We have a secret that I’d like to pass on to all of you this month. It has to be a secret because most people say they’ve never heard about this topic before I’ve mentioned it to them. I think many of our priests have only heard hints of the secret, but don’t know enough about it to share it with the rest of their flocks, so they keep the little they know in the secret category as well. Have I built up your anticipation yet?
The secret I’m talking about is how we fund the education of our seminarians. Some people think we are like the US Government where we can just print the money we need and hope we have enough. That is not the case. Some people think the money is “just there.” This is not really the case either. I would even be so brave to suggest that some people think the bishop can perform miracles similar to Jesus’ multiplication of the bread and fishes – with a quick prayer and blessing the money becomes enough to pay for our seminarians’ education and there is enough left over to pay for the work of the vocation directors as well. If only any of these were the reality, my job would be much easier, but this is not the case.
We pay for the direct expenses of our seminarians through an endowment fund that consists of burses that have been donated for that purpose over the years. I believe in the early days a donation in the amount of $2,500 was considered a completed burse. The diocese can use the income from these burses to pay for the needs of our seminarians, but can never touch the principle. Over time the amount of money for a completed burse was raised to $10,000.
Just what is a burse? Where do they come from? A burse in the seminarian fund is money donated by a group or individual for the education of our seminarians. In the past groups such as a local council of the Knights of Columbus, or the Saint Francis Prayer Circle of some parish, raised money and started building a burse. Over a few years, they would complete the burse as more funds were raised. In the other case, individuals would donate money in memory of a loved one, or one would remember the seminarians and set up a burse as part of their estate when they passed away. Money in the endowment would continue to provide for our seminarians into the future.
In the beginning of my article I spoke of a secret. What has led me to believe the burses are a big secret is the number of new burses that have been created in the last several years is almost zero. I was speaking the Joe Loncki, our business manager, shortly after I took over the role of vocation director. He informed me that the money generated by the burses given in the past will pay for about four seminarians. That is woefully inadequate to meet the need for priests within our diocese. Costs have continued to rise, but the burse fund has stayed almost static. I am hoping to have eight or more seminarians as we go into the 2010-2011 academic year. Not having enough money in our seminarian burse fund will have an impact on other budget items in the diocese.
I want to challenge everyone in the diocese to think about our seminarian burses. Have you worked on your estate planning? Have you thought about setting aside some money to establish a burse in your own name? Were your parents very involved in the church, and did they have a great love for their priests? Have you thought about setting up a burse in their names? Are you the member of the Knights of Columbus, or the parish Council of Catholic Women? Has your organization established a burse in the past that needs to be completed? Are you capable of establishing a new burse over the next few years? If you would like more information about our seminarian burses, please feel free to call the diocesan business office, 1-800-332-9998 in Montana, or 1-406-727-6683, outside of Montana.
We need to get the secret out. We have a great way to pay for the education of our seminarians, but it requires the support of the faithful. Please consider a donation to our seminarian burse fund.
Please also remember to pray for vocations, the young men and women who are answering the call to serve the church as priests or religious, and the priests, living and deceased, who have served our diocese.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
This is my article for the next issue of our diocesan newspaper, The Harvest.