To say Sacred Heart Major Seminary has produced a few bishops in the past century would be a bit of an understatement.
As a training ground for priests from the province of Michigan and beyond, Sacred Heart’s reputation for high-quality academic and human formation, spiritual richness, and pastoral leadership has made its alumni natural candidates for the episcopacy over the years.
Nineteen Detroit priests have been ordained bishops since 1980—17 of them Sacred Heart graduates—and of those, 15 served in faculty positions at the seminary prior to their ordination as bishops. The historic seminary on Chicago and Linwood in the heart of Detroit’s Boston-Edison neighborhood also educates priests from other dioceses, including many who have gone on to become bishops elsewhere.
As Sacred Heart celebrates the 100th anniversary of its historic building and campus, Mosaic caught up with several bishop alumni who shared their memories, recollections, and insights about what makes Sacred Heart such a special place.
What element of your formation at Sacred Heart made the greatest impact on you?
“First and most obvious to me is the tremendous prayer life and spiritual direction that we had. Second was the contact we had with the older priests in residence—those whose own history took us back to the beginning of the seminary itself. That sense of history was always very important to me.”
—Lansing Bishop Earl A. Boyea
“Sacred Heart gave me a clear understanding of the expectations of a seminarian and the motive to live up to them. In the years after the Second Vatican Council, there was a lot of confusion about how to prepare for the priesthood, and even what the priesthood is, and the foundation I had at Sacred Heart—the high school especially—served me very well.”
—Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron
“The time in seminary and my time as a parish priest taught me, as Bishop (John M.) Quinn often repeated, that it wasn’t about me. It never was about me. It is and will always be about Jesus, his mission, his love of the Father, and my share in his life and mission, his death and resurrection, and his eternity. The seminary opened my heart to a Father’s love. It took my eyes off of me and put them where they were always meant to be, on Christ.”
—Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Gerard W. Battersby
What are some of your fondest memories or traditions from Sacred Heart?
“When I was visiting the seminary in eighth grade for our entry exam, I have a very vivid memory of the first time I walked into the chapel. I was just overwhelmed by the beauty of it. It’s a memory I recall every time I go into the chapel—it’s always a great source of peace and joy to me.”
“We just loved ‘The Heart’—that’s what we called [Sacred Heart]. For me, it was the human touch, coming together to celebrate someone or something. When it was someone’s birthday, for instance, they would always announce it during lunchtime, and the whole cafeteria would loudly sing ‘Happy Birthday’ in Polish. It was wonderful. It’s little things like that.”
—Bishop Francis Y. Kalabat, Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle
“Every spring, one of the college classes would organize a field day. It was a chance for all of us (seminarians) to work together, and it was a time of friendship. One of the great gifts of the seminary, in addition to forming us into the heart of Christ for the priesthood, was the friendships I formed with my brother seminarians. Those friendships have lasted and are still part of my life. I treasured that.”
—Bishop John M. Quinn, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minn.
“I remember distinctly the visit of Pope St. John Paul II in September 1987, when I was in the college seminary. The helicopter landed right on the sports field, and the pope had a chance to visit the seminary faculty, staff, and seminarians who were there. It was definitely a highlight for the seminarians to visit with him, and to serve Mass with him the next day at the Pontiac Silverdome.”
—Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton
Who was your favorite professor?
“Almost all of them (made a significant impact), but the one who particularly stands out is Father William Sherzer, who was the dean of formation when I was in the college seminary. He was a great mentor and guide for me. He was a very wise man. Between the ages of 18 and 22, [seminarians] have a lot of questions about how one fits in and what’s important to a man, and he was very wise in giving guidance on this point.”
“I had very good professors and a lot of fine classes. I majored in history in college, and I remember Father (Ramón) Betanzos’ classes. He was a very fine instructor, and his classes were very formative and helpful. Having classes like that certainly shaped my formation, my thinking, and helped me in my priesthood.”
—Hartford Archbishop Leonard P. Blair
“Father Paul Berg was always a standout for me. He was a fine philosopher, a man of charity, a man committed to Christ and quietly pious, often caught with a flashlight praying the Stations in the dark. He did two things by my lights for which I am grateful. He pushed back the darkness and he stood at his station until he died. I thought he was something, and I pray that I can in some measure imitate him. To me, Father Paul Berg represented the venerable tradition both in the seminary, in the priesthood, and in our families of those who understand the law of the gift, of pushing back the darkness and standing until you die.”
Where was your favorite place to pray?
“I loved spending time in Sacred Heart’s chapel. Later in the evening, right before I’d go to bed, it was very quiet, and there were no lights, except for around the altar. It was always a time to just place all of my concerns, all of my needs, all of my need for mercy, in front of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To this day, I still replicate that practice of closing out my day by giving everything back to the Lord.”
What makes Sacred Heart’s historic campus so unique?
“Aside from the human element, I would say the historic building leaves a mark on you. It’s so impressive and beautiful, and I think that beauty symbolizes all of the experiences that I’ve had there. I was ordained a priest by Cardinal (John) Dearden right there in the chapel—I requested that, and afterward, some of my contemporaries were also ordained there—so for me, it’s always been a very significant place.”
“Few people know that Sacred Heart has the largest collection of Pewabic tile in the state of Michigan. The chapel itself, in my humble opinion, is one of the most beautiful seminary chapels in the world. The Tudor Gothic style is beautiful, and a lot of work and a lot of love has been put into it.”
“The building was completed in 1924—I believe it only took a year and a half to build. It was an incredibly quick build. It’s amazing, and it’s a tribute to this day to the generosity of the people of the Diocese of Detroit at that time.”
How has Sacred Heart’s location—in the heart of Detroit—been a blessing over the years?
“There’s no denying Sacred Heart is a centerpiece of the neighborhood. The seminary leadership really wanted us to be good neighbors to the community around us. As an urban Church, I think we’re much more connected through our formation to serve the people of Detroit.”
—Bishop Donald F. Hanchon, retired auxiliary bishop of Detroit
“Being in the heart of the city really helped us to see how our ministry was meant to go out to others. It wasn’t just to be locked up in the seminary. Coming from the suburbs, it was very different. And yet it was very rewarding that we were in the city.”
“Just as our beloved city has experienced periods of growth and periods of struggle with pain and racism and poverty, so has the Church. Being right in the heart of the city, Sacred Heart is a constant witness to that fact. Even under difficult circumstances, the mission is the same: the mission of Christ to go everywhere and preach the Gospel.”
How has Sacred Heart been accommodating to seminarians of different rites, dioceses, and religious communities over the years?
“When I was a seminarian—and especially today as a bishop sending our seminarians to Sacred Heart—we never saw ourselves as outsiders. We always saw ourselves as belonging. (As Chaldeans) we feel that we’re enriching Sacred Heart, and Sacred Heart is enriching us. We see beautiful relationships being created (between seminarians of different rites and dioceses), and these relationships are priceless. They go beyond just seminary formation. We have a unique opportunity to show the catholicity, the universality, of our faith.”