ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — When Father Joseph Taphorn officially became rector of St. Paul Seminary Jan. 1, he was somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, bound for Israel and Jordan for a monthlong visit to the Holy Land.
The 14 seminarians from the school with whom he was traveling had toasted him in the airport before their plane left New York.
Beginning his new role with this pilgrimage — a regular feature in a third-year theology seminarian’s formation at St. Paul Seminary — was a blessing, Father Taphorn said. Not only did he have a chance to revisit significant Old and New Testament sites — it was his third trip there — but he also got to know the class of seminarians.
The trip “helped me to remember that relationships are most important,” he said. “It’s easy to get buried in email and getting things unpacked and files in order … but more important is making those human relationships and connections.”
A priest of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska, Father Taphorn, 47, was installed Feb. 11 as the seminary’s 15th rector during a 5 p.m. Mass at the seminary’s St. Mary Chapel. During the Mass, he recited a profession of faith and took an oath of fidelity before Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who as the Mass celebrant. Father Taphorn’s parents, Jim and Joan Taphorn; one of his sisters; and longtime friends attended the Mass.
St. Paul Seminary serves the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, 13 other dioceses and a religious community.
Father Taphorn follows Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan, who transitioned to rector emeritus status at the graduate-level seminary last June after serving as its leader since 2005.
Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who taught at the seminary from 2008 until his 2013 episcopal ordination, served as the seminary’s interim rector from July until Jan. 1.
When Msgr. Thomas Richter, a priest of the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota, who had been slated to become St. Paul Seminary’s next rector, was recalled to his home diocese last April, Bishop Cozzens suggested Father Taphorn, a longtime friend, be considered for the job.
During the Feb. 11 Mass’ homily, Bishop Cozzens emphasized that their friendship was not the reason the search committee and seminary’s board of trustees recommended Father Taphorn for the position. But Bishop Cozzens said he is confident Father Taphorn is well qualified for the role. The appointment was announced last July.
In a Feb. 14 interview with The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper, Father Taphorn said that he’s grateful to have both Bishop Cozzens and Msgr. Callaghan as resources as he learns his new role. During the fall, he met with every faculty member and is learning what is working well and where change would be helpful.
Ordained in 1997, Father Taphorn earned a canon law degree at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 2002. He served his archdiocese in several administrative roles, including as chancellor and vicar for clergy, and also assisted at Omaha parishes. In 2016, he became the founding pastor and director of the St. John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Omaha.
The rector role, he said, combines skills he’s gained from his academic training, pastoral experience — especially at the Newman Center — and administrative responsibilities. “I feel like the Lord has called me to be here,” he said.
As he begins his role, he’s focusing on getting to know the seminarians, primarily by joining them for breakfast and being available to talk during the day.
He acknowledged that he’s taking the helm of the seminary during a challenging time in the Catholic Church, as seminary formation and culture have come under scrutiny in the wake of new clergy sexual abuse revelations throughout the U.S.
“It’s a reminder for all of us on the faculty that the human formation piece undergirds everything,” he said, speaking of one of priestly formation’s four dimensions: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. “It’s a reminder that we have a strong program in place (at St. Paul Seminary) … and just to be mindful that … the formation relationships are fundamental in being a priest. We have to be able to have healthy relationships in order to be that bridge to Christ.”
Founded in 1894, St. Paul Seminary has 87 seminarians from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and 13 other dioceses: Anchorage, Alaska; Crookston, Duluth, St. Cloud and New Ulm, Minnesota; Davenport and Des Moines, Iowa; Fargo, North Dakota; Madison, Wisconsin; Rockford, Illinois; Rapid City and Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Kabale, Uganda; as well as the Peru-based Pro Ecclesia Sancta religious community.