Weigel honored at Redemptoris Mater Seminary gala

QUINCY -- Nearly 600 supporters of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary of Boston gathered at the Boston Marriot Quincy hotel June 4 for the seminary's 8th annual Gala Dinner, which honored noted Catholic author and papal biographer George Weigel.

Established on Sept. 11, 2005, Redemptoris Mater Seminary, an archdiocesan missionary seminary in Brookline, prepares priests for the new evangelization. Vocations pursued at the seminary arise from the Neocatechumenal Way, an international itinerary of faith formation within the Catholic Church.

The theme of this year's gala centered on the life and ministry of Pope John Paul II, who in 1988 initiated the first Redemptoris Mater Seminary.

In opening remarks, rector Father Antonio Medeiros spoke about the birth of the Redemptoris Mater Seminaries, which also in part sprang out of the Second Vatican Council.

"I believe that it is fitting tonight, especially as we invoke the memory of Pope John Paul II, to recall that the Redemptoris Mater Seminaries would not exist today were it not for the expressed and direct will of Pope John Paul II," said Father Medeiros.

"As the number of priests dwindled all over the world and Europe displayed signs of deserting its Christian roots, the Holy Father, sensing the urgency of the moment, opened the first Redemptoris Mater Seminary in the diocese of Rome and began to send groups of families, accompanied by priests formed in these seminaries, to re-evangelize the continent," he continued.

There are currently 24 men from eight different countries studying in the Brookline seminary, and since its opening, six men have been ordained priests for Boston. On June 10, three more men will be ordained transitional deacons, he noted.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, who offered an opening prayer, introduced Weigel and lauded his 2005 biography of Pope John Paul II, "Witness to Hope."

"To me, it's the best biography of the Holy Father. I've read biographies in many different languages, but none of them have captured, in my mind, the charism and the life and the gifts of John Paul II the way that George Weigel has done," he said. "This is a great contribution to the Church."

In his talk, Weigel focused on the "priestly paternity" of Pope John Paul II, born Karol Wojtyla, and the figures in his life that formed him in his priesthood and led him to ultimately become a beloved spiritual father to millions across the globe.

Weigel noted two highly influential figures in Wojtyla's life: his father, Karol Wojtyla Sr., and Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, archbishop of Krakow and the man who ordained Wojtyla a priest in 1946.

Wojtyla Sr. was a quiet man of integrity, said Weigel. A retired military officer, he was also a man of constant prayer who "taught his son by example that the Church is more than a visible institution of which one is a member."

He taught Wojtyla that "prayerfulness and manliness go together, and "first planted in the future pope the idea that the life of faith first has to do with interior conversion, of letting the mystery enter into and begin to form in our own bodies."

Fifty years after his ordination, Pope John Paul II wrote that the example of his father was, "in a way, my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary."

If Pope John Paul II's foundational understanding of prayer and the Church came from his father, then his image of the heroic priest came from Cardinal Sapieha, Weigel said.

Cardinal Sapieha, the Archbishop of Krakow during the World War II, endured the Nazi occupation of Poland. He stood defiant to the regime, opening a secret seminary in the bishop's palace after the Nazis shut down the seminary in the city.

Yet, each night, Wojtyla and others would watch as Cardinal Sapieha laid the problems of the day down in prayer before God.

It was from the cardinal that Wojtyla "absorbed a heroic concept of the priesthood," said Weigel.

"Those essential hours of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament led to an active public ministry in which the priest, following the example of Christ the High Priest, offers his life in the service of his neighbor," he continued.

These early figures, as well as countless others, including the young people he met as university chaplain, formed Wojtyla into the saintly pope he became -- a father-like figure to millions who helped bring countless men and women to embrace the Church.

"Lessons of John Paul II's experience of the priesthood and his teaching about the priesthood are perennial," said Weigel.

"They have inspired entire generation of priests and thanks to the work of this, and the other seminaries whose foundation he inspired, they will continue to inspire generations of priests to come," he continued.

Also honored during the evening was Ronald J. Brodeur, president of Brodeur Construction Corporation. Brodeur, a long-time supporter of Redemptoris Mater, was presented with the seminary's Evangelization Award.

"I'm truly honored and humbled to be awarded this," said Brodeur after receiving the award from Cardinal O'Malley. "The blessings are countless, and I can't say enough about how good it is."

He urged those present to support the seminary, before announcing that he would match the donations of the first four first-time donors to the seminary.

In closing remarks, Cardinal O'Malley thanked those in attendance for their continued support.

"I want to thank you for all of your support for the seminary, for vocations, and urge you to continue to pray for good and holy priests and religious in our Church, and to continue to support our Redemptoris Mater Seminary which is making such a difference not just here in Boston but throughout the world."

Redemptoris Mater Seminary "is a great grace and a blessing for our Church and particularly here in Boston," he said.