Seminarian safety, formation top priorities for diocese

The Diocese of St. Cloud currently has two men in formation at St. John Vianney and eight men in formation at St. Paul Seminary. There is also one man at the Pontifical North American College in Rome and one at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona.

Not long after the grand jury report was released, diocesan vocation director Father Scott Pogatchnik gathered with the St. Cloud seminarians for their annual fall retreat, a time when they come together for prayer, fraternity and to welcome new seminarians.

Father Scott Pogatchnik is vocation director for the Diocese of Saint Cloud. He also serves a rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral and pastor of St. Augustine Parish in St. Cloud.

He had the opportunity to speak with them collectively as well as one-on-one about their concerns. Bishop Donald Kettler also joined them for Mass and a meal and provided time for the seminarians to ask him questions. He added his own encouragement and commitment to their formation.

“The safety of all of our seminarians is very important to me,” Bishop Kettler told The Visitor.

“I feel confident that the seminaries in which our men are enrolled have solid formation processes in place as well as substantial safe environment policies.

“Despite the difficult circumstances amid past and recent allegations, these men have answered the call to discern priesthood, to be men of God, striving to lead others to Jesus Christ. I’m very proud of their sacrifices and of their commitment to love and serve the church,” he said.

“Another priority for me is that our seminarians become priests who protect our young people and cultivate respect for everyone,” he added.

Father Pogatchnik works closely with the seminaries to ensure an environment of mutual trust.

“In the past, there were only a couple of people in charge of seminarian formation. Now there is a whole team of people. There are many levels of input not only evaluating the quality of formation but also a solid system of checks and balances,” he said.

A seminarian holds a rosary. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

Father Pogatchnik said the seminaries he works with have adopted a “whole family approach” to formation.

“Long ago, seminaries operated on more of an efficiency model. Now, it is more of a familial model where the men are formed in true spiritual communities,” he said.

The emphasis, he said, is largely on human formation.

“A lot of attention is given to the psychological and emotional elements. Those are aspects we don’t sweep under the rug. If a guy is not developing emotionally or able to articulate his hopes and fears, we need to address that,” he said.

And it is not just the role of the seminary, Father Pogatchnik said, the laity also have a role in seminarian formation.

“There are many lay people who are very much involved in using their expertise and are generous in dedicating their expertise to the men in formation,” he said. “The emphasis on human formation goes beyond the seminary and even back to the parishes, including the teaching parishes. The people of God should be involved in the training of their future pastors and oftentimes have the best sense about the men in formation. There is so much expertise available to these young men. It is as good as it’s ever been.”

About Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

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