Saint Francis de Sales 175th Anniversary

The impact of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, since its founding in Bishop John Martin Henni’s home in 1845, can be communicated quite simply: through the seminary, we receive our priests. Through our priests, we receive the Eucharist. Through the Eucharist, we receive our hope of eternal life.

But the impact of this institution, which this year celebrates its 175th anniversary, is also much broader than that. For a Catholic living anywhere in Wisconsin, the seminary’s impact can be found in all of life’s most important moments.

“For Catholics, at the most important times of a person’s life, who is there but the priest?” said Fr. John Hemsing, Rector of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary. “There, standing with them pretty much throughout their entire lives, is the priest. I’ve baptized babies I ended up giving First Communion to. I’ve confirmed people I’ve given First Communion to. I’ve married couples and baptized their babies.”

More than 10,000 men have studied at the seminary since its founding, and roughly 4,000 have been ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the dioceses of Madison, La Crosse, Green Bay and Superior, among other dioceses. This year, 61 men are studying at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.

What many Catholics in Milwaukee may not realize is the rare gift that is having a seminary within the boundaries of their archdiocese, said Fr. Hemsing. Not only is it an ever-present encouragement for the discernment of vocations to holy orders, having a seminary in close proximity provides opportunities for the faithful to get to know their future priests, and for those future priests to be formed among the very people they will one day shepherd.

“We’re a Midwestern seminary and institution, and it’s kind of nice to be trained where you’re going to be ministering,” said Fr. Hemsing. “The men who are going to be priests here in Wisconsin are trained in Wisconsin.”

Saint Francis de Sales Seminary utilizes a “teaching parish model,” which means that along with theology classes and intellectual formation, seminarians also receive pastoral formation through real-life experience working in parishes throughout the archdiocese. “The men get to work where they will be ordained and they get to know each other as they work together — not only here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee but really, throughout the entire state,” said Fr. Hemsing.

How can Catholics support their seminary?

While there is an ongoing need for financial support for the seminary, donating funds is not the only way Catholics can participate in the life and support the mission of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.

Pray for vocations: We hear it all the time, because it really is that important. “It’s so important to keep at the forefront of our faith the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the source and summit of what we believe as Catholics,” explained Fr. Hemsing. “Priesthood is so much tied up with what we believe as Catholics. First and foremost, we need prayer that the Lord calls people to ministry and the priesthood, and that people have an open heart to accept and answer that call.”

Encourage future priests: Do you know someone who may have the gifts of the priesthood? Encourage them to prayerfully discern whether God is calling them to that state in life.

Support your priests: “Support the priests who are in your life,” said Fr. Hemsing. “Thank them for the fact that they said yes to God.”