There is a new leader at the helm of Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. The Rev. Joseph Gatto recently began his new position as President-Rector. In this Focus on Education report WBFO'S Eileen Buckley says growth is occurring on the campus, as new seminarians are studying to become priests and laity seek theologian teachings.
It was a crisp cold morning after a light snow fall as we walked the campus. The seminary is situation on 132-acres of land off Knox Road in East Aurora. Christ the King marketing director Susan Lankes was leading the way. We stepped in to the library with many books and materials, some dating back to the 1800's.
"There's over a 198 volumes -- theological volumes -- it's one of the largest in the east," said Lankes.
Students use the materials on a regular basis, but it is also open as a resource for community members seeking detailed information.
"Yes, very unique pieces and also reliable pieces too, from authors that our faculty members say are good resources for particular topics," noted Lankes.
150-students in total are studying on campus. The tour continued to the St. John Vianney Chapel where we found a student studying to be an ordained Roman Catholic priest.
"The calling I guess came over time for me. It wasn't something that happened all at once, but developed over time," said Peter Santandreu of Hamburg. He is one of 40-seminarians attending Christ the King. It's the largest class in 20-years. 27-year-old Santandreu is in his second year of the five year program.
WBFO News asked Santandreu what are the challenges he faces as he trains to be a priest.
"It's a nice place. The academics are definitely challenging, but they are manageable. I personally really believe in the program. I think it is very holistic and focuses on all aspects of the human person," said Santandreu. He said his time serving as a lay Catholic missionary in Argentina defined his future calling.
The Seminary considers the current class of seminaries as "significant". Seven years ago there were only 15-men studying for the priesthood.
Gatto previously served as the vice rector until 2002 before being assigned as a parish priest. Most recently the well-known pastor was at the vibrant St. Gregory the Great in Williamsville, then in June Bishop Richard Malone, leader of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, named Gatto to succeed Father Peter Drilling as leader of the Seminary.
Gatto is now on a mission to rebuild the strength of the school. "We have one gentleman who has a doctorate in classical language. We have one who has a masters degree. We have one, you know, who worked with the government and CIA," said Gatto.
Despite a decline in the Catholic population in recent years and aging priests, student numbers and campus traffic remain rising at the Seminary. Father Gatto notes a laity resurgence to assist the church.
"There's no way that our priests, can today, with all the programs that we need to have, can be the center point for every ministry," said Gatto.
WBFO News asked Father Gatto how new priests will work to rebuild relationships with the Catholics that turned away from their faith from the priest sexual abuse scandals.
"That's a very good question, and I believe the proof is always in the pudding," said Gatto. "When these individuals go to their parishes, when they begin to minister and people see authentic living, then people will realize, yes, I've been hurt. It's like a family."
Father Gatto wants to 'regenerate' the school’s faculty and get them excited about teaching and wants to make Christ the King into a destination stop for many. "My first year has to be here's Christ the King -- this is what we are about, we invite you to come out," noted Gatto.
Gatto notes the biggest overall struggle remains credibility, but he said he believes even for those who identify themselves as atheists- believe in something. "I have never met anyone who's not spiritual. I have found many people who are not religious," stated Gatto. "Even an atheists, who says 'I love my wife, I love my children' is some how spiritually alive."