This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Legionaries of Christ Novitiate and College of Humanities in Cheshire, Connecticut, and Regnum Christi members, family, and friends gathered from all over North America and beyond to celebrate.
The seminary in Cheshire had its humble beginnings in 1957 as over a hundred acres of farmland that consisted of nothing more than a farmhouse, a barn, a silo, and a dilapidated shed. At that time, the land belonged to the La Salette Missionaries, a Catholic religious order based in Massachusetts, who, after outgrowing their high school seminary in Hartford, would go on to build a new seminary on the site. On August 15, 1957, the property and accompanying residence was blessed by Rev. Jean Roux, MS, who had come to the United States from France as a missionary in 1895. Construction began in the summer of 1959, and the new La Salette seminary was dedicated, and welcomed its first students, in September of 1961.
After over 15 years of ministry, due to increasing operating costs and a decreasing number of vocations, La Salette Seminary High School closed its doors in June of 1970. The seminary became a School of Christian Leadership and Service for students interested in active lay involvement in the Church, offering education, formation, prayer groups, healing services, and professional counseling.
At this time, the Legionaries of Christ had already outgrown the first seminary house they had established in Woodmont, Connecticut, in 1965, and by 1971, had moved to a slightly larger property in the nearby town of Orange. In 1976, Fr. Anthony Bannon, LC, who had been ordained just a few months earlier, arrived to help develop the order, which at the time had foundations in Hamden, NJ, Detroit, MI, New York City, and Washington, DC, serving as the Apostolate Director for the Legionaries in the United States and the rector of the Novitiate for the Legionaries of Christ in Orange, CT. In 1977, under the guidance of Mons. John Whealon, Archbishop of Hartford at the time, the Legionaries of Christ leased half of the La Salette building as their novitiate, and, as the numbers of Legionary novices continued to grow, they eventually purchased the property. On June 4th, 1982, the seminary moved from Orange to their current location in Cheshire.
That summer, thirty seven seminarians moved from Orange to Cheshire, many of whom are Legionary priests today, including Fr. Kevin Meehan, Fr. Kermit Syren, Fr. Peter Hopkins, Fr. James Mulford, Fr. David Steffy, Fr. Gabriel Sotres, and Fr. Barry O’Toole. In addition, 25 young men visited the seminary that first summer, and 21 of them began the novitiate that fall, including Legionary priests Fr. Dana Lundburg, Fr. Steven Reilly, and Fr. Walter Shu.
As vocations to the Legionaries of Christ continued to increase, a new wing was added to the building in 1992, and today, the seminary is home to 47 young men from 14 different countries who are discerning the call to the priesthood in an environment that makes space to hear God’s call and lays the foundation of a solid interior life crucial to the apostolic life. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first graduating class of the Cheshire seminary.
To celebrate the occasion, over 300 Legionary priests, Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi, Regnum Christi members, friends, and family, gathered on September 1-3 of this year. The anniversary weekend included Mass, family-style cookouts, adoration, talks from Legionary priests, a video presentation chronicling the seminary’s 40-year history, and even a fun-filled trivia game.
The celebrations began on Friday afternoon with a Mass of gratitude, presided by North American Territorial Director and Cheshire alumni, Fr. Shawn Aaron, LC. This was followed by 40 Hours of Adoration, in thanksgiving for Cheshire’s 40 years, and for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.
Saturday began with Mass, celebrated by Fr. Markus Stehmer, LC, who was just ordained in Rome in April of this year. An afternoon picnic provided an opportunity to share and hear stories and experiences about life in the novitiate over the past 40 years. Fr. Shawn Aaron and Fr. John Bartunek, LC, who is the Territorial Vicar of North America, gave talks about what their time at Cheshire meant to them. Fr. Shawn shared his memories of both the blessings and the hardships that he experienced throughout his years of formation at the novitiate, and how, through it all, the brothers in Cheshire always had a deep spirit of joy, one that he witnessed alive in the seminarians today. Fr. John spoke of the novitiate as a turning point in his life and in the lives of so many other young men. He had originally visited Cheshire as a guest, but in seeing the life of the brothers, and witnessing their deep Eucharistic life, he immediately knew that Cheshire, and ultimately the Legionaries of Christ, were to become his spiritual home. This visit, and his time in the novitiate, became a decisive point for him in his own discernment, as it was for many other young men.
The final day of the weekend celebrations began with the conclusion of the 40 Hours of Adoration; the benediction included all the Legionary priests and brothers present. Afterwards, the Archbishop of Hartford, Archbishop Leonard Blair, celebrated the weekend’s closing Mass at St. Thomas Becket Church. In his homily, the archbishop preached about the Christian way of life, one that is challenging, but is indeed the path to heaven, and one on which we are never alone, accompanied always by Christ himself.
In addition to these events, Cheshire was also host to its 6th annual Vocation Summit, an event that brings together vocation promoters from all over the country, and an ECYD leadership training course. These gatherings provided valuable opportunities for growth, reflections, and deepening commitment to the mission.
Pam Brown, who has been a Regnum Christi member in the RCNY Tri-State locality for 15 years , and has been working for the Legionaries of Christ since 2009, is one of the many who gathered at Cheshire to participate in the weekend’s celebrations:
“Sitting in the chapel during Mass on Saturday, I had a smile on my face as I felt a sense of peace and belonging. I was with my family. We had shared so much in the last 15 years and now we were celebrating. The sun was streaming in, and everyone seemed on holiday – relaxed and joyful. After, on the grounds, you could hear greetings and laughter as we took a big family photo with all present. I was thrilled to be reunited with so many Legionaries and RC members I hadn’t seen in a while, and it was always fun to the see the Legionary priests interacting with the brothers, young men visiting, and Sacred Heart Apostolic School students. I will keep this day close to my heart as I return to the work God has given me to support the Legionaries and build the Kingdom of Christ!”
The anniversary weekend was such a beautiful opportunity for the RC family to gather and celebrate that Cheshire plans to host a Regnum Christi Friends and Family Day again next year on September 1, 2024.