By Michael Durnan
It’s not every day that a parishioner has the chance to quiz the Order which administers his church, but that’s exactly what REGINA writer Michael Durnan does in this far-ranging interview with Canon Jason Apple, General Prefect of the seminary of Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. The subject is the success of their seminary, now full to overflowing with seminarians studying in the Tuscan hills outside Florence.
REGINA: As someone who attends one of the Institute’s Shrine Churches, St. Walburge in Preston, England, I know the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest has a very successful seminary. Why is this, do you think?
CANON APPLE: We must give thanks to God for any success the Institute has had in forming good priests and continue, by His grace, to try to live up to our motto, Vertitatem facientes in Caritate, “Living the Truth in Charity.” Teaching seminarians the Truth of the Faith and being charitable to one another is the secret of Christianity. Love God with your whole heart and your neighbor as yourself.
REGINA: How many seminarians are there at present and are you able to accommodate all that seek to study there?
CANON APPLE: We have eighteen new men this year and eighty-four seminarians all together, twenty of whom are spending the year away from the seminary, helping the canons in the different churches and schools of the Institute.
REGINA: How many young men do you accept each year to the seminary and how many are ordained per year, on average.
CANON APPLE: Divine Providence always provides so we never have to turn anyone away, but, yes, the seminary is full to capacity. We will continue to trust in God for the answer, and I must say that too little space for all the vocations is a rather good problem to have when you consider all the seminary buildings that are empty and closed. This summer we had eleven men ordained priest, compared to eight the year before.
REGINA: The Institute place not only deacons, but sub-deacons into Shrine Churches along with the ordained Canons. Could you tell us more about the pastoral experience and training the seminarians receive before they become active priests?
CANON APPLE: Most of the seminarians spend a year away from the seminary in one of our houses. They help the canons of the Institute and contribute to the community life we are called to live. By observing, assisting, as well as by serving at sacred ceremonies, they learn many useful things for their future ministry. The deacons obviously carry out an active ministry which makes the leap to the priesthood is less drastic because of the experience they gain through it.
REGINA: Although the Institute is traditional in its formation and outlook, I’ve noticed the seminarians and Canons are very familiar and comfortable with the latest technology such as computers, smart phones and digital cameras and photography, along with building and operating websites. Does the Institute train its seminarians in the use of these things?
CANON APPLE: We must not leave these useful tools of evangelization in the hands of the devil, who will definitely use them whether we do or not. In and of themselves, technological advances are good and, with moderation and prudence, can and should be used for God’s work as Saint Maximilian Kolbe believed of film in the early twentieth century.
There are no computer classes at the seminary but any previous knowledge the seminarians have of computers, photography, and other developing technologies comes in handy for our publications and website, which are done by seminarians. However, the seminarians’ access to Internet, telephone, etc., is limited out of prudence and also to prevent them from wasting time.
REGINA: Your seminary is in Gricigliano, Italy, but the Institute’s founders are French and the seminarians are taught in French, so why is the Institute’s seminary located in Italy and not France? Could you tell us about how you acquired the buildings and how long you have been at Gricigliano?
CANON APPLE: Divine Providence! The founders were looking for a house in France but, unexpectedly, Divine Providence wanted a foundation in Africa to foster the missionary spirit and then gave them a house in Italy, in the peaceful Tuscan hills by Florence. The relatively short distance from Rome helps us foster a sense of Romanitas, or closeness to the Vicar of Christ and the Holy See through prayer, of course, but also through a Roman style and little touches that show our allegiance to the Holy Roman Church, for example our habit is a Roman cassock with fringe, a recognizably Roman detail. Our Constitutions stipulate that we are to add the prayer for the Holy Father every day at Mass.
REGINA: I know many of the Institute’s seminarians are from France, but what other countries do the seminarians come from?
CANON APPLE: There are also seminarians from Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Italy, Gabon, Germany, Malaysia, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States. Other nationalities are represented among the canons. The majority of the seminarians today are not from France. However, the Catholic Church has always gathered everyone together from every nation. We all love our homeland but we are Catholic first.
“In our seminary we try follow Saint Benedict’s model of putting God first, which is why the chapel is the most important room in the house.” CANON APPLE
“And then organizing everything else to favor the exercise of fraternal charity, for example, meals together in the refectory, the second most important room in the house.” CANON APPLE
REGINA: Could you tell us about the academic and theological study undertaken by the Institute’s seminarians?
CANON APPLE: The seminarians receive a formation of at least seven years, which is two years longer than the minimum required by Canon Law.
