On April 27, the final house Mass and farewell banquet marked the end of classes before exams and seminarian departures. The evening began in the 4th Street courtyard with the Diocese of Raleigh’s Deacon Nick Rapkoch blessing the new Holy Family of Nazareth statue, a gift from the graduating class of 2023. The house then processed to the end-of-the-year celebration of the Eucharist. In his homily, Father Ciriaco highlighted the Acts of the Apostles, in which we see the Apostles, who had a personal relationship with Christ, putting into practice what he had been teaching them. Just like the Apostles, the seminarians seek the truth, which is made available to them through personal engagement with those mentors and educators Jesus has put on their path, so that they in turn may help to open the eyes of others. As Pope Francis commented, “We are called by God who takes us from among men, so as to be for men.” These reflections were especially fitting for those whose departure on pastoral year was imminent, and the rector extended a special blessing to them for this stage of their formative path.
This concept of generous fraternity was seen in action during the light-hearted and collegial reception and banquet that followed the Mass. At the conclusion of the dinner, as usual, departing seminarians received gifts from the rector and were applauded by all present. In turn, on behalf of the fourth theology graduates, Deacon Rapkoch presented to the seminary a Pledge of Mass Intentions plaque, memorializing the soon-to-be priests’ commitment to each say a monthly Mass for TC’s seminarians, faculty, and staff throughout the 2023-24 year. In addition, the Student Government Association president, Deacon Jacob Gruber (Pittsburgh), handed the SGA president’s reigns over to Elias Hazkial (Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles), with a parting gift surprise: a wooden gavel. Father Jim Froelich, O.F.M. Cap., was also given a tribute, recognizing his retirement after 13 years of service to TC as beloved formation advisor, spiritual director, and “small group” facilitator for so many seminarians.
This evening held another moment of farewell, with the announcement that Rector Ciriaco will be moving on to another ministry as the Lilly Endowment Chair of Homiletics at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore. In his remarks, vice-rector Father Chris Arockiaraj recalled how Father Ciriaco stepped up to address the unique challenges of his various roles at TC since 2015, especially during his last three years as rector. Besides his unflagging commitment in various roles, he brought other gifts: “His love of the saints and holy images and his expertise in homiletics have been great blessings he shared here at TC, and will share at St. Mary’s.” Father Ciriaco deeply appreciated the vice-rector’s accolades, as well as the moving words from Deacon Gruber on behalf of the SGA and the entire graduating class.
The rector took the opportunity to marvel at how wonderful it was for him to look out upon all those present in full knowledge of the beautiful changes that the Spirit had inspired in them while at TC. He pointed out that it will be like this for the future priests present, when they too will move on from congregations, looking out with affection and gratitude, perhaps at a final Mass, upon all those they have connected with. The words of St. Francis de Sales help us to appreciate such important transitions among the faithful: “Those who go, stay, and those who stay, go.” Fr. Ciriaco will be taking his TC memories and friendships with him to St. Mary’s, while those at TC will keep at heart all he has given them during his tenure.