Sophomore Evan Mackenzie joined Gonzaga's Bishop White Seminary (BWS) due to feeling a lack of fulfillment in life.
“I worked many jobs prior to coming to GU,” said Mackenzie. “I worked at several restaurants, a gun range, an insurance office, in remodeling, landscaping and a few retail jobs. However, through all of those I never really felt fulfilled. I enjoyed them, but there was always a sense of restlessness for me."
Gonzaga’s BWS is the sole collegiate seminary in Washington state, and one of only two on the West Coast, according to the Catholic Diocese of Spokane website.
"While all of that was going on I also felt a tug from God to, at least, come and check out the seminary," Mackenzie said. "My family and I are converts to the faith, and so I didn’t grow up Catholic. However once we converted when I was 12, I started to feel a little tug in my heart that God might be asking me to do this for Him.”
Three of the seminary's other pupils are Aidan Cameron-Smith, a senior; Coulter McIntyre, a sophomore; and Jonny Padrnos, a junior.
All seminarians are philosophy majors. Cameron-Smith has two minors in Catholic studies and classical civilizations, whereas Mackenzie is debating a minor in either business or Spanish.
Each also had similar motivations for joining the seminary.
For McIntyre, it was simply an inspiration drawn from the example of priests he had known growing up.
“They were role models to me, and I knew from a young age that I wanted to be like them,” said McIntyre.
A similar love for Christ was the deciding factor for Cameron-Smith and Padrnos.
With varying levels of experience, each of their lives at BWS has been marked by immense joy and personal growth.
“The biggest shift I would say I’ve had is the shift of my priorities,” Mackenzie said. “I have realized that to be successful here, I need to reorder my whole life toward Christ. That requires a lot of stripping away of other things, mostly self-will and self-reliance, and it takes a massive trust in God and faith in His plan for me.”
Cameron-Smith agreed that being a seminarian requires immense sacrifice, but said simply that nothing worth attaining comes easily.
A typical weekday for each pupil begins with a shower around 6 a.m., as morning meditation and prayer takes place in the chapel from 6:30 a.m. until 7 a.m. This is followed by breakfast in the refectory, and then, each seminarian begins their day’s classes and studies.
“Many of us have classes together, since we are all on the same track of studies as philosophy majors,” McIntyre said. Some of the students take their classes at Spokane Community College.
There is time for exercise, homework and leisure both before and after lunch, which starts at noon daily. Sometimes, this also includes prayer and deep conversations.
Nightly activities may also include watching television, practicing or listening to music, playing games, or even skiing in the mountains, assuming their studies are completed.
At 4:45 P.M., the seminarians rejoin for Vespers, or evening prayer, with a subsequent Mass starting at 5:15 on Mondays through Thursdays.
On Fridays and Saturdays, Mass is instead held at 8 A.M.
The former days, around 3 P.M., “a group of us usually walk to the nearby Planned Parenthood and pray a rosary for an end to abortion and the protection of the life of the most innocent, the unborn,” Cameron-Smith said.
Furthermore, each student must help every Saturday to clean an assigned section of the seminary building. Pupils are free on Sundays until Mass at 4 P.M., followed by dinner, Vespers at 6:45, and Eucharistic Adoration until 8.
Asked to identify their favorite part of it all, each said that the tight-knit community made the seminary experience most worth it.
“I would not trade the laughter and camaraderie I’ve found here for anything else,” Padrnos said.
Cameron-Smith and Mackenzie describe their fellow seminarians as brothers, in a very literal sense.
“I know for a fact, as much as anyone can, that in twenty years, there will be guys who I go here with that I could call at any time and they would pick up,” the latter said. “When the friendship is grounded in faith, there is so much more substance to it.”
Each also emphatically agreed that those Catholic men who feel a particularly high calling to serve the Lord should consider joining the seminary.
“I would recommend that they talk to a priest they trust about applying,” McIntyre said. “Your priest can direct you to the vocation director for your diocese, who can then help you in the seminary application process.”
Cameron-Smith said this was as straightforward as recommending that aspiring pilots attend flight school, and that although taking the next step requires courage, there is no reason to be afraid as nothing brings more joy and peace.
“One thing I think the readers should know is that although we live differently from the rest of the students, we are just normal guys,” McIntyre said. “We like joking around and having fun just as much as anybody else. Sometimes I think we joke around more. Our college experience is certainly different than that of the average student, however; we also have the call to be witnesses of Christ to our peers, professors, and all those with whom we interact on a daily basis.”