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HomeLocalAround the ArchdioceseIn its 25th year, St. John Vianney Theological Seminary is seen as...

In its 25th year, St. John Vianney Theological Seminary is seen as model for others

SJV has ordained 203 priests; growth leads to expanding facilities

In 1999, St. John Vianney Theological Seminary opened in south Denver with 40 seminarians, according to administrators. This year as the seminary observes its 25th anniversary, it is with an enrollment of 115 men—nearly triple that of its start.

Since its inception, the seminary has ordained 203 men to the priesthood: 103 to serve the Denver Archdiocese and 100 to serve other dioceses in the United States and the world.

The growth has required a new recreation center to better accommodate the physical well-being of the seminarians, so ground was broken for a facility last month. The swelling enrollment and expanding facilities are affirmation of the good work being done at the seminary, which recently celebrated its 25th year with a Mass and gala.

“Today, March 17, marks the exact anniversary, 25 years ago, that SJV was canonically founded with a new vision of forming priests for the ‘new evangelization,’” Father Daniel Leonard, Rector of St. John Vianney Seminary, said in the gala’s commemorative booklet.

Honored at the gala, held at the Brown Palace Hotel, were those responsible for the seminary: Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, who as Denver’s archbishop envisioned and purchased land for it; Archbishop Charles Chaput, who was Denver’s archbishop when it opened; and Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, who was the founding rector.

In 1995, then-Archbishop Stafford bought the site of the former St. Thomas Seminary, which had closed, from the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians). Renovated and renamed the John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization, it became home to the archdiocesan pastoral offices. There was hope to also start a new seminary on the campus.

That hope was realized by Cardinal Stafford’s successor, Archbishop Chaput, who opened St. John Vianney Theological Seminary on Sept. 8, 1999.

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“In 1999 … everyone was asking, ‘Why open a seminary when we are closing many others?’” Cardinal Stafford told the Denver Catholic. “It was important for me that the structure of the forming of the seminarians be changed. In this new environment in which we find ourselves, in a post-modern time, in a secularized society, those who are to be ordained priests must be rooted in a profound spirituality.”

Two key structural changes that are followed at St. John Vianney originated with the seminary of Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger in Paris, Cardinal Stafford said. The first is a preliminary spirituality year in which the seminarians withdraw from the world to deepen their interior life with Jesus Christ. The second happens later in formation when seminarians move off campus to live as a family of brothers headed by a pastor in a “parish house.”

The spirituality (or propaedeutic) year, which St. John Vianney has done since its start, is now mandated at all Catholic seminaries in the nation.

“The whole nation looks here to Denver (as a model),” St. John Vianney board member Monsignor James Shea said to applause at the gala. Msgr. Shea is president of the University of Mary.

Former Denver Archbishop Chaput shared insight on the parish houses in a video shown at the gala.

 “(There) parish priests are both modeling what it means to be a diocesan priest and are also being part of the formation of these young men.”

Of the 115 seminarians currently attending St. John Vianney, 55 are in formation for the Archdiocese of Denver and 60 are in formation for other dioceses or religious communities, according to administrators.

An international diocesan seminary shares the campus with St. John Vianney. Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary draws men from the Neocatechumenal Way, a catechumenate. Those seminarians receive their academic formation at St. John Vianney and are ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Denver. They also receive missionary training and may be sent wherever the archbishop discerns they are needed.

“It was the vision and leadership of then-Archbishop Stafford that brought Redemptoris Mater Seminary here after World Youth Day 1993, then St. John Vianney Seminary,” Archbishop Aquila said at the gala.

That the Denver Archdiocese is blessed with two seminaries is due to the grace of God, the prelates said.

“His grace has been super-abundant,” Cardinal Stafford told the Denver Catholic. “And the people of the archdiocese have been extraordinary in their generous support.”

The visit of now-Saint John Paul II to Denver’s World Youth Day 1993 is credited with launching a spiritual revolution in the archdiocese among whose abundant fruits are numerous apostolates and Denver’s two seminaries.

On a visit to Rome shortly after Denver’s World Youth Day, which drew an astonishing 750,000 pilgrims far exceeding anyone’s expectations, then-Archbishop Stafford was eagerly greeted by the Holy Father with unforgettable prophetic words.

“He said to me ‘Ah Denver, Denver—una revoluzione!’” Cardinal Stafford recalled in the gala video.

Prior to Denver’s World Youth Day, St. John Paul II thought a spiritual revolution within the Church would come from the East, Cardinal Stafford explained, but after World Youth Day ‘93 the pope believed the anticipated spiritual revolution would also come from the West.

The 203 priests ordained from SJV are fruits of that “revolution” for the new evangelization.

With an annual enrollment of 100-plus men, the seminary’s formation addresses the spiritual, intellectual, pastoral and human dimension of each seminarian. Essential to helping them be healthy in mind, body and soul is construction of the Monsignor Michael Glenn Recreation Center, which will replace the current outdated and inadequate facility.

Msgr. Glenn succeeded then-Father Aquila as rector in 2002 and served in that role until his death from cancer in 2019. Much beloved, he modeled integrating physical fitness into one’s spiritual life as he guided hundreds of seminarians in his role as rector.

“(It will) honor him…and all that he accomplished,” Archbishop Aquila said at the gala. “Most of all in his intimacy with the Lord, and in forming the hearts and minds of so many priests after the heart and mind of Jesus Christ.”

Construction of the $9.5 million fitness center at the St. John Paul II Center is slated to begin this summer.

“In total, just over 8 million dollars has been raised for construction,” David DiNapoli, the archdiocese’s director of Mission Advancement, told the Denver Catholic.

Archbishop Aquila expressed “deep gratitude” at the gala for the amazing generosity of the faithful who are making the center possible and enabling SJV to continue its mission well into the future.

“St. John Vianney Theological Seminary is not only a blessing for those preparing to be priests, but it also brings the gift of a rich theological life to all the people of the whole Archdiocese of Denver,” Archbishop Chaput told the Denver Catholic.

Indeed, St. John Vianney also offers formation for permanent deacons and for the lay faithful. Cardinal Stafford and Father Leonard, quoting the Decree on Priestly Training, have both referred to the seminary as “the heart of the diocese.”

“This 25th anniversary of St. John Vianney Seminary is the culmination of the work of Cardinal Stafford, Archbishop Chaput and Archbishop Aquila,” seminarian James Finders, who is in priestly formation to serve the Archdiocese of Denver, told the Denver Catholic. “What I see is the fruitfulness of their fatherly care and the Holy Spirit working within them to breathe life into the seminary and into the Church to renew it and revivify it.… To conform the hearts of these men and, ultimately, the hearts of the entire Church to the heart of the Father.”

“Our diocese doesn’t have a seminary, so it’s great we have the opportunity to come here,” added seminarian Lane Buus of the Diocese of Helena, Montana. “What a joy it is to be able to celebrate this anniversary with thanksgiving for the many benefactors and donors we have.”



Msgr. Michael Glenn Recreation Center

To donate, contact David DiNapoli at 720-476-7469

Roxanne King
Roxanne King
Roxanne King is the former editor of the Denver Catholic Register and a freelance writer in the Denver area.

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