Lawn Party raises record amount for Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary

WESTON -- After arriving at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston on Aug. 23, 2015, it took seminarian Corey Bassett-Tirrell of the Archdiocese of Boston only 30 minutes to feel at home.

Speaking to the hundreds of people gathered under a tent on the seminary grounds for the 36th annual Lawn Party, Sept. 27, Bassett-Tirrell shared his vocation story.

A former Episcopalian who was received into the Catholic Church in 2005, he worked in the funeral business for a number of years before becoming involved in parish ministry as a musician and communications specialist. He liked the work, but, he said, "all along the way, there was a very persistent angel that kept tugging on my sleeve."

In 2014, he attended an archdiocesan vocation retreat. It was there that he realized the "angel" wouldn't be ignored, and that he was called to become a priest.

He arrived at Pope St. John XXIII Seminary the following year.

"I knew in my heart that this is exactly where God had placed me to discern my vocation to the priesthood," she said.

"To live, work, sleep, and pray at a place that is filled with so many fine men from so many different backgrounds, both professionally and personally, has made clear to me that God can do what Ephesians says, infinitely more than asked for or imagined," he said.

Over 350 people attended the Lawn Party, and together raised close to $300,000 for the seminary. Both figures, said Lawn Part chair John Corcoran during the event, are records.

Corcoran, his wife Julie Corcoran, and their family have chaired in the event since 2015. Taking the podium following words of welcome and gratitude by seminary rector Father Brian Kiely, John Corcoran spoke on the importance of the seminary, which he referred to as a "really special place."

"It's interesting, though," he said, "it's also a place that, to the outside world, is not always that well understood. There is a perception out there sometimes that when a man comes to the seminary, the man has somehow or another stepped out of society."

"It's an interesting perception for one simple reason -- it is completely wrong," he said.

Instead, the "men who are here in formation and those who preceded them, far from leaving society, have, in fact, put themselves in the middle of it."

It is at Pope St. John XXIII that prayer, learning, contemplation, reflection, and formation happens, Corcoran said.

The seminary, he continued, is "a community of men who love the Lord and have chosen to walk with him. It is as simple as that."

In addition to Bassett-Tirrell, Deacon Maurice M. Culver, a seminarian of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida spoke to those gathered about his vocation journey.

Deacon Culver said he had a secular upbringing, not entering the Catholic faith until attending college at Purdue University, after a friend invited him to attend a midnight Mass.

"As I entered the vestibule of the church, an overwhelming sense of peace welled up from within me, and at the same time, the thought -- 'I'm home,'" he said.

After later attending Howard University, where he earned a medical degree, Deacon Culver joined the Navy as a physician. After leaving the service, he became a professor at a Florida college. He became a permanent deacon, and began pursuing training in canon law. Soon, he began to feel that "my day job was getting in the way of my weekend Church life," and decided to pursue priesthood.

"I had thought about it before, numerous times, but resisted," said Deacon Culver. "Well, here I am."

Living with and sharing facilities with strangers was different from what he was most recently used to, he said. Yet, nevertheless, "this place has become a home away from home for most of us."

"We, the men of this house, and the staff, thank you for your past, present, and continued generosity and support in making this a better place for us and the formation of future diocesan priests," he said to those gathered.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley was present at the event, and offered a blessing before a buffet-style dinner was served.

Listening to the vocation stories, he said, "is like a retreat. It reminds us how God's grace touches people's lives and completely changes the course of their life."

"These men have responded with such generosity," he said of the seminarians and clergy in the room.

Founded in 1964, Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary is uniquely dedicated to providing the formation of men responding to the call of the priesthood later in their lives. Since opening, candidates from over 140 dioceses and 23 religious communities have come to the seminary, and some 600 alumni serve in dioceses and religious communities around the world.

In all four of the dioceses he has served in, said Cardinal O'Malley, "I have been blessed to have graduates from this seminary, and all of them were outstanding priests."