By Michael Rizzo
Fifty years of formation.
That was the celebration held on Friday evening Sept. 14 at the Immaculate Conception Center (ICC) in Douglaston for the 50 years the facility has hosted seminarians living and studying there.
But the evening of prayer and festivities for more than 100 people was not just for priests. Men who did go on to accept holy orders attended along with alumni, some accompanied by their wives, who were called to lay vocations. Also present were current students at the Cathedral Seminary House of Formation which includes 15 men for the Diocese of Brooklyn.
“This place has great history and is about coming to a better sense of your vocation,” said Father John Costello, Cathedral College class of 1985 and now vice-rector and director of seminarians for the diocese.
The years represented by the attendees spanned decades. Some alumni had come to Douglaston when Cathedral College opened in 1967 and became its first graduating class in 1969. Others were from more recent years when ICC was home to Cathedral Seminary as well as the Bishop Mugavero Residence for Retired Priests.
As the guests registered, memory lane was on display with school yearbooks, dating back to the 1960s, that were brought by diocesan archivist Joe Coen, class of 1979. Old friends heartily shook hands and embraced as they reunited. Everyone seemed to smile as they recalled memories of their young adulthood spent in Queens.
“This is a special place,” Ed Wilkinson, class of 1969 and editor emeritus of The Tablet, said. “We learned great lessons in being with each other in a communal experience, to look out for one another and respect one another.”
The congregants first gathered for vespers. Father George Sears, current rector of the seminary, was the homilist and said it was no coincidence that the celebration took place on the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross.
“Going through this program requires humility,” he said of all seminarians. “When we give ourselves up to that humility, as Jesus did, God raises us up to who we are to be whether as a priest or a good husband and father.”
After vespers, another feast began in the ICC dining room. It is the same place where the alumni once shared meals and current students still do. As they gathered to break bread, generations of men trained in faith in the classrooms and halls of ICC made new friendships based on their shared experience at the building.
Callistus Ibeh, of St. Clement Pope parish, South Ozone Park, is one the diocese’s current seminarians. “It gives me courage,” he said in meeting Cathedral alumni. “I am here to discern God’s call for me. If I become a priest it will be for the better glory of God but even if I don’t, my experience will be for the better of society.”
Hugh Kelly, class of 1970, who grew up in St. Catherine of Genoa parish, East Flatbush, and now resides in Immaculate Heart of Mary parish, Windsor Terrace, earned a Ph.D. after his years at Cathedral College.
“I owe an intellectual debt for the education I received here,” he said, “and a social debt for instilling generosity and a commitment to service. I help in my parish any way I can and this place prepared me for that.”
As the reception’s end drew near, Father Sears asked everyone to join together for the singing of the Salve Regina. Rising from their seats, they gave enthusiastic voice to the Latin hymn of praise to the Blessed Mother. There were no hymnals to read the words from, but no one seemed to need them.
Earlier, Father Sears reflected on a question about what the 50 years of seminary formation at ICC meant.
“People should know that these are men, past and present, who love the Church and love God.”