Seminary Graduation 2019

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Saturday we celebrated graduation and today we said our farewell to those graduating seniors and students receiving the pre-theology certificate. It is always a bitter-sweet time at Conception Seminary. These men have spent much time among us praying, studying, and maturing. Now they prepare for their next step in life.

Conception Seminary College Commencement & Honors Assembly took place at 3:00pm on Saturday in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Students were awarded various academic scholarships.

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Above: Chas Canfield (Diocese of Grand Island) received the Alan Brown Distinguished Service Award, presented to him by Fr. Peter Ullrich, Dean of Students.

Below: Seminarian Matthew Dolechek (Diocese of Wichita), member of the graduating class, gave a speech representing the graduating class.IMG_5839 copy

Below: John Paul Hartnedy (Diocese of Little Rock) receives his diploma. He also received the award for high academic achievement in the Senior class.IMG_5877 copyIMG_5888 copy

Above: Dominic Nguyen receives his diploma. Many of Dominic’s family members traveled from Vietnam for his graduation.

Below: Daniel Chinn (Office of Communications) works behind the scenes to livestream the event. You can view the livestream hereIMG_5942 copy

Below: Abbot Benedict welcomes our guests.IMG_5809 copy

Below: Jacob Mezzacapa (Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau) poses for a photo with his diploma.

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Congratulations to the Class of 2019!IMG_5958 copy

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Seminary May Day

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Friday, May 10th was Conception Seminary’s annual “May Day” events. It is like one big day-long sports game. This year’s competition of the blue team vs. the white team involved soccer, ultimate frisbee, basketball, volleyball, softball, flag football, tug of war, and more. Among the numerous individual events, there was a dunk competition (on a lower basketball hoop), pool, ping-pong, racquetball, and a game increasing in popularity on our campus: Spikeball. Spikeball is played 2 vs 2, with a taut hula hoop sized Spikeball net placed between the teams. A player starts a point by serving the ball down on the net so it ricochets up at his opponents. They have up to three hits between them (just like Volleyball) to control the ball and bounce it back off the net.

It turned out to be a beautiful day for sporting events. The sun was shining most of the day, even though the high temperature was around 60. The seminarians seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly as did the spectators.

Below: The morning Spikeball competition was fun to watch.

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Below: The soccer game took place about the same time.

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Abbey Trails 2019

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We had our annual 5K Run/2-mile walk on Saturday morning, May 4th. This year we had beautiful weather and a wonderful turnout. There were 81 runners in the 5K race and 120 walkers. Participants enjoyed brunch and the health fair after the race in St. Michael’s Gymnasium.

Seminarian John Paul Hartnedy (Diocese of Little Rock) was the 5K race overall winner with a time of 18:27. I placed 4th overall with a time of 20:16. You can see the full results here.

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Above: I gave the pre-race instructions to all the participants.AbbeyTrails2019 - 27IMG_1570IMG_1617

Above: Seminarian John Paul Hartnedy began the race in 1st place and held on to that the entire time!IMG_1626

Below: The final hill was grueling, but I was able to finish strong.IMG_1703

Below: A group of the seminarians who ran the 5K race.

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Easter Sunday

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Happy Easter! Christ is Risen, Alleluia!

Easter blessings to you from the Monks of Conception Abbey. We celebrated our Easter Vigil this morning beginning at 4:30 AM. Monks, seminarians, and guests gathered for the powerful celebration of Christ’s victory. Please be assured of our prayers.

Tomorrow evening we will welcome our sisters from Clyde for our annual Emmaus gathering.  They will join us first for Vespers, then a festive supper.  It is a beautiful way to extend the Easter celebration.

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March Scenery

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We had some warmer weather this week. This inspired me to get out on the bicycle a couple of times with Fr. Etienne. It also encouraged me to pick up my camera and go for a walk. There are signs of spring- not so much in flowers and leaves, but in a sense of new life emerging from a particularly snowy winter. I hope you enjoy these pictures that I captured on my brief venture around campus, focusing mostly on the Basilica towers.

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Solemnity of the Passing of St. Benedict

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Happy Solemnity of the Transitus of St. Benedict!

We celebrate this special feast day for Benedictines, honoring the Abbot St. Benedict for his life and witness. Today Conception Seminary College is celebrating its annual Pastor’s Day, where the seminarians’ pastors were invited to visit. These past few weeks of Lent have gone by quickly. Spring officially began yesterday, and there are wonderful signs of Spring already at Conception. The forecast promises warmer temperatures into the 50’s and 60’s during the next week.

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Transitus2019 - 65Last weekend I traveled to Boulder, Colorado to visit a vocation candidate of ours. I was able to spend time meeting his roommates, seeing his workplace, and have dinner with his family. I also celebrated Mass Sunday morning at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church near the University of Colorado campus. After Mass on Sunday, the vocation candidate and I were able to go to Eldorado Canyon State Park and complete two beautiful hikes. One was 3.5 miles and the other was just under 5.0 miles. It was great to be outside in the mountains, enjoying the weather, and having good conversations about following God’s will and discernment.

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Lord our God,
you filled the blessed abbot Benedict
with the spirit of your Son
and made him a master in the way of perfection.
As we celebrate his entry into glory,
may we attain that love which surpasses all understanding.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lent Begins

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Abbot Benedict presided at Mass for Ash Wednesday. At Mass we prayed in the Opening Prayer: Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

Each year, in preparation for Lent, each monk of Conception Abbey meets with the Abbot to submit his “bona opera” (good works).  The bona opera is a list of usually three practices that the monk has prayerfully decided to do for Lent.  Normally these works correspond to the traditional practices of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

The bona opera is written or typed on a piece of paper and submitted to the Abbot requesting his blessing.  Each monk has a meeting time as an opportunity to speak with the Abbot and share any ideas or concerns.

