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Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ont., has for years been producing graduates well-versed in the Catholic faith, but it is also gaining a reputation for producing priests and religious. Photo courtesy Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College

Ontario Catholic college a vocations’ breeding ground

  • August 11, 2023

Nine priests. Four professed religious sisters. Four seminarians. Three novitiates. Two transitional deacons. One sister poised to profess her final vows.

Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Catholic liberal arts college in Barry’s Bay, Ont., has emerged as a preeminent pipeline for vocational life in recent years.

Three priests, two deacons and one sister — all alumni of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom — have intensified, or are poised to deepen, their religious commitment to serving Jesus in 2023 alone.

Fr. Jonathan Reitzel was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Hamilton on May 6. Fr. Kevin Darwent and Fr. Isaac Longworth were invested into the Companions of the Cross on June 17.

James Prins and Lukas Casta were consecrated into the transitional diaconate, the former for the Diocese of London on June 8, and the latter for the Pembroke diocese on June 9.

On Aug. 22, Sr. Elizabeth Marie of the Holy Family will profess her final vows with the Queenship of Mary Community.

Reitzel, who attended the college from 2012-14, said he originally leaned towards attaining a chemistry degree from the University of Waterloo, but his grandparents urged him to try out Our Lady Seat of Wisdom for a year.

“A lot of people go up there intending to stay for one year, but then they fall in love with the community,” said Reitzel, 29. “In a work of providence I went up there despite having reservations about it since I was into math and science, and this was a liberal arts school.”

The guidance Reitzel received from school chaplain Fr. Joseph Hattie, a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, proved to be pivotal for Reitzel considering Hattie followed a similar trajectory. The experienced priest originally studied science at St. Patrick’s College in Ottawa, but eventually answered God’s call for him to join the priesthood.

“He told me, ‘The Lord is calling,’ ” recalled Reitzel. “‘That is not something to be put off, but something to be acted upon now.’ I became a lot more intentional about discerning this priestly calling.”

Reitzel and a few of his classmates partook in a “come and see” weekend at Toronto’s St. Augustine Seminary during his time as a student. This experience was also very influential in enticing him to the priestly life.

Katherine Longo, the stewardship and development officer at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, said the school is very supportive in providing many opportunities for spiritual enrichment and growth.

“We have a weekly college Mass on Monday. We have a daily chaplet of the Divine Mercy. And in each household they commit to a kind of community prayer,” said Longo. “One may choose to complete a decade of the rosary at the end of the day. To whatever they choose they are faithful. It is wonderful to see how prayer punctuates their days. It also helps them to be open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.”

Remarkably, it is apparent the Holy Spirit had a special destiny in store for Darwent and soon-to-be Sr. Elizabeth Marie. The two are siblings. Sr. Elizabeth Marie, 38, attended Our Lady Seat of Wisdom from 2004 to 2005, and her younger brother, soon to be 34, was on campus from 2007 to 2008.

Sr. Elizabeth Marie said she believed “God had Kevin and I on very similar spiritual journeys.”

“When I was in consolation, I could pretty much bet that he was also receiving some word or revelation from God. When something really trying was happening in my life, I found out that he was going through something similar. Even when I was with the sisters I am with now, and when he was with the Companions of the Cross, we were both going through trials within our communities.”

Darwent concurred that he and his big sister are on the same spiritual bandwidth.

“We have been going through formation at the same time,” he said. “She as a postulant and me as a seminarian. We were both discerning and we both had our own little setbacks with a longer formation. And it is cool our journeys have ended in the same place. We have been in sync. Our religious life has brought us closer together. We have always been close, but to have this in common is really a beautiful experience.”

Darwent said the record of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom with developing men and women who are passionate about religious vocations “is beautiful to see” and a testament to the school’s ability to “help Catholic young adults figure out who they are.”

His sister salutes her alma mater for helping increase her reverence for the Roman Catholic faith.

“It is a great place to go if you don’t believe in the Catholic faith and you want to find out what you don’t believe in — not that I didn’t believe in the Catholic faith — but it is so on point in getting to know what our faith teaches and going deeper into the studying of the catechism,” she said. “Before I went the catechism was just a book of rules, kind of an extended Ten Commandments. It was taught with such passion that it took deep root in my heart and instilled in my heart the desire to live my faith fully and deeply in what I decided to do in my life.”

Dr. Christine Schintgen, the president of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, said the religious life alumni, and a host of other former students “praise the classes and academics. The first-year course, Christian Doctrine, is fundamental, as well as the theology and philosophy classes they take here.”

The community life at the campus is also celebrated. It has not only helped people to pursue their vocation, but it has also sparked 82 marriages. Of 710 alumni, 164 are married to each other.

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