Lincoln, Nebraska - how to fill seminaries with vocations

Lincoln, Nebraska - how to fill seminaries with vocations

Fr T.I. Thorburn

One of the most flourishing of the almost 200 U.S. Catholic dioceses is that of Lincoln, Nebraska. It is remarkable for simply doing what all Catholic dioceses are supposed to be doing. Following AD2000's invitation to Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz, Fr T.I. Thorburn, the Chancellor of the Lincoln diocese, has provided this pen picture.

"The Diocese of Lincoln is a very strong church." This comment was made recently by a Cardinal from the Roman Curia. Strange that someone so far away and with so many concerns would take notice of a small, rural diocese in southern Nebraska. Yet, what is taking place there is worthy of note, at least against the backdrop of the larger picture of the Church in the United States.

The Diocese of Lincoln consists of a large land area - 23,000 square miles in the southern half of Nebraska - but a relatively small Catholic population of approximately 82,000. Despite the small Catholic population, big things are happening.

For example, in the area of religious vocations, in the last five years, 19 young men were ordained priests, and currently 46 young men are in seminary studies for the Diocese of Lincoln. There are 114 diocesan priests in active ministry, 71 of whom were ordained after 1967. There have been no defections from the priesthood since 1976.

Three diocesan communities of women religious serve in the Diocese of Lincoln. In 1993, six young women made First Profession of Vows, and three made Final Profession. These Sisters wear a traditional religious habit and are primarily involved in the teaching apostolate. They enjoy growth each year.

In the area of Catholic education, the Diocese of Lincoln operates six central Catholic high schools, 23 parochial elementary schools, and one school for the mentally handicapped. Instead of following the national trend of closing Catholic schools, the Catholic school system in the Diocese of Lincoln has grown in number of schools in operation and total enrolment. The newest parochial elementary school will open for classes in the Fall of 1994. Great care has been taken to preserve the integrity of Catholic doctrine and formation in the Catholic school and parish CCD programs in the Diocese.

The Diocese of Lincoln propagates the Church's teaching concerning marriage and sexuality, as taught by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Humanae Vitae. In support of this doctrine, the Diocese sponsors teachers to be trained as natural family planning instructors, maintains 11 training centres at convenient locations, includes this doctrine in its marriage preparation policy, and even instructs high school students about the message of Humanae Vitae through its religious education program.


These are but a few examples of the things that are happening in the Diocese of Lincoln. These things are happening primarily due to the Grace of God. However, for Grace to bear fruit, cooperation is necessary. Therefore, the things that are happening in the Diocese of Lincoln can also be attributed to the leadership provided by the Most Reverend Fabian W. Bruskewitz and by his predecessors, and the co-operation of his clergy, religious and laity. Just as a business rises or falls on the prudential judgement of the owner, or a family is directed to good or evil by the parents, so a Diocese receives its direction and strength from its Shepherd, the Bishop.

Bishop Bruskewitz became the Eighth Bishop of Lincoln on May 13, 1992, succeeding Bishop Glennon Flavin, who had led the Diocese through the tumultuous and confusing times following the Second Vatican Council. By virtue of the strong and decisive leadership in the areas of vocations, Catholic education and parish life demonstrated by these bishops, things like dissent, liturgical abuse and disintegration of vocational programs are virtually unknown in the Diocese of Lincoln.

The Catholic Church in the Diocese of Lincoln is a strong church, and many things worthy of note are happening there, due in great part to the co-operation with the Grace of God of Bishop, clergy, religious and laity in Southern Nebraska.

The Australian seminary picture

To put the figure of 46 seminarians for the Lincoln Diocese (with 82,000 Catholics) in perspective, we supply the latest available figures for Australia's diocesan seminaries.

The mid-1993 figure of seminarians for St Patrick's College, Manly, which supplies the whole of New South Wales, (with about one-and-a half-million Catholics) is 34. Brisbane's Pius XII Seminary, Banyo, according to The Future Times, July 1993), held six seminarians. Banyo caters for the whole of Queensland.

Melbourne's Corpus Christi College, Clayton, (which covers the states of Victoria and Tasmania) as of February 1993, accommodated 32 seminarians, 15 of whom are committed to the Melbourne Archdiocese. The Melbourne Archdiocese contains close on one million Catholics. St Francis Xavier Seminary, Adelaide, which trains diocesan priests for the states of South Australia and Western Australia, had 24 seminarians as of August 1993.

The Wagga Wagga Diocese's Vianney College, now in its second year of operation, has a complement of ten students in residence, with two others at Corpus Christi College, Clayton, and one in Rome, making a total of 13 for this small diocese with fewer than 50 clergy. Vianney College will be expanding its premises for an additional intake in 1994.

The major common feature of successful dioceses and seminaries - as far as seminary numbers is concerned - is an uncompromising orthodoxy. The seminary reforms recently launched by the U.S. Bishops implicitly recognise this. If numbers at Australia's seminaries are ever to approach proportionately those of Lincoln and other comparable U.S. dioceses, the future course is obvious.

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