I have found that it is most helpful to have my Lenten good works written down, because it is more concrete and tangible.  Posting it somewhere in my room where I will see it (and not others) is helpful for holding oneself accountable to the practices throughout the 40 days.

Many people think primarily in terms of giving something up, but sometimes it can be more effective to take something on. What practices will help me grow closer to God during these 40 days of renewal? Where have I become complacent or comfortable or attached to that which is NOT God or directing me to God? How can I renew some of my current practices with greater fervor and devotion?

In his Ash Wednesday Conference to the monks, Abbot Benedict concluded with these words of wisdom:

In the end, Lent, like monastic life is about our cooperation with God’s grace.  We discipline our bodies so that our spirit might be more open to hearing God’s word and responding to God’s grace.  But the real work of Lent is God’s work:  namely joining us to his Son’s death that we might also be joined to him in his resurrection.

Lent, like monastic life, is all about Easter and its characteristic is joy and spiritual longing.  In fact, the only two occurrences of the word, “joy,” in the Rule are found in Chapter 49 on Lent.  To enter into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ more deeply will always create in us the deepest joy and hope available to human beings.

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February Activities

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It has been an activity filled past couple of weeks. In addition to the work and ministry, we continue to get more snow. It has been a particularly snowy winter this year both in quantity of snow and frequency. Just last night we got another 2 inches of snow as evidence by my picture below.

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I was away from the monastery doing a variety of vocation work. I traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma to visit a few priests I know, including alumnus Fr. Gary Kastl who serves as the President of Bishop Kelley High School (Tulsa, OK). He had arranged for their high school students who are discerning a priestly vocation to meet with me during their lunch period. Fr. Gary provided pizza and an opportunity for me to visit and talk about monastic life with close to 20 young men. The visits, which occurred over three lunch periods, was a nice opportunity to communicate Benedictine spirituality and answer their questions about monastic life.

The main work on my trip was to serve as the chaplain for 80-90 Catholic students from Oklahoma State, the University of Tulsa, and NSU (Tahlequah, OK) on their Koinonia Retreat. It was a weekend retreat that involved prayer, fellowship, several student speakers and small group discussion. The retreat was held at Camp Egan in Tahlequah, Oklahoma (southeast of Tulsa). The weather was better than Missouri weather, and the scenery was very nice. I enjoyed my interactions with the students and being able to be their spiritual guide.

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Below: One afternoon I climbed the steep trail that led up the bluff to this overlook.IMG_5252IMG_5254IMG_5256

Above and below: Students on the retreat had the opportunity for fun, fellowship, and small group discussions.

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Below: On Monday I traveled to Oklahoma City to visit Fr. Macario, our confrere who is helping out at St. Charles Borremeo parish. Fr. Macario began his ministry last summer and I wanted to see where he worked and visit with him over lunch. We had a nice afternoon together. He showed me how he has several pictures of the monastery in his new office.

My travels also included visiting three men who are discerning a call to monastic life.

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Weeks ago I had promised several of the seminarians in the senior class that we would go rock climbing. We added a few more, including three of our junior monks who were also interested in going climbing with us. The three seniors were all seminarians that lived on the same residence floor as me during their freshmen year in seminary when I served as their chaplain and formator. We established strong bonds of fraternity and it is neat to see them now as mature upperclassmen. We went to RoKC rock climbing gym in Kansas City, arriving Saturday morning and climbing for several hours. We had a wonderful time.

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Fr. Aquinas Professes Solemn Vows

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Today, in the presence of his family, friends, seminarians, and his monastic confreres, Fr. Aquinas professed solemn vows as a monk of Conception Abbey.  In the ceremony, Fr. Aquinas made a perpetual commitment to live as a monk of our monastery, vowing obedience, stability, and conversion of life.  As you can imagine, this is an absolutely joyful occasion in the life of Fr. Aquinas, the monastic community, and the entire Church.  Such an event is very fitting on this Saturday, celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple.

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The profession ceremony took place within the context of Mass. After the proclamation of the Gospel, the Formation Director, Prior Anselm, brings Fr. Aquinas to the altar with hands joined.  The Abbot begins the rite by calling forth Fr. Aquinas in the name of the whole community.  Abbot Benedict sings, “Come, my son, hear me.  I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”  Fr. Aquinas states his intention to profess vows before the Abbot, the community, and before Almighty God.

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After the Abbot’s Admonition, Fr. Aquinas is free to come forward and profess vows, by reading aloud his profession document and signing it on the Book of the Gospels on the altar.

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Once, Fr. Aquinas has signed his profession document, he stands before the altar and prays, “Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum et vivam, et non confundas me ab expectatione mea” (Psalm 119:116- Receive me, Lord, as you have promised, and I shall live; do not disappoint me in myhope).  Fr. Aquinas sings this prayer three times, each time it is repeated by the solemnly professed members of the monastic community, who then add the doxology.  It is a prayer of total surrender and trust in the Lord.

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Then, the newly professed lies prostrate on the floor as he is covered with the black funeral pall and the bell tolls, which is symbolic of his death to self and his former way of life.  The entire assembly prays for Fr. Aquinas.

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Pictured below: Abbot Benedict, Fr. Aquinas, and Fr. Aquinas’ father.IMG_0732