Coming home again to St. John’s: Seminary alumni group hosts reunion of former students designed to heal, unite.

By Mike Nelson, staff writer, The Tidings, July 2, 1999

(The Tidings is published by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles)

At one time, they had shared a bond as students at one or more of the archdiocesan seminaries. Over time, some were ordained priests, while others, for various reasons, left the seminary, and others, after being ordained, left the priesthood.

But whatever their current status, whatever their reasons for leaving or staying, all were welcomed in the spirit of unity to a reunion June 26 at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo. Some 200 of them -- representing more than 50 years of classes -- attended the event, which included a Mass and barbecue and was designed to reestablish, sustain and strengthen the bonds that, in some way, connect them all.

Sponsored by the Seminary Alumni Association, the celebration was entitled “You CAN Come Home Again,” based on the association’s desire for unity among all former students, said Vincentian Father Bill Piletic, director of development and alumni relations at St. John’s.

“We want to make clear that the Alumni Association is intended to be inclusive and not exclusive,” Father Piletic stated. “There used to be some negativity associated with men who had left the seminary or the priesthood. But I sense that there is now more enthusiasm and openness on the part of everyone to forming a larger and stronger group.”

Those who attended represented St. John’s Seminary College (SJSC) and Theologate (SJS), as well as the former minor seminaries, Los Angeles College (LAC) and Our Lady Queen of Angels High School (OLQA). They included Cardinal Roger Mahony (SJSC ‘58, SJS ‘62), who presided at a morning liturgy, and two of the concelebrants, both of them alumni and former seminary rectors -- Bishop Sylvester Ryan of Monterey (SJSC ‘53, SJS ‘57) and Bishop George Niederauer of Salt Lake City (SJSC ‘58, SJS ‘62).

Attendees representing the college classes of 1949, 1959 and 1974 received special recognition at the end of the Mass. “It’s a great feeling to return,” smiled Rene Burke, a class of 1949 member and a parishioner of St. James Church, Redondo Beach, who came with classmate John Regan, a parishioner of St. Augustine Church, Culver City.

Also attending was Terry Halloran, a 1956 college graduate who was ordained as a priest in 1960. After seven years, he left the priesthood, got married and has two adult sons. “But I never felt a distance between myself and those who stayed as priests, or from the seminary,” he said. “I’ve always felt this place was home.”

“The fact that you’re here indicates that your good memories outweighed the not-so-good,” Msgr. Edward Clark, current rector and president of St. John’s Seminary College, told those who attended. “Hopefully, this will be the first in a long line of annual celebrations.”

Sporadically, over the history of St. John’s, various alumni gatherings have taken place, including two in the mid 1980s while Bishop Ryan was seminary rector. “There was a lot of connectedness then,” he recalled, “and a great feeling of welcome and unity.”

“That sense of unity still exists,” added Bishop Ryan. “We were all there discerning our vocations,” he said. “And we’ve realized these vocations in different ways -- the priesthood for some of us, secular occupations and family life for others. But I think all of us are called to serve and make a difference in the life of the church, and even those alumni who are not priests are serving in various church ministries.”

Like Paul Hughes (SJSC ‘56), who co-chaired last Saturday’s event, and is involved with Catholic Charities in the San Fernando Region. “There is a real need,” he said, “to reach out to others who have been in the seminary, to heal the wounds of those who left for various reasons, and to make them feel welcome here.”

More recently, the association has been renewed under the direction of Father Piletic. The group’s purposes -- in addition to offering fellowship -- include identifying and recruiting students for the seminary, and presenting educational and spiritual programs.

“We also value the friendship and personal associations developed during our time in the seminary,” said Father Piletic. “We are committed to promoting meaningful interaction among alumni, students and faculty of the seminaries, and we think that the alumni can be a positive force in recruiting seminarians.”

Noting that reconciliation is a major theme in the final year of preparation for the new millennium, Father Piletic said, “We’d like this association to be a vehicle for healing and reconciliation where it is needed. We hope that every student who attended any of the seminaries of the archdiocese will know they have a home to come home to.”

“For some men, it’s a painful decision, even a trauma, to leave the priesthood,” noted Bishop Ryan. “It can put a distance between you and those who were ordained and are still active. What is so positive about reunions like the one we had in 1986 and this year’s event is that they remind us all of the sense of fraternity that existed then and still exists among us.”

Cardinal Mahony alluded to these bonds in his homily. “The search for Jesus,” he said, “is part of our constant journey of faith. As we come together from our different directions, on our different journeys, it is still with the same quest: to enter more deeply into the life of Jesus. My prayer for all of us -- and for all who come after us -- is that we continue our faith and life journeys seeking a deeper relationship with our risen Lord.”