ST. BENEDICT — At Mount Angel Seminary, officials make sure future priests take care of their bodies, as well as their souls. The fact is, says formation director Father Terry Tompkins, body and soul really can’t be separated. He likes to remind students that Jesus had a real body, even when he appeared after the resurrection.
“It’s a reminder that the body is a great gift,” the priest says.
Staff keep on seminarians about exercise, weight and diet. The old wisdom about the body being the temple of the Holy Spirit makes sense to Father Tompkins, who talks to students about “good stewardship” and “reverence for the precious gift of health.” A former long distance runner who is still fit, the longtime pastor says it’s essential for priests to carve out time for both exercise and prayer.
The seminary basketball team, which competes against small regional colleges and Bible schools, had its best year ever, going 4-6. The team of about a dozen players not only kept fit, but bonded, learned teamwork and brought a sense of pride to the hilltop seminary. Many fans came, some waving papal flags. Mount Angel also has soccer and volleyball teams.
Alex Woelkers, in his first year of theological studies for the Diocese of Helena, Mont., was player-coach for basketball. He says being busy on the court, in the classroom and at chapel gave him more energy and receptivity foreverything.
“I see trying to be holy as integrating different dimensions,” says Woelkers, 26. “Athletic pursuits are part of that.”
Woelkers says he was inspired by Pope John Paul, an active man who went skiing well into his later years, and by athlete-priests. Athleticism makes priests and religious seem authentic, Woelkers explains.
In the seminary’s weight room, two young men are working out to pop music. Kasiano Sivia, from a Samoan diocese, is doing curls with his large biceps.
“After working out and taking a shower, your head is cleared out,” Sivia says. “It’s easier to study.”
One group of seminarians explicitly blends physical and spiritual in a workout. They rise at 4 a.m. for a holy hour, then come to the weight room at 5 a.m., pumping iron while listening to audio tapes of Bishop Fulton Sheen, the U.S. churchman who appeared on radio and television from the 1920s to the 1960s.