Home Up


Captured for history from


Feature News

From pranksters to priests

Alumni return to share memories of their days at St. John Vianney College Seminary

Thursday, November 12, 2009
Teresa Martinez - Florida Catholic correspondent


Priests, many of them alumni of St. John Vianney College Seminary, leave St. Raphael Chapel after the Mass Nov. 7 marking the seminary's 50th anniversary.

MIAMI � They were youthful pranksters who became priests and bishops � and married men with wives and children. But the sense of camaraderie they enjoyed at St. John Vianney Seminary stuck with them through the years  so much so that dozens returned to help their alma mater mark its 50th anniversary.

The anniversary Mass Nov. 7, concelebrated by more than 50 priests, three auxiliary bishops, two bishops and Archbishop John C. Favalora with more than 300 people in attendance, was one of the highlights of a birthday party that began Nov. 5 and brought together alumni from every class since 1959.

St. John Vianney Seminary has produced 700 graduates, and six bishops have come from its alumni or faculty. Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski, newly-elect Pueblo Bishop Fernando Isern and Auxiliary Bishop John Noonan are graduates; Bishop Noonan also served as rector, along with Venice�s retired Bishop John Nevins and St. Petersburg Bishop Robert Lynch. Retired Auxiliary Bishop Gilberto Fernandez served as spiritual director.

Not a bad record for a place just entering middle age.

The construction of the seminary was Bishop Coleman Carroll�s priority when he arrived in the Archdiocese of Miami: It took less than a year to build and open.


Vincentian Father James Krieg, who served as director of students at St. John Vianney College Seminary from 1965 to 1973, receives the Cure d'Ars Award from Archbishop John C. Favalora during the seminary's 50th anniversary Mass Nov. 7.

The Vincentian Fathers accepted Bishop Carroll�s invitation to staff the seminary - which then included a high school - and were honored with the Cur� d�Ars award during the anniversary Mass. Father Charles Krieg, who was director of students from 1965 to 1973, was on hand to accept the award on behalf of his order.

�When I look out to this group in front of me I don�t see priests, bishops or other professionals. I see young boys that used to love pulling pranks. I see a little Tommy not a Bishop Thomas Wenski, a little Terry not Msgr. Terence Hogan and a little Freddy not (Sunny Isles) Chief of Police Fred Maas,� Father Krieg said.�I remember your young faces and how it was back then. We were family. Thank you for welcoming me back today and for remembering me with such fondness.�

Among those at the Mass was Father Carl Morrison, a canon lawyer who works in the archdiocese�s Metropolitan Tribunal and entered the seminary in 1959, the year it opened.

�It feels like weird d�j� vu because it was so long ago, when we started here there were no traditions. We started them, we were the pioneers and now to be back here you sense the feel of fraternity and camaraderie as if it were back then,� Father Morrison said.

�It is such a special time of discernment. Some choose the priesthood and others will choose another path but we all share in how the Lord moves in our lives,� Archbishop Favalora said during the Mass. �What is special about this place are the solid relationships that are formed and the fraternity of support in one another. Of course there are all those �legends� that get passed on from class to class, those bind us as well,� he joked, referring to the pranks seminarians have enjoyed pulling on each other and faculty members since the seminary opened.


Some of the members of St. John Vianney College Seminary's first graduating class pose for a photo after the Nov. 7 Mass marking the seminary's 50th anniversary. From left: Richard Perez, William Ramirez, Father Carl Morrison of the archdiocese's Metropolitan Tribunal, Arthur Denchfield and John B. Kelly.

John B. Kelly was one of Father Morrison�s classmates.

�I remember when we somehow managed to carefully stack one of our classmates (now Father Francis Wendt) up unto 10 mattresses while he was asleep. We surrounded the tower of mattresses with other mattresses and then sounded the �voice of God� bell (a handbell used to summon us from class to class) to wake him up. He of course was startled out of bed and went tumbling down. I�ll never forget the look on his face,� said Kelly with a smile. �We were like brothers, we lived together, we fought, we laughed, and we were family.�

The tradition of laughter to relieve the stress of long days and much study may have begun with the first class but it has been carried on successfully by subsequent ones.

�The best pranks were when we would get our then rector and now Bishop John Noonan to join us,� said Deacon Luis Rivero, class of 2004. �I remember when it was our dean of students� birthday, Father Kenneth Malley, and while he was out we rearranged his room and hid ten alarm clocks all around and set them to go off every hour of the night. When he got home and found his room all upside down he thought that was all we had done. Of course the next morning he had bags under his eyes because the alarms had kept him up all night.�

�It was the four greatest years of my life,� said Jim Lamm, class of 1984. �Some of my deepest and long lasting friendships were formed here. I wouldn�t change any of my experiences. We were a community, a family, we would eat, pray and live together and if we didn�t love each other then we would have ended up killing one another... It was a good thing we all loved each other.�

As a great sign of hope and the vitality of the seminary, it began the year with its largest number of seminarians in over 30 years.

�Just a few years ago there were many voices saying that young men would no longer consider religious vocations and that it was time to throw in the towel on the priesthood. Today, serving the dioceses of Florida, the seminarians come from 17 countries of birth and speak five first languages and average 24 years old,� said Msgr. Michael Carruthers, the seminary�s current rector. �They love the Church and want to give their lives to make the Church loved.�

At the Mass, the archbishop announced that he would be writing a letter to all the priests of the archdiocese asking them to make a personal donation to the seminary�s endowment as a gift for its golden jubilee year.

Anyone wishing to also make a donation should call 305-223-4561 or log on to

Men interested in the priesthood or in discerning a vocation should contact Father Roberto Garza, archdiocesan vocations director, at or click here to see a list of upcoming events.

Updated Nov. 13 to reflect correction in list of seminary alumni and faculty who have become bishops.

Father Oscar F. Casta�eda, rector of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in Miami and a member of St. John Vianney College Seminary's class of 1983, points to himself in a group photo during the seminary's 50th anniversary celebration.