Since its inception by Bishop emeritus Anthony Pilla more than 35 years ago, the Bishop’s Seminary Brunch has been a way to encourage vocations, support seminarians, raise cash for the rector’s fund that helps seminarians with emergency expenses and to show appreciation to benefactors.
Normally, a sell-out crowd of more than 1,000 jams into the ballroom at Executive Caterers at Landerhaven. The 2020 brunch was one of the first events canceled by the burgeoning pandemic. Unfortunately, it’s still not safe to gather in large groups, so event organizers opted for a virtual brunch this year.
The pre-recorded event was about 35 minutes long and can be viewed below.
“I am appreciative of the new technology that makes this possible,” said Bishop Pilla, as he launched the program. He explained that the brunch was established to assist seminarians at both Borromeo and Saint Mary seminaries with emergencies that occur. It also helps the rector by providing cash for the rector’s fund, which can benefit seminarians.
He handed the program off to Bishop Edward Malesic. “We are truly blessed to have him as our bishop. He is a wonderful man,” Bishop Pilla added.
Although he never experienced the Bishop’s Brunch in person, Bishop Malesic mused that it must be quite a sight. “I want to ordain the best priests for our parishes,” he said, adding that he’s “impressed and maybe even a little jealous of the energy and enthusiasm of the seminarians. I can’t wait to see what they will do.”
The seminary was one of his first stops after arriving in Cleveland, the bishop said. “I still like to think of myself as a simple parish priest. I was Father Ed. And that’s what most of our seminarians will be – parish priests.”
On another seminary visit, he recalled seeing some of the men playing Frisbee football with some high school students. Father Mike McCandless, diocesan vocation director – and a former high school athlete – joined in and the bishop noted his competitive spirit. “That’s a good thing,” he said.
Bishop Malesic also pointed out the improvements underway at the seminary that are funded by the Heart of a Shepherd capital campaign. These much-needed renovations to the residence wings will provide modern amenities for the seminarians as they continue their education and formation.
He said many people admire the priests in Cleveland, noting the great fraternity they have. “And that always goes back to the seminary,” he said.
Two Saint Mary seminarians, Joe Menkhaus and James Parisi, and Borromeo seminarian Nathan Frankart, provided testimonials about how they benefitted from the Bishop’s Seminary Brunch.
Menkhaus, a fourth-year theology student looking forward to ordination as a transitional deacon, said as part of the seminary choir he always looked forward to singing at the brunch. “It’s like looking out on the body of Christ,” he said, as he imagined what it would be like as a priest.
With seven younger siblings, Menkhaus said there were challenges to ensure he could afford his seminary education and associated costs. The rector’s fund and the Bishop’s Brunch were helpful to him.
“They gave me the opportunity to attend conferences that enhanced my spiritual growth,” he said.
Parisi, a first-year theology student, said the Bishop’s Brunch shows the seminarians they have the support of the diocese. “When I would look out, I saw 1,000 people supporting us financially and in prayer. We need your support and your prayers; I need you to have my back so I can have yours.”
The rector’s fund helped Parisi afford repairs to his car, which he said has “lots of miles and experience.” Not having to worry about those expenses allows him to focus on his full-time job of formation.
Frankart, a Borromeo senior, said he is grateful for how good the people of God have been to him. There are many sacrifices that come with entering the seminary, he said, and he was concerned about finances. But the Bishop’s Brunch helped alleviate those concerns. “It is incredible to see all the support and the care for those in the seminary. You are a source of encouragement for me and my brothers,” he added.
Father Josh Cochrac, who was ordained in August 2020, called himself “a lifer,” explaining that all of his formation – four years at Borromeo Seminary and five years at Saint Mary – were in the diocesan seminaries. He expressed his gratitude to the people of the diocese for their financial and prayerful support.
“It is a great grace to see so many support our seminarians and seminaries,” Father Cochrac said, noting he was aided by the rector’s fund several times during his nine years in the seminary – for car repairs, help with a medical bill and help in paying the interest on his student loans.
“I am grateful for your support and your presence. Thank you for all you do for the diocese and especially to promote priestly vocations,” he said.
Father Mark Latcovich, rector of both seminaries, also expressed his appreciation for the generosity shown by the faithful of the diocese. He explained that the rector’s fund is used – at the discretion of the rector – to help seminarians with unforeseen expenses like car repairs, medical bills, student loans and more. Many seminarians cannot work because of the intensity of formation. For the past 36 years, the Bishop’s Brunch has helped bolster the rector’s fund.
“All these men are on a journey of adventure and sacrifice,” said Father McCandless. They chose to come to Borromeo and/or Saint Mary despite having other opportunities, he added, noting they are the fruit of the culture of vocations in the diocese. “It exists in what we believe, say and think. It’s ongoing evangelization. All of you are contributors to that culture of vocations.”
Father McCandless challenged those watching the program to invite or approach three people who are already open to a potential vocation, noting such encounters open the door and continue that culture of vocations.
“These seminarians you heard from are the fruit of your culture of vocations. Thank you for your prayers and support,” he added.
“Please continue to pray for our seminarians and for an increase of vocations to the priesthood,” Bishop Malesic said.
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