This semester, seminarians arrived as usual at the Holy Trinity Seminary, situated near the University of Dallas campus, ready to immerse themselves in the community and in their studies for the priesthood. But this time, they couldn’t leave.
Due to precautions implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, the seminary mandated a quarantine for all seminarians, which ended its most strict phase on Saturday, Sept. 5. The seminary also enforced coronavirus response policies within the seminary buildings, including wearing masks and spreading out seating in the dining area.
Although the seminary loosened restrictions after two weeks, now allowing seminarians to leave campus on Saturdays and remove masks while socially distanced, the seminary continues to enforce many precautions.
Senior seminarian Preston Thompson from the diocese of Nashville, Tenn., said that the measures to contain the coronavirus initially posed a challenge to building community life among the seminarians.
“This was the most difficult year for community, and it still is,” Thompson said. He said that masks made it difficult to learn the names of the new seminarians, who make up about 50% of the house this year.
“It’s very much a re-learning of the house,” said Thompson. When the seminarians were allowed to remove their masks during dinner, Thomson would often see the new seminarians’ faces for the first time. “I’d be like ‘has that guy been here all week?’ It truly was jarring.”
Junior seminarian Reed Robinson from the diocese of Nashville, Tenn., said that the new seminarians came in “very open” to the community, despite the challenges this semester.
“Everyone was pretty much on the same page coming in, saying, you know, this could be tough, it’s going to be a very intense community life, but it’s going to be a great opportunity to build a really strong brotherhood and to really center our lives around Christ, especially in trials,” said Robinson.
Robinson said that although the restrictions presented challenges to the community life, ultimately the quarantine was an opportunity to grow in solidarity as a seminary.
“A lot of us are looking at it as an opportunity to grow in that fraternity, to really grow in that brotherhood and help each other find God’s call, and grow as a man. And this is a great opportunity to do that, especially because there is not a whole lot going on,” said Robinson. Normally, seminarians would be occupied with pastoral assignments and other activities, but coronavirus restrictions allow them all to be in the seminary buildings at the same time.
Thompson also said that the quarantine fostered a sense of fraternity.
“I definitely think each class has gotten stronger,” said Thompson. “I think that truly has been fruit.”
Thompson said that the restrictions have provided an opportunity for self-sacrifice, as everyone complies with guidelines, with which they may or may not agree wholly.
“I think it has been really fruitful for everyone as far as growing in obedience,” Thompson said. “You don’t know all the men around you, what they might be dealing with, or if one has an underlying health condition, so you have to take precautions for the betterment of everyone. So definitely there has been a lot of self-sacrifice and dying to self with that, with that obedience.”
Robinson said, “Really it’s self-sacrifice for the good of everyone, living for the common good, in a truly Catholic way, so that we can continue to grow in brotherhood, and grow as men for Christ, becoming true Christian gentlemen.”
On Saturday, Sept. 16, the seminarians were allowed to leave campus for the first time since their arrival. To celebrate, one of the seminarians rented out a whole movie theater, where 21 seminarians watched the new release “Tenet,” according to Thompson. Although they will continue to be able to leave campus on Saturdays, the seminarians will have to tell their formater where they are going, and they must obtain permission to spend any time in close contact with anyone outside of the seminary.
Thompson said that the seminarians found joy in little things, such as driving or seeing everyday people going through the In-N-Out drive-thru, after their long quarantine. He likened the quarantine to a monastic cloister.
“This has kind of been a free-trial for the monastic life, and I think for a lot of guys it reassured them that they are not called to monastic orders,” said Thompson, while he added that a seminarian from his diocese realized that he should, in fact, discern the contemplative life after experiencing the coronavirus lockdown this summer.
Despite everything, Thompson said that the community was focusing on “fostering a sense of gratitude” this year.
“I am just very, very grateful to be here,” said Thompson. He said that simply being back at the seminary “has been a huge gift.”