998
The dedication of Saint Thomas Aquinas Seminary took place on Saturday, May 16th. The seminary chapel was crowded to capacity by the clergy, the choir from Our Lady of Good Hope in Pinellas Park, those who have been working since January to refurbish the building, and many well-wishers. The ceremony began at 12:30 PM as the crowd proceeded around the building, blessing its walls with holy water. The Litany of the Saints was chanted as the procession entered and made its way into the chapel. The chapel received its own special blessing, and its beautiful marble altar was consecrated before the beginning of Solemn Pontifical Mass. Following Holy Mass there was a reception, held in the seminary refectory.
On entering the seminary building, one immediately encounters an almost life sized crucifix. There is no doubt as to the building's purpose, to form men to be other Christs who will perpetuate our Lord's sacrifice on the Cross by offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Just down the hall, there is a picture of the seminary's patron St. Thomas Aquinas. The picture is a reminder that this building is devoted to the teaching of the orthodox Catholic Faith as it has come down to us from our Lord and the Apostles -- no modernism is allowed here.
On the first floor of the building are located the chapel, refectory, rector's office, common room, a class room, five bedrooms, and a utility room. The floors are carpet with a deep red carpet, which gives a touch of "ecclesiastical elegance." While the rooms are relatively Spartan, the common room fells much like being at home in friend's living room. The chapel is beautifully decorated in the Catholic tradition of putting one's best at the service of our Lord. There are five stained glass windows, well made oak furniture, and a properly appointed marble altar.
When work is completed on the second floor, there will be three class rooms, a library, and about fifteen bedrooms. Some work remains to be done outside, which will give the seminarians an expansive green area for open air relaxation and study. Much of the work is being done by the people and clergy of our Lady of Good Hope Church in nearby Pinellas Park. The day before the dedication, there was a small army of people (including three bishops) making last minute adjustments throughout the first floor. There is a lot that remains to be done.
In addition to serving as center for the formation of new priests, the seminary will be used to accommodate retreats and days of recollection. Those interested in further information about the seminary, or who may have a vocation to the religious life, or who would care to donate to the seminary fund may contact:
The Rector, Saint Thomas Aquinas Seminary, 1051 72 Street North, Saint Petersburg, FL Telephone: 813-341-9111
Sermon for the Dedication of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary Saturday, 16 May 1998 Ave Maria!
Two thousand years ago, during the evening of the day that we now call Holy Thursday, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread and wine and gave them to His disciples, telling them not only that these familiar foods had become His Body and Blood, but that from that evening on they were empowered to work this same change of substance, as often as they did this same thing, in memory of Him. "I will not be with you to drink this fruit of the vine until I drink it with you again in the kingdom of My Father." (1) A few days later, after His death and resurrection, (on Easter Sunday night to be precise), He breathed upon them, giving them the Holy Ghost and the power to forgive the sins that all of us commit.(2)
And within a few days more, He commanded them to "go out into the world, preaching the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned."(3) They were to make "disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."(4)
Implicit in all of this is that our Lord, who is truly God and man, had determined that He would allow Himself to be subject to the human limitations of space and time. He had determined that instead of bringing His graces and His truth to future peoples and generations in person, He would entrust this work to His apostles and their successors. Instead of working the miracle of remaining on earth in human form, He designed to work the miracle of acting through the humans who would be His priests on earth until the end of time.
I did not know that I would be speaking to you about our Lord's plan until just about forty-eight hours ago. The Archbishop called me to say that his sister was critically ill, and that he could not properly concentrate on a sermon, and might not even be able to be here at all for the dedication of this seminary for which he has worked so diligently over the years -- would I mind preaching? Well, one doeesn't say no to such a request -- but just what was I going to preach about?
If I had been given some time, you would now be listening to a very dull lecture about the spirituality and genius of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the chosen patron of this seminary. But, still having to iron my cassock and pack my suitcase, there was hardly time for the proper preparation. I was a little bit beside myself about what to say to you, until a little light went on and it dawned on me that the Archbishop had provided us with the perfect explanation of why this Seminary is so necessary and why it must function actively in the future. What the Archbishop had asked of me was not very different from what the priesthood itself is all about.
About twenty years ago, the Archbishop trained and ordained me to the priesthood. He gave me the gift of Holy Orders, which he had received from the late Archbishop Shelly, who had -- ultimately -- received this gift from Jesus Christ Himself. What I am trying to say is that the priesthood is the way in which our Lord chose to spread His truth and His grace. It is as if we are hearing Him say: "I cannot be there, so you will have to do it for Me."
On that Holy Thursday, after a training period of about three years, our Lord delegated His priestly powers to His apostles. And in the following years they went out and began the job of "teaching all nations." There were only eleven of them (twelve to begin with, but every seminary has its dropouts), but after a brief retreat they began to make that effort. All of them died violent deaths, except for St. John who died in exile. But their deaths were by no means the end of their mission. For they trained men who would take up the mission from them, just as they had received it from our Lord: Peter - Paul - Linus - Cletus - Clement - Sixtus.... We hear a few of the names in the Canon of the Mass, but the list is impossibly long to repeat, for includes the priests and bishops of twenty centuries throughout every nation of the earth.
"I cannot be there, so you will have to do it for Me." Who is our Lord addressing in these words? He is speaking to priests and bishops and seminarians, obviously; but to all of us really. He is speaking to those who have written checks and placed their money in the collection basket in order to make this fine building possible. He is speaking to those who have contributed their talents and the sweat of their brow. He is urging all of us on to continued generosity over the coming years. He is speaking to those who will teach here, urging them to do their very best to pass on the Catholic Faith in its purity. "I cannot be there, so you will have to do it for Me." He is speaking to those who will come here to study, asking them to make the very most of the opportunity to be formed in His image. He is speaking to those who will come here to pray, asking them to pray for His priests and the success of His mission.
None of this will be easy. Our Lord told us that we must expect the opposition of the world. "No servant is greater than his Master. If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before you."(5) In the world around us, we have seen many with far greater resources do very poorly; producing priests who are ignorant of their Faith, or who are educated solely for the purpose of arguing with each other. We must be different. Education is important, of course; for a priest must be a teacher to his people. But, much more importantly -- each one of us and those who follow after us -- must do our best to help this Seminary turn out holy priests who will follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, whose representative they will be -- holy and humble men.
None of this will be easy, but this Seminary will flourish, precisely to the degree that it pursues this mission: "I cannot be there, so you will have to do it for Me." Our Lord has given us the seemingly impossible task of "making disciples of all nations," but He has also given us the promise that through His priesthood He "will be with us all days, even unto the end of the world."(6)
NOTES: 1. Matthew xxvi: 29. 2. John xx: 19-23. 3. Cf. Mark xvi: 16. 4. Matthew xxviii: 19-20. 5. John xv: 20, 18. 6. Matthew ibid.