Drone pilot Kenji Sugahara of A-Cam Aerials flies a drone in the abbey church during production of the seminary benefit video. At the organ is the abbey’s head organist, Benedictine Fr. Teresio Caldwell. (Courtesy Mount Angel Abbey)
Drone pilot Kenji Sugahara of A-Cam Aerials flies a drone in the abbey church during production of the seminary benefit video. At the organ is the abbey’s head organist, Benedictine Fr. Teresio Caldwell. (Courtesy Mount Angel Abbey)
ST. BENEDICT — Because of the pandemic, Mount Angel Seminary was not able to hold its usual fall dinner and fundraiser in Portland. So the Benedictine monks, staff, faculty and seminarians created a 53-minute video that gave donors an inside look at seminary life.

More than 3,000 viewers from across the nation have watched, donating more than $1.1 million for the formation of priests. That surpasses the fundraising goal.

The video, which is still available for viewing, begins with scenes of men driving up Mount Angel and explaining how their fears on the first day have given way to joy and confidence that they are on the path God wants for them.

Footage shot from drones shows Willamette Valley farmland and then the hilltop abbey, its red tiles and bell tower glowing in a green landscape.

The scene shifts to students walking on the quad, continuing the idea of a journey. Seminarians and priests sing, “The Lord bless and keep you. … In your weeping and rejoicing he is for you.” The moving song, with individual tracks somehow melded, has verses in Swahili, Spanish and Korean.

Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, who is chancellor of the seminary, welcomes viewers, saying that while everyone will miss the in-person gathering, the video gives a chance for all to see the heart of the seminary.

Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland then gives a blessing and explains that the Benedictine hospitality gets into the heart of seminarians.

Many seminarians speak in the video, which has shots of classrooms, a soccer game, Mass and even a seminary music jazz group playing “Stand by Me” on the plaza.

Seminarians discuss the patience and dedication of professors and priest graduates say they often go back in their memories to what they learned.

Deacon Tony Galati of the Archdiocese of Portland explains how in a Christology class he was “electrified by the divinity of Christ.”

Bishops who send their seminarians to Mount Angel testify about the school’s excellence. Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe calls the academics second to none and explains that the monastic spirituality complements formation for diocesan priests. Bishop Joe Tyson of Yakima hails the rigorous academics rooted in Catholic intellectual heritage.

One scene shows the dining hall, which once had round tables packed with eight seminarians, but now has long tables with a single seminarian at each end to facilitate safe distancing and prevent spread of the virus.

Chad Hill, a seminarian from the Archdiocese of Seattle relates that his fellow students comforted him when family members died or became ill.

“The Holy Spirit is still on the move in the seminary,” says Dalton Rogers, studying for the Diocese of Fresno, California.

In one moving scene, seminarian Del Castillo of the Diocese of Orange plays and expertly sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as scenes of his classmates flash on screen. Castillo’s seeing eye dog, Dagwood, naps under the piano.

Abbot Jeremy, sitting on a bench on the scenic grounds, says the goal of the seminary is to “form priests who can deliver joy of life in Christ.”

Chris Corrado, who has long served on the seminary board, urged donors to help make up the gap between what the seminary charges dioceses and what it costs to educate a future priest. There is a $4 million annual gulf to fill.

The Larry and Jeanette Epping Foundation of Salem offered a $125,000 matching grant.

“Every contribution we make to the graduation of seminarians — that one individual touches thousands and thousands of lives,” Corrado said. “Talk about a return on investment.”

See the seminary’s video

www.mountangelabbey.org/join-us/sbd/