Fr. Josh Waltz calls the last 12 months “a whirlwind.”
After taking over for Monsignor Tom Richter as the diocesan director of vocations in July 2013, Waltz has watched the number of seminarians in the Bismarck Diocese rise. And rise. And rise again.
“When I first started, Bishop Kagan said he wanted seven new seminarians,” Waltz remembered, mentioning that the number of seven was meant to make up for the six men who were ordained priests in June 2013, “plus one for good measure.”
Try plus seven for good measure. Today, Bishop Kagan has
14 men preparing to begin seminary formation this fall
for the Diocese of Bismarck. Add that to the 11 men already studying for the diocese, and western North Dakota has one of the highest numbers of seminarians per capita in the nation, with 25 men studying to be priests.
What’s working? Waltz attributes the sharp increase to vibrant parish life across the diocese and, more directly, to the diocese’s Catholic education system.
Of the 14 new men, 13 have been enrolled at a Catholic institution of learning—whether it is one of the diocese’s three Catholic high schools, 10 elementary schools or the
University of Mary
in Bismarck. Further, five of the 14 new men lived at St. Joseph’s Residence Hall at U-Mary, a faith-based men’s dormitory established in 2011 that is also Waltz’s permanent home.
He said that in addition to the classroom formation and interaction students have with priests at the diocese’s Catholic schools, opportunities such as the annual Rome Pilgrimage have a significant impact on the youth and their relationship with Jesus.
The diocese has also been working to establish a stronger presence online, and Waltz has begun using social media and
vocation story videos
to reach out into the depths of cyberspace.
“The Lord has been doing beautiful things in a very hidden way, and that hidden way has now exploded onto the scene this year,” he said.
Beyond seminarians, Bishop Kagan and Waltz are also working to increase the presence of
in the diocese. This spring, a group of
established a foundation in Fort Yates to work with the Catholic Indian Mission and five cloistered Carmelite nuns established a
new monastery in Hague
. This fall, three religious sisters from Mexico will arrive in Williston to assist in the implementation of Hispanic Catholic ministry for the next five years.
While the increase in seminarians is a tremendous blessing for the diocese, Waltz acknowledged that it also
presents some challenges
“Ten of our 25 seminarians are literally unable to pay for seminary formation,” he said, adding that costs of education at a minor seminary can approach nearly $40,000 per year. “It’s not that they’re lazy. Some are working two jobs in anticipation of their upcoming years of formation. The challenge is to
build up our seminarian endowment
so these guys can focus on discerning their vocation without worrying about finances.”
He said it isn’t the quantity of seminarians that the diocese has reached in the past year that he is most impressed with. Instead, it’s the quality of men responding to God’s call.
“They’re smart, they’re generous, they’re charitable, they’re leaders,” he explained. “The overarching characteristic is the zeal—they have a real excitement for being a part of what’s going on and they want to change the world by giving their lives to Christ.”
As man after man has entered Waltz’s office to discuss a potential vocation to the priesthood (and has ultimately been accepted as a seminarian), he said he has received a lesson in humility.
“I can’t make vocations. I can only encourage them and pray for guidance. This isn’t my work—it is God’s work.
“This diocese loves their seminarians,” Waltz continued. “I don’t know what Jesus will do next year. All I know is this year He has answered our prayers. And I’m excited to be a part of it.”
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