Pope St. John XXIII Lawn Party raises record support for seminary

WESTON -- Msgr. Peter Conley has been attending Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary's annual Lawn Party fundraisers since they first started in 1981.

Msgr. Conley, 85, served on the faculty of the seminary from 1975 to 1987, then from 2014 to 2021.

At the 42nd annual Lawn Party, held on Sept. 27, Msgr. Conley said that the parties -- and the dinners they serve -- are better than ever before.

"It's encouraging," he said about seeing over 300 people gathered for this year's Lawn Party. "Very encouraging."

This year's Lawn Party raised $400,000 for the seminary, which prepares men between the ages of 30 and 60 for the priesthood. It's the most money that any Lawn Party has raised in 42 years.

"I think there's a great appreciation for the quality of the men that are studying here in formation," seminary board member John Corcoran said in his remarks.

There are currently 42 men living and studying at the seminary. A relatively high number of them are from the Boston area, which Corcoran said contributed to this year's record fundraising total.

"It's a bit of a local audience," he said, "so it's a great way to affirm the mission and let the men know how appreciated they are for their sacrifices."

Father Brian R. Kiely, who has served as the seminary's rector since 2016, thanked Seminary Director of Institutional Advancement Kate Folan for organizing the party.

"You hear me say so often that I'm living the dream," Father Kiely said. "Well, the reason I'm living the dream is because I'm surrounded by priests and laity of such caliber."

He asked seminary alumni to stand up and be recognized.

"These are the guys that you've supported, through your contributions and prayers," Father Kiely told those in attendance.

Seminarian Speaker Patrick Bruen, a second-year seminarian at Pope St. John XXIII, became choked up as he described what the seminary has meant to him.

"This place is now my home," he said. "These men are now my family."

Bruen, originally from Dearborn, Michigan, felt a calling to the priesthood after the death of his wife of 40 years. He became drawn to the image of the Sacred Heart and dwelt on it extensively. His priest told him that, perhaps, God was calling him to join the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Bruen said he laughed in his priest's face, but he began to consider the priesthood more and more.

"When my wife died," he said, "the Lord took a piece of my heart. I was left with a hole. I asked the Lord to heal that hole, but over time I realized that the only way to make my heart whole was to give the rest of it to Him."

When he entered Pope St. John XXIII, and met men with stories similar to his, he grew more confident.

"I am not a normal vocation by a longshot, but one by one, each obstacle in my way fell," Bruen said. "Vocation for a man in his 50s or early 60s is possible. Not easy, but still possible."

Bruen will become a transitional deacon in 2024, then, "God willing," be ordained a priest in 2025. He will be 68 years old by that time. He joked that he hopes to be a priest until he's 93, and live to be 100, but he'll "see what happens."

"Believe me," he said. "I can't do this on my own, but with your prayers and the help of the Holy Spirit, anything is possible."

He encouraged those at the Lawn Party to "plant the seed" of vocation into the minds of older men in their lives.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley could not attend this year's Lawn Party because he is in Rome, participating in the Synod of Bishops. Bishop Mark O'Connell, who delivered the blessing in his stead, said that Cardinal O'Malley sent his prayers.

Father Kiely and Bishop O'Connell presented the seminary's inaugural Pacem In Terris Award to Anna-Marie Ferraro, who, along with her late husband Salvatore, has been a longtime supporter of the seminary.

The award is named for a 1963 encyclical by Pope St. John XXIII and is given to someone who exemplifies the encyclical's message of peace and justice through humble acts of service.

"She has quietly supported many acts of philanthropy and charity throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and throughout the Catholic Church," Father Kiely said. "She knows it's not about her. It's about Jesus."

"I feel very honored and humbled to have been chosen," Ferraro told The Pilot, "because I'm sure there were many others more worthy than I. I love this seminary. My husband and I have supported it for many years, and the wonderful work they do in forming mature men to priesthood."