Loyola Seminarians Just Like You and Me
Take a walk past St. Joseph’s Seminary on Loyola University Chicago’s Lake Shore campus and you’ll notice the locked gate, leading far from the entrance behind a grassy courtyard. On a broad, bleach-white concrete cross, Christ hangs behind the front fence. The doors to the facility are locked, and regular Loyolans need not enter.
No wonder Loyola students mystify the place, as Dan Rogers, a 25-year-old Loyola seminarian from Los Angeles put it.
“[Our lives] are very rigorous in the apartness,” he said. “With daily prayer, classes and the lifestyle we choose, we don’t have time to interact with Loyola students in the same way.”
Rogers is two years into his Loyola experience, first serving with the National Evangelization Team, a Catholic group based in Los Angeles that leads youth retreats across the country. With a cross above his head in a seminary conference room, he explained that the seminarians Loyolans envision are much less cool than he and his friends.
And Loyola students, most of whom have never been inside Loyola’s seminary, agree with the stereotype.
“I just think that if you’re twenty-something and decide to give up your life to live with a bunch of other guys in solitude, you’ve got to be a bit weird,” said Dave Martin, a senior criminal justice major at Loyola University.
Rogers disagrees. “Dude, like, we’re normal guys,” he said, as an imposing portrait of Cardinal Meyer, archbishop of Chicago from 1958 until his death in 1965, looked down and across the 15-seat conference room.
For the most part, Loyola’s seminary is a normal place. The facility houses 33 current students and can accommodate 68, if all the rooms are doubled up. According to Father Stein, the program’s director, the school has entrance requirements like any other university program.
“To apply to the seminary, a man must first be accepted by his diocese. The seminary has an application process that culminates in a set of board interviews,” he said. The application itself includes an official application form, academic transcripts, letters of recommendation and an essay.
The only piece of the application that set it apart is a full range of psychological testing. Father Stein says the feature is necessary for the degree of dedication — lifelong devotion to Christ and the priesthood — that final admittance as a priest requires.
Set aside all the logistical stuff and Rogers says Loyola seminarians are pretty typical college students.
“We have Xbox upstairs. We play ‘Call of Duty’ anytime we get a chance. We have 40-inch big screens on all the floors.”
“Ya,” his friend and fellow seminarian, John LoCoco, chimed in.
As a student studying to become a Diocesan priest, he will eventually serve one geographical region, and he’s chosen Los Angeles, where he grew up. He will study until the end of next year at Loyola because his diocese back home requires that students be sent to Loyola’s seminary for two years.
Because it is situated within a normal college environment, the seminary has been a great way for Rogers to explore God’s plan for him, he said.
“The whole reason someone would go to a seminary is to put himself apart so he can be focused on trying to figure out whether God is calling him to be a priest,” Rogers said.
But Rogers is quick to point out that the process, though rigorous, does not make him some kind of alien to the outside world.
“We’re totally normal guys who have a different goal for our lives,” he said. “We procrastinate, we watch sports, we go bowling, we drink beer — a beer.”
Whether regular college students actually bowl anymore muddies the point, but that different goal for their lives, not pursuing the married life for one full of prayer and helping people, does set them apart in ways more noticeable that Rogers might admit.
If Loyola’s seminarians don’t seem like typical guys, LoCoco’s experience is your clearest evidence. He stands about six feet tall, with a smile so easy that his happiness might convince you to join the seminary, too. He’s clearly no older than in his early twenties. But with his posture, hands folded neatly over a slight belly, dressed up in nice pants and a button down shirt, he might as well be a professor.
Before coming to Loyola, LoCoco attended the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., where he grew up. He was enrolled in the Catholic Studies program and took an opportunity to participate in a study abroad trip to Rome. He was so inspired by his time at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas that he considered priesthood.
“Discerning a vocation is not an external action; it is internal,” LoCoco said. “Everyone always assumes there was a moment when God shouted, ‘Be a priest!’ and I acted upon his intentions.”
But instead, as scripture says, you cannot challenge God, said LoCoco. You must listen to Him. And so he stopped pleading with God.
Unlike many of his peers, LoCoco refused rationale. He didn’t sit down, weighing his life options against any known skills or talents. “I simply started imagining myself as a priest,” he said.
“I felt that there was a chance I could be a priest and it wasn’t worth ignoring that call and risking what could ultimately provide me with the most authentic life God intended for me,” LoCoco said.
As in any profession or university major, you’ll find different kinds of people. Rogers and LoCoco prove that fact for Loyola’s seminarians. Rogers is eccentric and wild, while an impressive degree of maturity pervades LoCoco.
Kevin Gonzalez, a Loyola senior computer science major, explained best why seminarians are often the subject of the nastiest rumors on campus.
“I don’t think it’s so much that they’re really just a group of weird people. It’s just that they’re so shut off from the rest of campus. I mean, they basically have their own compound. Maybe people would think a little differently if they got out and spent some time with us.”