Mount Angel Seminary photos
Art Sanchez, Diocese of Tucson; John Marshall, Archdiocese of Portland; and Brian Bergeron, Diocese of Helena get into the spirit of the Men in Black theme.
Mount Angel Seminary photos
Art Sanchez, Diocese of Tucson; John Marshall, Archdiocese of Portland; and Brian Bergeron, Diocese of Helena get into the spirit of the Men in Black theme.

The ninth annual Mount Angel Seminary Benefit Dinner, held last month at the Oregon Convention Center, broke the fund-raising record, with an increase of 12 percent over 2011.

“Our sponsors and their guests filled the room with a spirit of love and generosity,” said Stephen Zimmer, chair of the dinner. “They met the men who will be our next generation of priests and saw the huge impact their gifts can have on the future of the church. It is rewarding to see that spark in their eyes when they recognize what a difference they can make.”

Attendees noticed a new spirit in the program from the start. At a cue from Abbey Foundation of Oregon Board President, Lynn Jones, two streams of more than 150 seminarians processed into the room – all wearing dark glasses – to the beat of Men in Black. They moved in pairs to the tables and were welcomed with enthusiasm by sponsors and guests.

The program was alternately poignant, humorous and spine-tingling. Afterward, many guests requested recordings of the seminarians’ vocal performances, including "Cielito Linda," a popular Ranchera song from Mexico, "Sicut Cervus," an a cappella piece based on the 42nd Psalm, composed by Palestrina in the 14th century and "Prayer for the Children," performed a cappella in tight harmony.

Rev. Mr. Bert Mello, a Diocese of Fresno deacon-seminarian who chairs the Student Pastoral Council, spoke of his calling to the priesthood. He described returning to the church after more than 30 years and reading aloud his confession from 10 typewritten pages. Afterward, he felt the lifting of a great weight. "No one else waiting in line for confession had such a light and happy heart.” The priest had "welcomed me home," he said, and his life changed on that day.

This year’s video asked seminarians, faculty and alumni to talk about their childhood heroes. Initially lighthearted, the interviews opened deeper reflections on such questions as "What is a hero?" and "Who is a hero for you?" Together, the remarks illustrated how the way of life offered by Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church helps each person realize potential for genuine heroism. Benedictine Father Paschal Cheline said, “Grab your life and live it. I think that is what God wants and I think that is what holiness is.”

All of the seminarians took the stage after the video to sing the "Donor Song" – a piece composed by the seminarians in honor of all those who pray for and support them in their formation.

With that touching introduction, Zimmer spoke on behalf of the Abbey Foundation of Oregon. His humorous opening remarks related how he met St. Paul in a dream. In his conversation with the Apostle, he thanked him for his letters and told him that, in the 21st century, those letters continue to be studied. He also told Paul about his dedication to help in the formation of priests — but just as he began to tell Paul of all the good works accomplished by Mount Angel Seminary with the help of dedicated Christians, he awoke. He went on to remind everyone, that like the Apostle Paul, we are given the same opportunity to participate in building the Kingdom of God.

Honorary chairs for the event were Gene and Karen Dieringer. The Dieringers have a long history of supporting the abbey — going back to Gene’s grandfather. It was his grandfather who, after working in the abbey’s hop fields all day, parked his truck in the garage under the monastery building. The year was 1926 — and that truck was ignited by an errant flame and burned the entire abbey to the ground. Gene Dieringer ruefully noted that his family has been dedicated to the monks since then, and in spite of the tragedy, has been welcomed and beloved for their ongoing support through the generations.

The evening closed with the audience joining the seminarians in a rendition of the hymn "In Christ Alone." Abbot Gregory Duerr blessed the guests, wishing them a safe trip home. And then, all 150 seminarians donned their dark glasses and marched off the stage in a farewell until next year.

The date for the 10th annual Seminary Benefit Dinner is Nov. 3, 2013. For information, contact the development office: [email protected] or 800-845-8272 or 503-845-3066.

To see more photos from the dinner, visit