Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
Seminarians sing for guests at a benefit dinner for Mount Angel Seminary March 5 in Eugene. The seminarians brought a statue of Mary, saying she is the prime example of someone who said yes to God. 

Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel

Seminarians sing for guests at a benefit dinner for Mount Angel Seminary March 5 in Eugene. The seminarians brought a statue of Mary, saying she is the prime example of someone who said yes to God. 

EUGENE — Peter Laughlin looked around at 350 people who want to help him become a priest. 

A seminarian for the Archdiocese of Portland, Laughlin volunteered at the Eugene Hilton March 5 to guide diners to tables at an annual benefit dinner for Mount Angel Seminary. 

“It means a lot as a discerner of the priesthood that people would care enough about us to come and give us this foundation so we can continue to explore the will of God in our lives,” Laughlin said.

It was the eighth seminary dinner in Eugene, an idea suggested by Father Dick Rossman, a longtime pastor in the area. A Portland dinner has been running for 13 years. 

Seminarians volunteer to make the 90-minute trip to Eugene so they can meet the faithful and tell their stories. 

“All of us are here because we want to be,” said Timothy Segert, a seminarian for the Diocese of Boise. “We want to say thank you to people who give us support whether that be financially, through prayer or through encouragement.” 

Eugene Catholics have embraced the idea. Ed and Marie Weber, for example, celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary by filling three tables with guests.  

Rita Eberle of St. Mark Parish in Eugene often visits Mount Angel to pray — especially for students. “We need more wonderful men to be in the priesthood,” she said just before heading to dinner. 

The evening had raised almost $100,000 as of press time. 

Kirsten Keller of St. Mary Parish has organized the event each year with husband Paul. “The seminary belongs to all of us,” Keller said. “It educates men who go all over. The dinner is a way of Mount Angel Seminary reaching out to us and a way of us reaching out to the seminary.” 

People who attended keep telling Keller it was a holy evening.

Seminarians and guests mingled. After one student walked around ringing a hand bell to herald supper, everyone sat down for food and fellowship. Along the way, seminarians sang and played sacred music.  Seminarians brought a statue of Mary, the model of someone who said yes to God. 

Deacon Nathan McWeeney told the crowd that he went through a rebellious phase to be cool, but matured back into faith. 

“A similar theme comes out in all their vocation stories,” McWeeney said of his 158 fellow seminarians. “Each of them felt called to the priesthood by a divine hug. They feel that discerning priesthood is part of their path to heaven.” 

Msgr. Joseph Betschart, president-rector of the seminary, said he sees seminarians “seeking to say yes to God in whatever he asks of them each and every day so they can become his priests and in turn bring God’s yes to all of us, his beloved people.” 

Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, spiritual leader of Mount Angel Abbey and chancellor of the seminary his order has run since the 1880s, said seminarians become part of a spiritual friendship between monastic life and the diocesan church. 

“When I see Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary at work on any given day, I see a multitude of gifts,” Abbot Jeremy told benefactors. “Yet the mystery is deeper than the Holy Spirit passing out a bunch of gifts that might help us to survive another school year. There is a pattern: Many gifts, one Spirit.”