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New hall a symbol of increased vocations

By Jordan McMorrough
Today's Catholic

Archbishop José H. Gomez looks on as Cardinal Francis E. George, OMI, of Chicago and Archbishop Emeritus Patrick F. Flores bless the St. Thomas the Apostle Chapel in the newly dedicated Archbishop Patrick F. Flores Residence Hall at Assumption Seminary on Aug. 15.
Ruben Alfaro | Special to Today's Catholic

    SAN ANTONIO • Last fall, Assumption Seminary welcomed the largest class of men studying to become priests in decades. In just seven years, Assumption Seminary has grown from 34 to 96 students.
In anticipation of this remarkable growth at the seminary, a $13 million capital campaign was initiated in 2004. The funds were earmarked to restore the campus infrastructure and to build a new 50,000 square foot residence hall named for Archbishop Emeritus Patrick F. Flores. The new structure will soon be home to 80 students and four faculty members.
    The dedication of the facility was held Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, for which Assumption Seminary was named. It also marked the 29th anniversary of the ordination of Arch-bishop José H. Gomez.
    Archbishop Gomez and Archbishop Flores were joined in the celebration by Cardinal Francis E. George, OMI, of Chicago. The cardinal serves on the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

    He is also vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and is a member of the USCCCB Committee on the Liturgy.

    The evening began with the celebration of Mass at the Assumption Seminary Chapel. Cardinal George was the principal celebrant, and Archbishop Gomez and Archbishop Flores were the principal concelebrants.

    Archbishop Gomez noted in his homily that it was very fitting that the Archbishop Flores Residence Hall be dedicated on the feast of the Assumption.
    Speaking directly to his predecessor, he said, “Archbishop Flores, we’re honored today to name this hall for you. It is a tribute to your tireless efforts to spread the Gospel of love, to proclaim the great things of God here in San Antonio.”

    He recalled the words of one of the favorite saints of the archbishop emeritus, St. Rafael Guízar y Valencia, who said, “A bishop can do without the miter, the crosier and even without the cathedral. But he cannot do without the seminary, since the future of his diocese depends on it.”
    “I believe these words very much,” Archbishop Gomez emphasized. “They are an inspiration for my ministry.”

    He humbly recalled how the atheist government of Mexico persecuted St. Rafael and how they violently forced him to shut down his seminary in Xalapa, Veracruz, in 1921. This saintly bishop then risked his life to establish a new “underground” seminary in Mexico City. For the next 15 years, it was the only seminary in the country, helping to form more than 300 priests. Through their sacrifices and ministry they helped keep the faith alive in a very dark time, according to the archbishop.

    He continued, “The church doesn’t face persecution in our country. But the faith is seriously threatened by our society’s growing indifference to spiritual values. Our culture no longer understands the values of the Gospel. And that means it can’t understand the supreme gift of the priesthood. It’s sad to say, but in our culture it simply doesn’t make any sense that a bright and talented man would want to leave behind the promise of career and family to dedicate his life to Jesus Christ.”
    However, “Assumption Seminary is a sign of contradiction in our culture. And a great sign of hope,” Archbishop Gomez said.

    Twenty years ago, Pope John Paul II spent a day preaching and teaching in San Antonio, and the archdiocese is preparing to celebrate the anniversary of his visit next month. The pope said on Sept. 13, 1987, that the church in San Antonio has a very special calling that flows from its history as “crossroads” and “a meeting of cultures, indigenous and immigrant” from every part of the world.
    “I’m proud to say that Assumption Seminary is a pioneer in preparing men to meet that special calling — to proclaim God’s mercy and reconciliation in a society that is both bilingual and multicultural,” Archbishop Gomez concluded. “We are forming strong, prayerful and virtuous men who have an intimate knowledge and friendship with Jesus Christ.”
    Following the Mass, attendees processed to the Flores Residence Hall, where Cardinal George conducted a blessing.

