DENVER — There has long been talk of a vocations crisis in the United States. But the Archdiocese of Denver has experienced a different sort of problem.

It's had to build a $4.7 million addition to two seminaries here to solve that problem — a steady growth in the number of students for the priesthood in this Rocky Mountain capital.

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput on May 7 blessed the new addition, which is attached to Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary, one of the institutions. Redemptoris Mater trains priests for the Neocatechumenal Way, a relatively new movement in the Church, while the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, the archdiocesan seminary, trains men for Denver and other dioceses.

“Zeal and the courage to announce the Gospel and communion with Rome — these are the two main ingredients in Denver,” said Father Florian Martin-Calama, rector of Redemptoris Mater, which taught 39 seminarians during the 2003-2004 school year.

Students from both institutions and archdiocesan personnel will use the first-floor classrooms of the addition. The second floor houses administrative offices, residential rooms and a chapel.

For the past few years, as enrollments have grown, some classes have met in the student dining hall and even in hallways.

“Now, with this addition, we will be able to house all of our classes in an appropriate classroom,” said Father Michael Glenn, rector of St. John Vianney Seminary, which had 54 seminarians enrolled during 2003-2004.

The need for physical expansion to accommodate growing numbers of seminarians isn't a story Americans hear much. Conventional wisdom holds that young men are turned off by the prospect of priestly celibacy.

Denver, however, isn't alone in seeing vocation growth. The Archdiocese of Omaha, Neb., and the dioceses of Lincoln, Neb.; Peoria, Ill.; and Arlington, Va., among others, have reported substantial vocations growth in recent years.

Some observers attribute that growth directly to an unapologetic embrace of Church doctrine and tradition.

Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha has argued that “when dioceses and religious communities are unambiguous about ordained priesthood and vowed religious life as the Church defines these calls; when there is strong support for vocations and a minimum of dissent about the male celibate priesthood and religious life loyal to the magisterium; when bishop, priests, religious and lay people are united in vocation ministry — then there are documented increases in the numbers of candidates who respond to the call.”

‘All Things Relative’

The Denver rectors espouse similar views, saying their success results from adherence to structure and truth.

“Today's young men come from a world in which all things are relative,” Father Glenn said. “What they want is a good education based in truth and clarity. They don't want to give their lives for something that's abstract, relative or confused.”

Father Martin-Calama says young seminarians are quick to dismiss theological views that follow “fashions of the time.” They're so tired of progressive Catholicism and modernity, he said, that some seem to long for the Church of pre-Vatican II.

“There is a danger of identifying the council with today's crisis and confusion,” Father Martin-Calama said. “The crisis was already there.”

Both Denver seminaries, he emphasizes, adhere strictly to Vatican II.

“Without the council we would have not rediscovered the word of God, we would have not rediscovered the Church as sacrament of salvation for the world, we would have not rediscovered the dazzling light of the Eucharist as the paschal mystery celebrating the death and resurrection of Our Lord,” Father Martin-Calama said. “We must go back not to Trent but to Jerusalem.”

Academically, Denver's two seminaries are identical. Each, however, has its own formation process. Students are separated by institution for morning and evening prayers, which follow separate formats. Redemptoris Mater seminarians are sponsored by communities of the Neocatechumenal Way; St. John Vianney seminarians are sponsored by individual bishops.

St. John Vianney students get part of their formation while living in a parish house, assisting parish communities in the Denver Archdiocese; Redemptoris Mater seminarians place an emphasis on rediscovering the meaning of their baptism.

“The seminarians of the Redemptoris Mater seminary are not only preparing for the priesthood but they are also rediscovering, through a post-baptismal catechumenate, their baptism,” Father Martin-Calama said. “This is today very important because the crisis of the family and the crisis of Catholic schools makes it so that youth, even those who feel a call to give their life to announce the Gospel, lack many times the foundations of Christian life, like loving God above everything, detachment from money, obedience, prayer.”

In preparation for the priest-hood, Redemptoris Mater seminarians spend at least two years in “itinerant ministry,” in which they are sent to difficult foreign environments without security and in a state of precariousness that Father Martin-Calama describes as “without money or knapsack.”

Redemptoris Mater is one of 50 seminaries throughout the world established by members of the Neocatechumenal Way, a Catholic formation program that originated in Spain. In Denver, Redemptoris Mater was established as an experiment in 1996 by Cardinal Francis Stafford, Denver archbishop at the time and now president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and was established permanently by Archbishop Chaput in 1999.

“The two seminaries are, in the words of Cardinal [Angel] Suquia from Madrid, like two lungs, one breathing ad intra and the other ad extra — one turned primarily toward the needs of the archdiocese, the other turned mainly toward the needs of the whole world,” Father Martin-Calama says.

In dedicating the new facility, Archbishop Chaput said the Neocatechumenal Way had proved itself a wonderful blessing for the Church in Denver and throughout the world.

“This is a moment to take pride in our faith,” Archbishop Chaput said, “to be joyful and very grateful.”

Wayne Laugesen writes from Boulder, Colorado.