Food, conversation, and a little friendly quarrel all made for a successful evening as more than 650 people from across the Diocese of Nashville gathered for the 14th annual Seminarian Education Dinner and Auction on Tuesday, May 23, at Holy Family Church in Brentwood.
The event was put on by the Office of Vocations and the Office of Stewardship and Development, with the help of the Serra Club of Williamson County, the Serra Club of Nashville, and the Knights of Columbus, to raise money for the Seminarian Education fund, which provides financial support for the men currently in formation for ordination to the priesthood, an annual cost of $75,000 per seminarian.
“It’s amazing how many people are here,” said Ashley Linville, director of the Office of Stewardship and Development. “We have people from all over the diocese, people out there having a good time, and we’re grateful for their support.
“We’re here tonight for our seminarians, to support them and their formation, and it’s exciting to see so many of them out there,” he said. “These are some of our future priests, and we’re grateful for that.”
To begin the evening, Bishop J. Mark Spalding welcomed the attendees.
“It’s good that we are here together to celebrate such a blessing we have in our vocation ministry in this diocese, which continues to grow and prosper,” Bishop Spalding said. “There are many blessings in the Diocese of Nashville, and I’m seeing so many sitting right here before me right now.
“In our vocation family, the bottom line is we always want to say yes to the will of God and be generous in that response and tonight is about that,” he continued. “Let us rejoice in the gift of each other. Let us live our lives well.
“Life is a fleeting moment, but God gives us this moment. He gives us many gifts to use in this life to make his kingdom come,” the bishop concluded. “We do that by living our lives in the way of Jesus Christ, and we need priests to do that! I’m very blessed by our presbyterate, but we need to always keep praying for vocations and we do that well here.”
As the night began, those who gathered got a chance to talk with many of the 21 seminarians currently in formation as they enjoyed a catered dinner by Bacon and Caviar Gourmet Catering.
“I started coming to this dinner when they started” with the late Bishop David Choby, said Linda Borum, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Madison. “I just come every year because I get to see all the priests that I’ve been at St. Joseph with over the last 40 years.”
Noting how she converted to the faith in 1983, and the way she fell in love with it, Borum said, she knows that wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for priests. That’s why, she said, it’s important to support the current seminarians.
“We have had so many seminarians over the last 10 years, and they are just the best young men you’ll ever be around,” Borum said. “The seminarians are just so wonderful. I love them so much.”
Seminarian Liam Farris, who is studying at St. Joseph Seminary in Covington, Louisiana, said he always enjoys coming to this event.
“It’s always one of the most incredible things to see all the people here who have been praying for us all year and giving so much of their time and effort, so that we’re able to constantly pray for our vocation,” he said.
Along with the annual silent auction, which included art pieces, various gift baskets, and Pizza and Prayers for eight with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation, the live auction returned for the first time in several years with items such as pilgrimages with Father Luke Wilgenbsuch, director of vocations, and Father Gervan Menezes, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Cookeville; dinner with the Tennessee Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel, and his wife Jen; and vacation homes.
The most popular item by far, however, was Bourbon and Burgers with the Bishop, which brought in $44,000 on its own. The large amount came when a bidding war commenced between four bidders who all agreed in the end to pay $11,000 for their own meal with the shepherd of the diocese.
Eddie Pearson, a parishioner of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, was one of the four who won the opportunity. He noted how, in previous years, he won a similar event with Father Andrew Forsythe, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Lawrenceburg, and Father John Hammond, pastor of St. Patrick Church in South Nashville.
“It’s a fun time to relax,” Pearson said of the dinners.
“It was fun, and it really gets your adrenaline going,” he added, as he reflected on the return of the live auction portion. “The excitement of being able to bid is great.”
That $11,000 is only part of what Pearson and his wife, Kathleen, had already planned to give toward the Seminarian Education Fund.
“We’ve been in the diocese for a long time, and we’ve seen periods when there were very few priests and seeing priests who were having to stay at parishes for a long period of time,” he said.
