[This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 issue of the Oracle]
It is a privilege to introduce The Saint Paul Seminary Class of 2020. This group of 13 will serve five dioceses throughout the Midwest and the religious order Pro Ecclesia Sancta.
For the past four years, they studied, laughed, and grew through the joys and challenges of formation. They traveled together to Washington, D.C., Mexico, Ireland, Jerusalem, and Rome, and, most recently, they lived in cloister together during a worldwide pandemic. Through it all, they celebrated each others’ strengths and supported their brothers when faced with challenges.
Father Joseph Taphorn will always remember the Class of 2020 as they were with him from the moment he became rector on January 1, 2019.
“We were on a plane together somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean!” Father Taphorn recalls. “Being with them on pilgrimage to the Holy Land for nearly four weeks as I began my tenure as rector gave me a beautiful opportunity to get to know each man well and for me to grow in confidence in the new role I was undertaking. I am proud of each one and know that their priestly ministry will be a great blessing to those that they encounter.”
It is almost impossible to meet a member of the seminary Class of 2020 without breaking out in a smile. They are a special group of men and a gift to the Church.
“We are really close,” Father Nathan Hastings said. “There are no divisions or cliques in our class. It has been such a blessing.”
Hastings, who was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis on May 30, emphasized the impact this fraternity had on his formation. “In seminary, you need brothers to rely on and to laugh and commiserate with.”
From the rural dioceses of the Dakotas and Saint Cloud to the cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, each seminarian brought something to the table.
Father John Hayes, now a priest for the Diocese of New Ulm, was tagged “Musician Extraordinaire” by his classmates. He played the chapel organ, cantored at Mass, sang in the seminary Schola, and played the lead role in the seminary’s 2019 production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
If you needed answers to any historical questions about The Saint Paul Seminary, Father Austin Barnes, recently ordained for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, was your guy. In fact, he was tapped by Father Taphorn to decorate the seminary’s informal gathering space with photos from the seminary’s past.
Father Tim Tran of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis was calm and collected. “He was always on top of things,” Hastings said, explaining that Tran kept the class in line especially if they got too rowdy. Born in Vietnam, Tran also has a unique tenderness for minority communities in the Twin Cities. “He brought a whole different perspective to our class,” Hastings said.
And, if you ever needed a laugh, Father Shawn Polman, ordained for the Diocese of New Ulm, often had a prank to catch you off guard.
The Class of 2020 also had a reputation in the classroom. In fact, they were known around the seminary as “the class that asked a lot of questions.”
Affirming the slogan, Dr. Stephen Hipp, professor of Dogmatic Theology, said, “Their questions revealed love. Love for truth and for God. And that’s what made teaching them both exciting and edifying for me.”
All told, the most extraordinary thing about the Class of 2020 is the beautiful unity and friendship they shared even amidst their different personalities and hobbies.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” said Father Brady Keller, newly ordained for the Diocese of Saint Cloud, “It is helpful to know that I am entering priesthood with these men by my side.”
Their final test as a class came in late March as COVID-19 spread across the world. Ordination dates were set, reception plans were arranged, and the Theology IV seminarians were prepared to celebrate their entrance to the priesthood with their families, friends, and future parishioners.
Although ordination Masses looked different this year – some offered via live stream and others postponed to later dates – the time lived in cloister served as a reminder of the greater call they received to serve God and His Church.
“This time helped me realize that, while celebrations are great, I have been preparing for the priesthood and not just ordination,” Hastings said. “It has been a very purifying experience to let my ideas be stripped away and to realize I am here to be a priest of Jesus Christ.”
For Polman, living in a cloister for the past two months made him even more excited to become a priest. “I want to get to work!” he said. “I look forward to spending time with my parishioners and bringing Jesus to them.”
As the class of 2020 moved onto the priesthood, they looked back with fondness on everything they have received during the past four years. “I am so grateful for the formation here,” Polman said.