    The centerpiece of Flores Residence Hall is the St. Thomas the Apostle Adoration Chapel, which includes antique stained glass windows that once adorned a church in Philadelphia and a silver tabernacle to hold the Blessed Sacrament. The chapel will eventually have additional stained glass windows, designed and crafted by San Antonio’s Cavallini Stained Glass Studio.
    The completion of the enclosed courtyard and an outdoor prayer garden were delayed by this summer’s record rainfall, but will be completed in four to six weeks.

    In an interview with Today’s Catholic following the blessing ceremony, the cardinal called the residence hall dedication “a sign of hope” and relayed his congratulations to Archbishop Gomez and Archbishop Flores. “It’s really a wonderful place,” he said.
    Speaking to the multicultural reality of Catholic Church membership in the United States, the cardinal cited statistics that in the Archdiocese of Chicago, Mass is celebrated in Spanish in 141 parishes, but is also held in Polish in 71 churches. “The population is more cosmopolitan, and there is a bilingual challenge. We have Hispanics who are third generation, new immigrants, first generation and children who are born here and speak the language of their friends. Priests have to pay attention to who the people are in front of them.”

    The Assumption Seminary Gala concluded the evening’s celebration. The event was held in a tented dining room on the Mexican American Cultural Center parking lot on French Street. Keynote speaker for the gathering was Cardinal George.
    Following the cardinal’s talk, the co-chairs of the seminary Expansion Campaign made a presentation to Archbishop Gomez. The members, J. Michael Belz, president of Catholic Life Insurance; Msgr. Lawrence J. Stuebben, retired vicar general of the archdiocese; and Sister Charlene Wedelich, CDP, former long-time archdiocesan vicar for religious; presented the archbishop with an oversized check for $13 million, highlighting the amount collected so far for the seminary’s fundraising effort.

    The archbishop expressed his gratitude to the more than 500 guests in attendance for their support. He exclaimed, “People said it wouldn’t be easy to raise this amount of money, but it was an easy task because everyone was so open.”

    Father Larry Christian, rector of Assumption Seminary, provided the concluding remarks at the gala. “The people of God wanted this and were eager for it,” he said of the construction project.
    Father Christian drew rousing applause when he said that 32 men from the Archdiocese of San Antonio and 96 men total will be enrolled at the seminary this fall, and he thanked the lay faithful for their support of the seminarians. He elicited laughter when, looking directly at Archbishop Gomez, he smiled and said, “Archbishop, we’re almost out of room again. What do we do?”
    The rector ended his acknowledgements by saying, “You all are part of the Assumption Seminary family. Let’s be faithful to keeping our mission.”

    Among the guests at the dinner were more than a dozen bishops, many with connections to the archdiocese or seminary. They included Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of the Diocese of San Bernardino, Calif.; Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio J. del Riego, DLP, of the Diocese of San Bernardino; Bishop Edmond Carmody of the Diocese of Corpus Christi; Bishop Kevin W. Vann of the Diocese of Fort Worth; Bishop Raymundo J. Peña of the Diocese of Brownsville; Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer, OMI, of the Diocese of San Angelo; Bishop James A. Tamayo of the Diocese of Laredo; Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of the Diocese of El Paso; Bishop John W. Yanta of the Diocese of Amarillo; Retired Bishop Charles V. Grahmann of the Diocese of Dallas; Auxiliary Bishop Patrick J. Zurek; Retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Flanagan; and Retired Auxiliary Bishop Bernard F. Popp.

    A weekend of festivities preceded the dedication day. On Aug. 12, the public was welcomed to the building for the first time at an open house, and on Aug. 13 priests of the archdiocese and employees of the archdiocesan Pastoral Center were feted at a wine and cheese reception that night.
    Robert Morkovsky of the firm Morkovsky + Associates was the architect of Flores Hall. The general contractor was J.C. Stoddard Construction Company and Steve G. Persyn and MEP Engineering were consulting engineers on the project.


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