Regnum Christi | Legionaries of Christ

The Seminary Celebrates 40 Years!

This year (2023) marks the 40th anniversary of the Legionaries of Christ Novitiate and College of Humanities in Cheshire, Connecticut and Regnum Christi members, family, and friends gathered from all over North America and beyond to celebrate.

The seminary in Cheshire had its humble beginnings in 1957 as over a hundred acres of farmland that consisted of nothing more than a farmhouse, a barn, a silo, and a dilapidated shed. At that time, the land belonged to the La Salette Missionaries, a Catholic religious order based in Massachusetts, who, after outgrowing their high school seminary in Hartford, would go on to build a new seminary on the site. On August 15, 1957, the property and accompanying residence was blessed by Rev. Jean Roux, MS, who had come to the United States from France as a missionary in 1895. Construction began in the summer of 1959, and the new La Salette seminary was dedicated, and welcomed its first students, in September of 1961.

After over 15 years of ministry, due to increasing operating costs and a decreasing number of vocations, La Salette Seminary High School closed its doors in June of 1970. The seminary became a School of Christian Leadership and Service for students interested in active lay involvement in the Church, offering education, formation, prayer groups, healing services, and professional counseling.

At this time, the Legionaries of Christ had already outgrown the first seminary house they had established in Woodmont, Connecticut, in 1965, and by 1971, had moved to a slightly larger property in the nearby town of Orange. In 1976, Fr. Anthony Bannon, LC, who had been ordained just a few months earlier, arrived to help develop the order, which at the time had foundations in Hamden, NJ, Detroit, MI, New York City, and Washington, DC, serving as the Apostolate Director for the Legionaries in the United States and the rector of the Novitiate for the Legionaries of Christ in Orange, CT. In 1977, under the guidance of Mons. John Whealon, Archbishop of Hartford at the time, the Legionaries of Christ leased half of the La Salette building as their novitiate, and, as the numbers of Legionary novices continued to grow, they eventually purchased the property. On June 4th, 1982, the seminary moved from Orange to their current location in Cheshire.

That summer, thirty seven seminarians moved from Orange to Cheshire, many of whom are Legionary priests today, including Fr. Kevin Meehan, Fr. Kermit Syren, Fr. Peter Hopkins, Fr. James Mulford, Fr. David Steffy, Fr. Gabriel Sotres, and Fr. Barry O’Toole. In addition, 25 young men visited the seminary that first summer, and 21 of them began the novitiate that fall, including Legionary priests Fr. Dana Lundburg, Fr. Steven Reilly, and Fr. Walter Shu.

As vocations to the Legionaries of Christ continued to increase, a new wing was added to the building in 1992, and today, the seminary is home to 47 young men from 14 different countries who are discerning the call to the priesthood in an environment that makes space to hear God’s call and lays the foundation of a solid interior life crucial to the apostolic life. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first graduating class of the Cheshire seminary.

To celebrate the occasion, over 300 Legionary priests, Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi, lay members of Regnum Christi, friends, and family, gathered on September 1-3 of this year. The anniversary weekend included Mass, family-style cookouts, adoration, talks from Legionary priests, a video presentation chronicling the seminary’s 40-year history, and even a fun-filled trivia game.

The celebrations began on Friday afternoon with a Mass of gratitude, presided by North American Territorial Director and Cheshire alumni, Fr. Shawn Aaron, LC. This was followed by 40 Hours of Adoration, in thanksgiving for Cheshire’s 40 years, and for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.

Saturday began with Mass, celebrated by Fr. Markus Stehmer, LC, who was just ordained in Rome in April of this year. An afternoon picnic provided an opportunity to share and hear stories and experiences about life in the novitiate over the past 40 years. Father Shawn Aaron and Fr. John Bartunek, LC, who is the Territorial Vicar of North America, gave talks about what their time at Cheshire meant to them. Father Shawn shared his memories of both the blessings and the hardships that he experienced throughout his years of formation at the novitiate, and how, through it all, the brothers in Cheshire always had a deep spirit of joy, one that he witnessed alive in the seminarians today. Father John spoke of the novitiate as a turning point in his life and in the lives of so many other young men. He had originally visited Cheshire as a guest, but in seeing the life of the brothers, and witnessing their deep Eucharistic life, he immediately knew that Cheshire, and ultimately the Legionaries of Christ, were to become his spiritual home. This visit, and his time in the novitiate, became a decisive point for him in his own discernment, as it was for many other young men.

