For young seminarians, it was chance to meet retired priests who themselves once were young students. For older priests, it was a night to witness the future leaders of the church. For supporters of the church at St. Pius X Parish in Northwest Portland, the Shephard’s Legacy Seminarian and Retired Priest dinner Sept. 29 was a night to witness both.

The night is like a bridge, says Justin Echevarria, an Archdiocese of Portland seminarian studying at Mount Angel.

“You get to see priests who’ve finished their administrative duties — of course, you never stop being a priest — and they get to witness the new guys going through formation, the new generation, who will one day — God willing— carry the torch,” said Echevarria.

Father Louis Urbanski, now retired from administrative duties, has been a priest for 57 years.

“They’re all so young,” Father Urbanski joked about the seminarians.

“It is a sign of hope. That’s good to see,” he said.

The evening began with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Alexander Sample with priests and seminarians before a dinner in the parish hall.

Father Jeff Eirvin, director of the Office of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Portland, introduced the 28 seminarians to the guests, pointing out that 10 of the men began their studies just this year.

Father Sean Weeks, pastor at St. Pius X, shared with the crowd his journey to the priesthood. The Los Angeles County native started as an altar server, coming from a faithful Catholic family. While the idea of the priesthood may have appealed to him in his altar boy years, he abandoned the thought by adolescence. Then one day his priest asked him to read an announcement after Mass about the upcoming vocations retreat. The unsuspecting young man was greeted with applause. Bewildered, he sat down beside his girlfriend who informed him that they thought he was a seminarian. Then, she whispered to him that he would make a good priest.

Father Weeks joined the Benedictine monks for eight years before becoming a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Portland. He was ordained by Archbishop John Vlazny in 2004.

After his talk, the pastor presented awards to altar servers.

The evening inspired not just the men dining in clerics but also the faithful there to meet them.

“We’re here in support of the great work that I think the seminary is doing in training these young men,” said Kathleen Burtchaell.

Burtchaell said her own parish, St. Rose of Lima in Northeast Portland, has been the beneficiary of many seminarians and deacons.

“We’ve seen how the training at Mount Angel is just producing these wonderful men, and being here to support it is a privilege.”

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org