“Well past their time to retire,” added Kathleen Pearson, aunt of Father Mark Simpson, associate pastor of Holy Family who will begin serving as pastor of Mother Teresa Church in Nolensville on June 26.
“When Bishop Choby really made an emphasis, we started supporting vocations because we knew the long-term impact, and we are thankful for Bishop Spalding’s continuation of this great tradition,” Eddie Pearson said.
As the evening came to a close, Father Wilgenbusch took the stage as he presented the seminarians, noting in particular Deacon Augustine Mang and Deacon Oscar Romero Avelino, who will be ordained as priests of the diocese on Saturday, May 27, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation.
“In a few short days, these two men will lay down on the marble in the Cathedral and as bishop prays for them, they will forever be transformed into priests of Jesus Christ,” he announced, to a standing ovation from the crowd. “We are certainly grateful to them for their dedicated service, for their willingness to follow God’s call, and we’re thankful to the Lord for His grace. He is blessing the Diocese of Nashville.”
Both Deacons Mang and Romero Avelino were presented with gifts during the evening including two stoles, a purple one for confession and a white one for blessings, from the Serra Club, as well as their chosen chalices from the Diocese of Nashville archives, made possible by the recent chalice loaning program.
“We have a beautiful, rich history in this diocese, and we have a great archive that we’ve been working on developing and building out and making accessible for people to see,” Father Wilgenbusch explained. “For us, an archive is not a museum. It’s a living testament of our history and tradition as a beautiful, amazing diocese for over 150 years.
“Part of that means continuing to live what we’ve always lived in our Catholic faith and not letting those things be simply relics of the past, but that they continue to give glory to God,” he said. “In the archive, there are many beautiful chalices of priests who have gone before us in this diocese, who have given their lives in witness to the faith.”
Both deacons “picked a chalice from a priest of our diocese who has passed away that they want to put back into use as priests,” Father Wilgenbusch said. “These are being lent to the men to use throughout their priesthood so that the faith that the priests who have gone before them have laid can continue to bear fruit in this diocese.”
During his remarks, Father Wilgenbusch also had another announcement as most of the current 21 men in formation stood before him.
“That’s a pretty good number, but it’s just the beginning,” he said. “Currently, for next year, we have 10 men in the application process, so very, very good things are happening in our diocese.”
“As you all probably noticed, this is a really big event for us in the Diocese of Nashville and the Office of Vocations, and I look forward to it every year … because when I look at this crowd, I see the people who support and make possible the culture of vocations. That culture of vocations is what makes our diocese so great in this very area,” Father Wilgenbusch said.
“I was traveling outside the diocese recently and somebody came up to me and said, ‘It’s so good to see a young priest,’” he recalled. “I was taken aback and thinking, ‘You must not live in Nashville’ because here we see a lot of young priests and these men are testimony to that,” referring to the seminarians at the front of the room.
As he concluded his remarks, Father Wilgenbusch noted how fostering a culture of vocations is the reason the Holy Spirit is able to work.
“I don’t recruit. We can’t recruit. It is only God who calls,” he said. “All we can do is foster a culture of vocations to make sure that every young man in this diocese can hear when the Lord calls him, and that involves each and every one of us.
“One of the great things about my position, I think, is I get to see where we’re going to be 10, 15, and 20 years down the road. I’m constantly having conversations with young men in fifth grade, in 11th grade, in college saying, ‘I think God might be calling me,’” Father Wilgenbusch explained. “I look at that young man and this is maybe the first time he’s expressing that desire, and who knows what God’s going to do in his life, but I think this is the Holy Spirit at work.
“How blessed are we to be in a place where that young man knows how to reach out to a priest, how to ask a question, and be open to God’s call? That is not happening everywhere in the world today. That’s not happening everywhere in this country today. We live in a blessed diocese, and you all are part of that.”
To donate to the Seminarian Education Fund, visit dioceseofnashville.com/seda/.