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WESTON -- Over 350 friends and benefactors of Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary's came out Sept. 26 to show their support for the seminary at its 37th annual Lawn Party, held on the grounds of the seminary.
Founded in 1964, Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary is uniquely dedicated to providing formation of men responding to the call of the priesthood later in their lives. At the time of its founding, the only seminary of this kind was the Pontifical Beda Seminary in Rome.
This year the lawn party raised $280,000 for the seminary. One year of tuition costs $35,000, and expenses for four years of formation can total over $150,000.
Father Brian Kiely, the rector and president of the seminary, welcomed and acknowledged the previous rectors present that night, Bishop Peter Uglietto and Father William Palardy.
"It's always nice to be able to stand on the shoulders of your predecessors," Father Kiely said.
Bill Janovitz, who co-chaired the dinner with his wife Ro, said in his remarks that alumni priests have served in both of the parishes he and Ro attend, in Massachusetts and in Florida.
He thanked Dick Murphy and Kate Folan, the director and associate director of institutional advancement, who are the first point of contact many people have with the seminary.
Father Kiely shared a joke about priests from various orders having different reactions to a fuse blowing out during vespers. The Dominicans in the congregation debated about what to do and the Carmelites prayed in silence, the joke went, but it was the parish priest who solved the problem by fixing the fuse.
"We are preparing parish priests here, in this seminary," Father Kiely said. "They are the ones who will accompany you. They are the ones who will minister to you. They are the ones who will love you the way Christ loves you."
He invited those in attendance to come to the seminary's Sunday Mass.
Mason Wiggins, a third-year student from the Diocese of St. Augustine in Florida, shared his vocation story. He said he could speak from experience about seminaries because he had entered formation twice and had attended five different seminaries.
He first studied for the priesthood in college, and followed his bishop's suggestions to study for a year at a time at four different institutions. He then asked for some time off to reconsider.
He did not plan for the time off to last 34 years, he said.
During that period, Wiggins worked at a law firm and served in various capacities in the Senate and House of Representatives.
"I never left the Church, but I did start taking it for granted. I kind of felt like I was a Catholic in name only," Wiggins said.
About 10 years ago, he said, he decided to "try to be a better man and a better Catholic." But even as he sought spiritual direction and made changes in his lifestyle, Wiggins was hesitant to consider entering seminary again, because he felt unworthy and thought it had been too long since he left.
Then, five years ago, his spiritual director urged him to consider it, and after two years of personal discernment he decided to find out if the Diocese of St. Augustine would accept an older candidate. He was directed to St. John XXIII, his fifth seminary, which he called "an exceptionally good house of formation."
Wiggins said that because of people like the donors, "The Church has received, and will continue to receive, good priests from this house."
He acknowledged "the current sad situation we find in our Church," and said that, "in these difficult times, we need good seminaries, we need good priests, and we need good bishops."
Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley delivered closing remarks before blessing the food. He said at each of the four dioceses where he has served as a bishop, each has had priests from Pope St. John XXIII.
"The seminary has done so much to help the Church, not just here in Massachusetts but throughout our whole country," Cardinal O'Malley said.