"Nearly all the presenters approached me to point out something important is happening at Christ the King Seminary, and, more broadly, in the Diocese of Buffalo."
That reflection was a key takeaway from the inaugural Conference for Collaborative Philosophy, Theology and Ministry, themed "Expanding a 'Not Numerous Center," held on the seminary's East Aurora campus in late February according to Brian Bajzek, adjunct professor, and one of the event's organizers and keynote speakers.
The conference began Friday, Feb. 23 with Father Joseph C. Gatto, president-rector, welcoming scholars, ministers and speakers from throughout the U.S., and as far away as Europe and Australia to what he called a "watershed moment" for the seminary and diocese in terms of priestly formation and ministry. It continued Saturday, Feb. 24 with Bishop Richard J. Malone addressing participants, and concluded with Mass in the St. John Vianney Chapel.
"For me, the most striking element of the conference was the feeling of excitement in the air all weekend," said Bajzek. The conference was packed with enriching insights and exchanges. The presentations were excellent, and the conversations about them lasted long after Saturday's sessions ended. I was especially moved by the fellowship shared throughout the weekend."
Eric Mabry, full-time professor at the seminary who also helped coordinate the event and presented a keynote address said the level of inter-personal enthusiasm surpassed his greatest hopes.
"We successfully communicated a shared vision for the future of Catholic education and the ongoing, immediate relevance of the Catholic intellectual tradition," Mabry proclaimed. "As a seminary, we cannot afford to be bystanders in this enterprise; we must be leaders. The enthusiasm I experienced was an assured hope of this future. That a small seminary in Western New York exercised such an integral intellectual leadership role, is really astonishing."
Father John Mack Jr., director of Pre-Theology at Christ the King, agreed with Bajzek and Mabry, emphasizing one of the conference's great accomplishments was gathering together philosophers, theologians and pastoral ministers for an "exchange of gifts" and "a generous sharing of insights, questions, ideas and, mainly, friendship."
Father Mack explained the conference "embodied a type of theology of encounter, not only among those who are seeking to follow the way of wisdom in philosophy, and 'faith seeking understanding' in theology, but always directed toward how the People of God are called to live the Christian life as well as empowering ministers who are called to serve the Church and support the People of God to live the Christian life.
"Our seminarians represented us well through their presence, participation and hospitality which helped set the stage for the two-days of keynote and paper presentations as well as the conversations at meals and social events," added Father Mack.
Overall, Father Mack pointed out attendees making presentations were young, enthusiastic, and mostly lay people. "The philosophers and theologians who gathered will be serving the Church over the next several decades as they research, reflect and write regarding our understanding of Christ, faith, the Church and ministry as we move forward in time and proclaim the gospel in an increasingly secular society.
"Sharing a 'horizon of hope,' we hope to have contributed in a small way to move forward beyond polarization into a deeper relationship with God as lived out in right and loving relationships with neighbors," Father Mack concluded.