The Founding and Center of the Saint John Paul II Seminary
Since the Archdiocese of Washington established the first seminary in the United States to be named for Pope John Paul II on May 1, 2011 – the date of his beatification – we have celebrated an annual Founding Day Mass there. This year’s liturgy is especially poignant because it comes soon after the tenth anniversary of the 2008 apostolic visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Washington. In fact, the altar at the seminary’s Mary, Mother of the Church Chapel, where we will celebrate this joyous liturgy, is the one that was used at the Holy Father’s Mass at Nationals Park.
The seminary also had the distinction in 2015 of hosting Pope Francis, who was greeted by cheering seminarians and their priest faculty members gathered on the front steps. The pope known for his pastoral care and joyful demeanor encouraged the seminarians to adore Christ, through their prayers and by their service to others.
Since its founding, the seminary has had a special connection to the papacy and thus to Saint Peter, the rock on whom Christ built his Church. First and foremost, it is named for Saint John Paul II. His life, which was totally dedicated to Christ and sharing the Gospel, offers an enduring role model for the young men studying there.
Housed in the chapel is a first-class relic of this holy pontiff: his blood, which stained the cassock he was wearing when he was shot and critically wounded during the 1981 assassination attempt in Saint Peter’s Square. The relic reminds seminarians of how priests must be willing to give their life for Christ and his Church. Another relic of Saint John Paul there – a vestment that he wore at Mass – offers a reminder of his daily commitment to serve as a priest for his people.
In addition to the altar used for the papal Mass, displayed in the seminary is another Pope Benedict connection – his personally signed apostolic blessing for the seminary’s dedication in the fall of 2011. Here he encouraged the seminarians to strive in their daily prayer and study to discern their call to priestly service, and then to grow in holiness and zeal as they joyfully take up the challenge as priests to shepherd the flocks entrusted to them.
In this Easter season, as we celebrate the risen Christ and the new life he offers us, we remember also the message brought to us by Pope Benedict ten years ago – “Those who have hope must live different lives” oriented toward a world renewed in Christ. The altar from his papal Mass, which is the centerpiece of the seminary’s daily life, reminds the seminarians who gather around it for daily prayer, the Eucharist and adoration, that Christ is truly our hope. That is something they can take to heart as they answer – and God willing, one day carry out – the call to serve as his priests.