The gym at Lumen Christi High School in Anchorage was transformed on Aug. 9 into an elegant dining room for the 2018 Seminarian Night Dinner and Fundraiser. A total of 230 people attended the event which raised over $100,000 to be used to educate and ordain priests to serve the Archdiocese of Anchorage.
Four men are currently in formation, and at varying places in their individual journeys to priesthood. Two of them were present at the evening gala, and joined with supporters at individual tables, giving them a more intimate and personal view into the life of a seminarian.
Deacon Kevin Klump, from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, will be ordained to the priesthood in 2019. He is in his final year of formation at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Madison Hayes, whose education and formation are co-sponsored with the Archdiocese for Military Services, currently attends the Pontifical North American College in Rome. His anticipated date of ordination is in 2021.
Jake Brownlee, from St. Andrew Church, begins his first year this fall at Mount Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Oregon, with an anticipated ordination date in 2023.
The youngest of the group is Ed Burke, currently entering his third year of college at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Burke, whose anticipated ordination date is in 2024, is from Our Lady of the Angels Church in Kenai.
Burke, who was one of the earliest arrivals for the annual dinner, said he is really appreciative of those who support the education and formation of seminarians, and added, “We cannot support ourselves.” He noted, “We rely on this event as a chance to see the people supporting us, and ask for their prayers.”
Burke said that prayers are just as important as monetary donations. Speaking of his initial discernment to priesthood, he credited the Alaska Catholic Youth Conference as a “wake-up call” which sparked in him a desire to pray more, grow closer to God and his people, and discern ways in which to serve both.
According to Burke, roughly half his room and board at John Vianney College Seminary is paid by the archdiocese. The rest is a patchwork of scholarships, savings, and money earned from a summer job he currently works with the Alaska State Wildlife Troopers.
The total cost of educating just one seminarian is about $360,000. A breakdown of these expenditures was listed in a small booklet published for the dinner fundraiser and given to each attendee, who paid anywhere from $50 to a few hundred dollars for the opportunity to “mingle with seminarians, enjoy fellowship and prayerfully consider one of the many opportunities to donate — scotch pull, wine pull, a dessert dash, and a good old fashion paddle raise/cash call.
Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne opened the evening’s festivities.
“It’s nice to see a full house and a visible expression of your support,” he said.
He invoked the intercession of Saint John Vianney, patron of parish priests, as he prayed, “Bless this local church with more men…and bless this church that we may be who you call us to be.”
Father Leo Walsh, master of ceremonies, praised the role of parents in nurturing the seeds of faith and aiding a seminarian “to discern more clearly what he already knows,” and added, “If you help one soul to be saved, is that not a life well spent? To help a young man discern a vocation, how much more so?”
Supporting these young men in their formation were many individuals, businesses and organizations, who made in-kind donations and volunteered many hours. The dessert dash, in which individual tables collect money for the chance to literally run for their choice of delectable desserts provided by volunteers, added to the festive and profitable evening. Ken Barnett accompanied the dash with lively music, playing various piano selections throughout the evening.
The paddle raise/cash call gleaned a notable single donation of $20,000. Along with many smaller donations, the event resulted in doubling last year’s effort.
Debbie Vea, from Saint Anthony Church is current Regent of the local Catholic Daughters of the Americas court. She said her organization donated the wine for the wine pull.
“We try to recognize what the seminarians are going through at school, and assist them in any way we can,” she said, adding that it is the small efforts of many people within the community that add up to significant support for much needed priests for the archdiocese. Beyond monetary donations, Vea said she and the Daughters have enjoyed the presence of some of the seminarians and newly ordained priests at their meetings, and many have developed personal friendships with these men and their families.
At evening’s end, Archbishop Etienne spoke to the seminarians directly.
“We assure you of our financial support and our prayers,” he said. “We thank you for your witness.”
He added that the basic Catholic vocation is to pray and to love, to rise in holiness and to be Christ to one another.