CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
The element of personal witness — an invitation, a testimony, a conversation — can make all the difference for a young man who is discerning the will of God in his future.
Just ask St. Andrew.
In the Gospel of John, it is written that the very first thing this disciple did after encountering Christ was to go and personally bring his brother Simon Peter to the Lord, telling him: “We have found the Messiah.” (John 1:40). St. Andrew’s encounter with the Son of God — and the newfound sense of mission it inspired within him — was so powerful that he could not keep it to himself.
In the spirit of St. Andrew’s evangelization, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Vocations Office hosts a St. Andrew Dinner each year. It’s an opportunity for young men considering a vocation to the priesthood to spend time at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, interacting in a relaxed atmosphere with seminarians and priests and learning more about the discernment process.
This year’s St. Andrew Dinner will be on the feast of St. John the Evangelist, the patron of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, on Thursday, Dec. 27.
The evening will begin with Mass, followed by dinner and discussion. Talks will be given by Bishop James Schuerman, vocation director Fr. Luke Strand, vocation promoter Fr. Enrique Hernandez, and seminarians of the archdiocese. Attendees will have dinner alongside seminarians and priests, affording them a chance to ask questions and engage in discussion — pulling back the curtain on issues related to seminary life and the road to ordination.
“There are so many misconceptions about seminary life, and even about the priesthood, and so when these men come and have conversation with these ‘normal’ guys who are seminarians, it kind of blows their mind,” said Fr. Strand. “I think that some men think the only thing our seminarians do is spend 12 hours a day in the chapel.”
“You find out that they’re normal guys with normal interests,” said Zachary Galante, a Pre-Theology II seminarian at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary. “For me, just meeting the seminarians themselves was a really great gift.”
Galante’s first experience at the St. Andrew Dinner came during his sophomore year in college in 2015. He was home on break from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was, he said, “an impressive evening … to pray in a chapel filled with all the priests, all the seminarians plus all the men who are there for the dinner was just a very moving experience. It’s a great gift to be there and pray together and open our hearts to the Lord in the Eucharist.”
This is the largest vocations event of the year, and Fr. Strand said that about 75 young men and about 15 priests are expected to attend this year. Priests are encouraged to personally invite young men from their parishes who might be open to the process of discernment, but young men are also invited to sign up independently and do not need to come at the invitation of a priest. Fathers are also welcome and often attend as well.
“The neat thing is you get a lot of different varieties of guys coming to it. It’s not just guys who are very set and sold on being a priest,” said Galante. “Most guys that actually go have never even thought about it before or just recently started thinking about it.”
The St. Andrew Dinner was Galante’s first visit to the seminary. He had been invited to attend the event by his pastor, Fr. Nathan Reesman of St. Frances Cabrini in West Bend. Looking back on it, coming to the dinner, he said, was a way for him to follow in the example of St. Andrew.
“St. Andrew is described as the first apostle to the Lord in tradition, because he pointed out to Peter, his brother, that we have found the Messiah in Jesus,” he said. “When I went to the Andrew dinner, it was the first time that I publicly declared, just like St. Andrew did, that this is the Messiah — this is my discernment, that I believe in Jesus and that I’m open to following him actively in my life wherever that may lead.”
For more information on the St. Andrew Dinner, visit thinkpriest.org.