Personal Visits Help Guide Seminarians
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
April 26, 2018
ROCKFORD—Periodically, Bishop David Malloy’s public schedule lists visits to seminarians at their respective seminaries, something he has done since his first year as Bishop of Rockford.
He makes those visits once a year, he says, calling each “an opportunity to see them in the context of their formation ... an opportunity for the bishop to get to know (them), and it gives the seminarians an opportunity to get to know their bishop better, and the diocese.” 
His visits are well planned. 
“When I’m there I have a meeting with the rector and seminary faculty,” he says. “I meet with each of the guys individually, and we usually end up with a gathering — often I take them out to dinner. If I’m there overnight we often have Mass together.”
Seminary visits are a regular part of Father Keith Romke’s annual schedule also.
As director of vocations, Father Romke has diverse responsibilities, including accompanying “our seminarians from their first day in seminary all the way through the day that they are ordained priests in the Cathedral,” he says. 
“One important role of a vocation director is to visit the seminarians at their respective seminaries. This means I’m on the road a lot!” 
Like the bishop, Father Romke meets with the priests who are in charge of the seminarians’ formation and education.
“In these meetings I’m able to hear what they are doing well and where they still need to grow,” he says. “I then meet individually with each to talk with them about their joys and struggles, and to help them see how they continue to become the priest whom God is calling them to be.”
“Our seminarians are great, by the way!” he adds. “It is truly a joy to see the growth our seminarians experience and achieve each year.”
Seminarian Nicholas Sentovich attends Pontifical North American College in Rome. He is scheduled to be ordained a transitional deacon there in October.
“When you’re in Rome, it can be easy to feel disconnected about what’s going on back home,” Sentovich says, “so having the bishop and vocation director come is a wonderful reminder of the reason we’re studying and who we’re studying for. Their visits are always encouraging times of fraternity! I feel very blessed that both of them make time in their busy schedules to meet with us.”
John McFadden is a member of the seminarian class of 2021. He attends St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He says he appreciates getting to know Bishop Malloy from his visits.
“By coming all the way out to see us, see how we’re doing and taking us out to eat, I can see (Bishop Malloy) really cares about us,” he says, adding that “Father Romke’s visits are great too. It’s always nice to have him check in with us and see how we’re doing.”
Whether in Rome or the States, seminarians appreciate the personal connection with someone from back home.
“It’s great having either of them (come),” McFadden says, “because it’s like a little piece of the Diocese of Rockford has come to give us a break from the normal schedule of formation. Each visit is truly a gift.”
A class of 2023 seminarian is finding that visits from the bishop are helpful to him in a slightly-different way.
“Visits from Bishop Malloy give us the opportunity to get to know our shepherd on a personal level,” says Jacob Timm, who is in his third year of college at St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Nebraska. “This allows me to envision making the promise of obedience to the bishop, which is a great help to my discernment.”
Robert “Bobby” Blood also attends St. Paul Seminary. He is one of three diocesan seminarians who are scheduled to become transitional deacons on June 2.
“We are very blessed as seminarians of the Diocese of Rockford to be visited so consistently both by our vocation director and our bishop,” he says. 
“When Father Romke visits, it’s a reminder that we are working towards something while in the seminary — the priesthood yes, but also holiness,” he adds. “He shares with us the happenings of the diocese and encourages us to ‘keep up the great work!’
“Bishop Malloy visiting is always an honor, as we recognize he is very busy doing God’s work back home. His presence reminds us ... that we are not alone. We have a shepherd who is gently guiding us into the Father’s Vineyard, to mix metaphors.  
“He knows us: what we are working to grow in, what our gifts and talents are, and he even has a joke or two from previous visits. Meeting with him one on one each (time) calls us deeper into our discernment (and reminds us to) remember the depth and mystery of the priesthood and never take that for granted. He speaks to us from a wealth of knowledge and time spent with our Lord.”
Blood also calls it a blessing that other priests of the diocese “check in on us, and if at all possible come to visit and break bread with us. In each visit, sharing a meal brings about the greatest memories. We are brothers — pilgrims on a journey home — led by holy Fathers who, too, are journeying to the place we hope to call home.”
Interacting with seminarians in a setting outside of the diocese is good, Bishop Malloy says, noting simply that, “Every opportunity to meet with them is always valuable.”