Birth of Fr. Leo John Dehon celebrated around the world
Fr. Leo John Dehon, founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, was born on March 14, 1843. It is a day celebrated by SCJs throughout the world in a variety of ways.
At Sacred Heart School of Theology the day began with Eucharist, at which Fr. Yulius Sunardi, an Indonesian SCJ doing doctoral studies in psychology, reflected on “older” vocations. Sacred Heart is the largest seminary in the United States specializing in adult vocations. However, as Fr. Nardi notes in his homily below, the formation of adult vocations in the congregation goes back to Fr. Dehon’s time. Fr. Nardi’s homily:
Good morning friends,
In his “Letter of March 14, Birthday of Fr. Dehon,” 2012, Fr. Ornelas Carvalho, the SCJ General in Rome, wrote: “It has become customary on the birthday of Fr. Dehon to declare a Dehonian Vocation Day: A day of prayer, a day of celebrating our vocation. This year is no exception.” Let’s take a moment to reflect on how God calls us and how we respond to it.
When I came here to Sacred School of Theology for the first time in 2001, I was surprised, knowing that most seminarians were older than me. I was curious too of how this happened. I found that the American SCJs had long developed a program for adult seminarians. They began this program in 1953, at Dehon Seminary in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. In 1964, the same program was offered at the Sacred Heart Seminary in Victorville, California.
Our program here at Sacred Heart was opened in 1972 when the programs at the California and Massachusetts seminaries were integrated into this school. That was when the story of adult seminarians in our school began. We should give credit to Joe Potacnak SCJ, the retired bishop of De Aar, South Africa, for this. A former soldier who joined the SCJs after his discharge, he was the one who proposed the integration and developed a center for the adult religious vocation.
Recently, I read two articles: one was written by Fr. PJ McGuire and another by Fr. Wayne Jenkins. I found something new and inspiring in them. It’s really surprising for me to learn that Fr. Dehon and the first SCJs had long been interested in developing a program for adult seminarians. They called these seminarians vocations tardives or belated vocations. A hundred years ago they began a special course for “vocations tardives” in Belgium. Sadly, however, all came to an end as World War I started in 1914. It is estimated that a quarter of the older seminarians were killed in battle.
Despite the pain of loss, the interest in the belated vocation did not disappear. After the war, Paul Legay SCJ, the French provincial, reestablished the program on French soil. Many seminarians, mostly former soldiers, entered the program. Fr. Dehon wrote a letter to Fr. Falleur, SCJ, in 1917: “I am trying to send you our belated vocations from Saint Quentin.” Fr. McGuire noted that there was a great success during this time, and they built a new facility in 1934, which remained viable until 1939.
Sadly again, World War II began in 1939. Ninety one SCJs, including the provincial, were called up to military service. The novitiate and the scholasticate were evacuated. A 20-year reconstruction was destroyed again, and more sadly after World War II, the program could not reopen. Fr. McGuire wrote, “There is no record that there was ever an attempt to start up the program a third time.” Obviously, Fr. McGuire excluded the U.S. Province. Thirty years after the second attempt in France, the American SCJs opened the program on American soil.
Dear brothers and sisters, you are here now, as part of history of the Sacred Heart School of Theology. Our school will hopefully stand for ages. It is because of Jesus. He’s the founder and the leader of adult seminarians as he called Peter “the rock;” James, “son of thunder;” Paul, “the proud intellectual.” We believe that Christ will continue calling us. The future of the Church is in our hands, along with others.
Today’s reading is very inspiring. Jesus said, “Don’t think that I come to abolish the law or the prophet. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”To fulfill means “to carry out or bring to realization.” Jesus realized that his desire and mission was to fulfill what God had promised to his people. He is the fulfiller of the history where God has revealed his love through the law and the prophets.
This message is very insightful as we celebrate Fr. Dehon’s birthday and continue his mission. Fr, Ornelas Carvalho wrote: “In celebrating the birthday of Dehon, we take a specific aspect of Dehon’s life and vocation that he inspires us to look at our vocation in new light.” For this, I quote Fr. Dehon’s letter written after the refoundation of the congregation in 1887:
“Truth and charity have been the two great passions of my life, and I have but one desire, that they alone may be the two attractions in the congregation that I will leave behind, if this be God’s will” (NQT III, 98).
Fr. Yves Ledure wrote: “Truth and charity, understanding and agape, should be the driving force of the SCJ congregation. Understanding gives substance to the inner experience of agape,” and conversely “agape gives a heart to understand.” These two passions should be ours too, if we would like to continue and fulfill Dehon’s desire. It is our duty to join truth and charity together.
We should be grateful now for we are on the right track to make the two passions united. As an academic community, we are here to seek the truth, the truth of who God is to us, who we are in His plan, and how we fulfill God’s plan. Fr. Dehon reminds us also that the Church needs priests who are knowledgeable of their times. He wrote in his Diary: “priests should speak the language of their times, not neglect the study of serious problems of their times, but be responsive to the demands of their time.”
The name of our school is Sacred Heart School of Theology. What makes our school truly Sacred Heart School is not merely the “owner” or the leader; but rather, its soul, its passion. Let’s make our school a community where we learn and imitate Christ whose heart is love. Fr. Dehon wrote, “Everything has its origin in His Heart and returns to it as to the divine center of love and life.” Let’s make ourselves as the fulfillers of truth and love as Dehon has lived and expected us to live. AMEN.