The final day of the weekend celebrations began with the conclusion of the 40 Hours of Adoration; the benediction included all the Legionary priests and brothers present. Afterwards, the Archbishop of Hartford, Archbishop Leonard Blair, celebrated the weekend’s closing Mass at St. Thomas Becket Church. In his homily, the archbishop preached about the Christian way of life, one that is challenging, but is indeed the path to heaven, and one on which we are never alone, accompanied always by Christ himself. Archbishop Blair also shared a congratulatory message stating, “I am happy to join you today for this closing mass in celebration of this 40th anniversary of the foundation of the novitiate in Cheshire of the Legionaries of Christ and I want to say on behalf of all the clergy, religious, and lay in the Archdiocese that we offer our congratulations and prayerful best wishes. Together now, here today, we give thanks to God for all of his many blessings over the past four decades.”

Father Timothy Walsh, the rector at the Legionaries of Christ Novitiate and College of Humanities said, “We have to thank God for all the blessings over the past 40 years here at Cheshire.” Among Fr. Timothy’s favorite ways they celebrated, over the year, was when Bishop Betancourt, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Hartford, joined the brothers and fathers along with nearly 70 friends at the seminary on May 1, 2022 to kick-off the year-long celebration with Mass followed by lunch. Father Timothy also mentioned that Cheshire hosted the Legionaries of Christ 2022 Christmas gathering, something he doesn’t recall having done in recent history, he said nearly all of the Legionaries in the North American territory were present and that it was wonderful to welcome them all home. He also said that the closing ceremony weekend, which was also the Regnum Christi Friends and Family weekend, was the largest event they’ve hosted on the grounds in the past five years. Over 300 people joined them at the seminary and Fr. Timothy characterized it as a nice time together reconnecting and sharing .

Brenner LeCompte, a former seminarian at Cheshire, now married father of four, brought his family to the seminary to take part in the weekend celebrations. Brenner said that when he first went to Cheshire as a pre-candidate in the apostolic school, “I fell in love with the spirit that was here: the joy, the enthusiasm. I could tell it was a special place and it had a special place in my heart and always has. I now live in Connecticut about an hour away from Cheshire and have four kids and we love to come back here. They love to see where Dad studied. They love to see where I lived several years of my life and it’s always a grace and pleasure to be back here in Cheshire.” As Gail Gore, the director of communications for the Legionaries of Christ here in the North American territory, and Brenner talked about his time at Cheshire his children played nearby, swimming in the pond, kicking a ball around on the grass, and enjoying the sunshine and festivities of the day.

Father Jason Smith was also among the many guests to partake in the weekend celebration. He travelled in from Michigan, where he currently lives and serves. He reflected on his first time visiting the seminary in Cheshire:

“29 years ago I walked through the doors of our wonderful seminary here in Cheshire, Connecticut. I was twenty years old and I had a great desire to be a priest, a Legionary priest. I really felt at home here from the first moment. I can say looking back, here on the grounds of Cheshire, just remembering that first moment that I am so grateful for the tremendous gift of being a Legionary priest, serving so many people.” Today, Fr. Jason is Superior of a religious community in Detroit and he shared that, “It’s just an honor to be able to celebrate priests who are on the front lines working with Regnum Christi, working at our school Everest Academy, and serving the hispanic community in Michigan. It’s just a great pleasure and a great joy.”

Pam Brown, who has been a lay member of Regnum Christi in the RCNY Tri-State locality for 15 years, and has been working for the Legionaries of Christ since 2009, is also one of the many who gathered at Cheshire to participate in the weekend’s celebrations:

“Sitting in the chapel during Mass on Saturday, I had a smile on my face as I felt a sense of peace and belonging. I was with my family. We had shared so much in the last 15 years and now we were celebrating. The sun was streaming in, and everyone seemed on holiday – relaxed and joyful. After, on the grounds, you could hear greetings and laughter as we took a big family photo with all present. I was thrilled to be reunited with so many Legionaries and RC members I hadn’t seen in a while, and it was fun to see the Legionary priests interacting with the brothers, young men visiting, and Sacred Heart Apostolic School students. I will keep this day close to my heart as I return to the work God has given me to support the Legionaries and build the Kingdom of Christ!”

In addition to these events, Cheshire was also host to its 6th annual Vocation Summit, an event that brings together vocation promoters from all over the country, and an ECYD leadership training course. These gatherings provided valuable opportunities for growth, reflections, and deepening commitment to the mission.

The anniversary weekend was such a beautiful opportunity for the RC family to gather and celebrate that Cheshire plans to host a Regnum Christi Friends and Family Day again next year on September 1, 2024.