The Collar by Jonathan Englert

CollarGotham Nonfiction teacher Jonathan Englert sees the release this month of his nonfiction book The Collar: A Year of Striving and Faith Inside a Catholic Seminary.  Englert asked himself: Why would a man become a priest today?  In this book, he attempts to answer that question by following the lives of a handful of men who enter a seminary for Catholic priests. Years of research and struggle paid off, resulting in a book that Publishers Weekly calls “eye opening” and Kirkus claims “puts a human face on the word priest.”

Here is a passage that appears early in the book:

By five-thirty P.M., the fifteen men who were scheduled to begin new lives at Sacred Heart Seminary had arrived. Most had journeyed there alone, driving great distances in their own vehicles, for some the only significant piece of property they still owned. They had come from Pennsylvania and Florida, California and Arizona, Colorado and Michigan. Some had come after years of planning and preparation, others in a rush. Mike Snyder, who had become a widower two years earlier, had packed the contents of his house into a trailer and driven from Texas to find a nine-by-twelve-foot room and a bed that would not fit his six-foot seven-inch frame. Bob Brooks, another Texan, had quit his $80,000-a-year job as a physician's assistant and left his big yellow dog with his dad. His formal acceptance to the seminary had arrived just a few days earlier, and he had packed his pickup in such a hurry that things started flying out the back as he sped along the interstate. Ron Kendzierski came from Michigan with his mother. He promptly began to memorize the route from his room to the dining hall and chapel, counting steps, learning the sounds of the space, using all of his senses except his eyes, which had been sightless since birth.

All of the new men arrived early. Admission to the program had been rigorous, but the admissions process at least had been finite, with a concrete result. The end of seminary seemed less defined, bleeding into the priestly life beyond ordination and rigorous for the duration. The men would be dissected intellectually, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. They would eat most of their meals in a cafeteria and cram themselves and their belongings into small dorm rooms, some of which had only recently been converted from phone booths.

Dean Haley stepped out of his white BMW and placed a cowboy boot on the hot asphalt of the parking lot. It had been a long drive from East Texas. He found his way inside the massive building. At thirty, he was the youngest man at the seminary that year. The average age of the new arrivals was 44.8, and the oldest one was seventy-one-year-old Philip Kim, a widower with three children. Dean Haley was, in some ways, typical of his generation. He liked hip-hop music, instant messaging, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. He could be glib and impulsive, iconoclastic and opinionated. He was frequently convinced that there was a better way to do something and only he knew it. That was Dean's surface. Why he had chosen a path so radically different from even his religiously faithful peers was a mystery to all but himself.
Copyright © Jonathan Englert.  Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.  All rights reserved.

For more details about The Collar, visit collar.