”They begin with one year of doctrine and introductory courses, then complete two years of Philosophy (Natural Philosophy and Metaphysics), and finally four years of Theology (Dogmatic and Moral Theology, the Sacraments, as well as Ascetic and Mystic Theology).” CANON APPLE
“They also study Holy Scripture, Canon Law and Church History, Gregorian Chant, Latin, Greek, and other subjects. Conferences on varied topics underscore important aspects of intellectual and practical life.” CANON APPLE
“There are two sessions of examinations, the first in February and the second in June.” CANON APPLE
“We also try to complete their human formation and explain the foundation of good manners on Christian Charity so that they are polite out of love of God and true goodwill towards their neighbor.” CANON APPLE
“It is participation in the liturgical life of the seminary with their superiors which prepares the seminarians to become canons because a canon is a priest who lives in community whose daily life is centered on glorifying God through as solemn a liturgy as possible for the sake of the people.” CANON APPLE
“Our spirituality is the spirituality of Saint Francis de Sales who teaches how to ‘cook the Truth in Charity until it tastes sweet’. He also teaches the renunciation of self-will for a life centered on the Love of God and of our neighbor.” CANON APPLE
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at noon is the center of the day.
“The crown jewel of the Mass is surrounded by other spiritual gems throughout the day: meditation and Lauds in the morning, the office of Sext after Mass, the Rosary after lunch, Vespers in the evening, and Compline before bedtime.” CANON APPLE
“Each seminarian chooses a priest to guide him as a spiritual father whom he sees at least once a month for spiritual direction. Frequent sacramental confession is also obviously very important to progress in the spiritual life.” CANON APPLE
REGINA: Besides the seminarians’ academic study and work, what other work, of a more practical nature, do the seminarians undertake at Gricigliano?
CANON APPLE: The Institute’s seminary is not subsidized and has no endowment. There is therefore much practical work to be done.
“We also inherited a vineyard and olive grove with the villa which houses the seminary.” CANON APPLE
“Each seminarian has responsibilities and chores besides cleaning his own room.” CANON APPLE
“Seminarians’ tasks range from office work to kitchen and laundry, gardening and many other things besides.” CANON APPLE
“All these are good for imparting a sense of duty and a family spirit of working for the common good.” CANON APPLE
REGINA: I understand the Institute has strong connections with Gabon and has a mission there. Could you tell us a little about that?
CANON APPLE: The Institute was originally founded in Gabon with the help of Bishop Obamba of Mouila where we still have a mission.
“We also have a parish in the capital city of Libreville where the archbishop blessed the façade of the new church. A pontifical Mass was then celebrated by Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke who gave the papal blessing. Monsignor Agostini, Papal Master of Ceremonies, read the decree granting the papal blessing and announcing the indulgences. All of this took place in the presence of the President of Gabon, who has done much to help with the construction of the façade and who hopes to see the interior of the church done with as much splendor.” CANON APPLE
“We have a deacon from Gabon who grew up in our mission. He will be ordained a priest in November.”
“Every year we also send a seminarian or two to help the four canons and they always have a good memory of their time in Gabon. Many of them were able to return to attend for the blessing of the facade and to receive the consolation of seeing the progress of the parish and of the mission to which they contributed in years past.”
REGINA: I know the Institute celebrates Mass, and the other sacraments, in the Extraordinary Form only. What experience do the seminarians have of the EF before they arrive and what do they need to learn?
CANON APPLE: Most of the seminarians have had exposure to Latin before entering the seminary, but not all.
REGINA: Having joined the choir at St. Walburge’s, after the Institute arrived in September of last year, I have learnt that music and chant is a very important part of the liturgy and worship, so music and singing must be an important component in the training of the seminarians. Can you tell us more about this?
CANON APPLE: Gregorian Chant plays a central role in the life of our seminarians. It truly is a gift from God to lift our minds up to Him. It is a form of prayer, where the words of Scripture are meditated in harmonious tranquility. We follow the famous method of the French Monastery of Solesmes which turns every syllable into prayer and worship.
“We have three levels of Latin classes for those who need it. Many have served Mass in the Extraordinary form and those for whom it is new learn during their first year to serve low mass and then move on to learning the different roles in the solemn mass year by year. It is fascinating to see how the liturgy and its language amalgamate so many different peoples and temperaments, as it always has done.” CANON APPLE
The seminary of the Institute of Christ the King is located in an ancient chateau at Gricigliano in Tuscany, Italy. Located near Florence, it is only about 170 miles from the Eternal City — Rome — and the Vatican. Named St. Phillip Neri Seminary, it is here that our priests receive the formation that prepares them to serve the Sovereign Priest.
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