Institute for Priestly Formation puts spiritual lives of priests front and center – The Catholic Spirit

Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens talks with George Esseff of California, an emeritus member of the Institute for Priestly Formations Mission Advisory Council, during IPFs 25th anniversary celebration in July in Omaha, Nebraska. COURTESY FORD JACOBSEN

And it centered on a highly influential but, aside from those directly involved, little-known institute in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Institute for Priestly Formation, which this year is celebrating its 25th anniversary, offers retreats, spiritual direction and guidance, with a focus on seminarians and diocesan priests. Its offerings include a nine-week summer program on the campus of Creighton University, which this year attracted 177 seminarians from more than 60 U.S. dioceses, including five from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The institute also conducts retreats for bishops and seminary theologians, days of reflection for laity, theological forums and other programs.

Bishop Cozzens estimates that about 40 priests of the archdiocese have gone through spiritual direction training at IPF. Others have benefited from retreats and taught summer courses at the institute.

Bishop Cozzens said he first heard about IPF as a priest of the archdiocese in 2006, when he started work in seminary formation. He went on a 30-day IPF silent retreat at Creighton in the summer of 2008.

I would say that the retreat was for me a very life-changing experience. I joke, sometimes, that for me theres been two lives, one was before the retreat and one was after the retreat. And the one after was a whole lot better than the one before.

That retreat, with silence and time to be alone with God, brought a new way for Bishop Cozzens to view himself and his daily life with the Lord.

You cant escape yourself, he said. You have to deal with yourself. And then you learn that that allows you to engage the world in a different way.

It gave me a desire to have that be part of my whole life, that I would always live in Gods presence, that I would always try to be with him.

That focus on spirituality and carving out time to develop it is critically important, Bishop Cozzens said. Seminaries are busy places where much is accomplished but time is limited, he said.

And as Priesthood Sunday approaches Sept. 29 this year, a day set aside by Serra International to honor priests and affirm the role of the priesthood in the life of the Church people might reflect on ways to support the spiritual lives of their pastors and other priests, Bishop Cozzens said.

There are many ways to advance spiritual development, not just IPF, the bishop said. But it could be said that IPF has had a greater impact on the seminarians and priests in the United States than almost any other organization in the last 25 years, in terms of the depth of their impact helping priests and seminarians appreciate and grow in a life of prayer and in the skills of spiritual direction, said Bishop Cozzens, who is on IPFs corporate board as treasurer as well as its bishops and mission advisory councils. Father Joseph Taphorn, a native of Omaha who has been involved as a spiritual director with IPF and in January began serving as rector of The St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, said it wasnt the case before, but now the archdiocese is asking its seminarians to attend an IPF summer session as they enter their studies at the graduate level seminary.

It gives a man an opportunity to have a very intentional and focused relationship with our Lord, Father Taphorn said of the sessions, which begin with an eight-day silent retreat. Its a chance to say, this is what were about this summer.

Father Jonathan Kelly, who teaches at the undergraduate St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, has been on two, 30-day retreats at the institute, in 2007 and 2017. He also has taught at IPF and helped direct the 30-day retreats, which he calls transformational.

Transformational is the Lord doing the work and speaking to us in a way that well never forget, Father Kelly said. The silence of a 30-day retreat and a good spiritual director (guiding the retreat) who stays silent, who might see it but waits for the Lord to say it, that is transformational.

As priests and seminarians develop their spiritual lives, they can help others grow in similar fashion, Bishop Cozzens said.

It really helps priests strengthen their own identity as a spiritual father and as a spiritual director as they serve in the priesthood, Bishop Cozzens said.

They (IPF) teach people how to bring their real lives into relationship with God, and that affects a mans preaching, that affects the way a man cares for people in very positive ways, Bishop Cozzens said. Its why we want our seminarians when possible to go through at an early stage, so that they early on begin to recognize that their lives are being brought into this relationship with God. And then they can help others to do that.

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Institute for Priestly Formation puts spiritual lives of priests front and center - The Catholic Spirit

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