What was begun in 1973 as a "two-session" sabbatical program by Diocese of Oakland priest (and St. Patrick's Seminary alumnus) Fr. Dan Danielson, is now in its 32th year. Fr. Danielson and the first priests who participated in the program in 1973 soon recognized that the Vatican II Institute needed to be a more permanent program. The Vatican II Institute was originated by the Bishops of Region XI as a sabbatical program for experienced priests, which offered sound and multi-faceted orientation to the changes implemented by Vatican Council II. While adjustments to the changes of the Vatican Council II were an important component to the first decade of the Institute's operation, the core of the holistic sabbatical program has always been the opportunity to rejuvenate the human growth and spiritual and prayer lives of priests.
From 1975 to 2001, the Vatican II Institute was under the direction of Rev. Gene Konkel, S.S. Rev. Melvin Blanchette, S.S. became the new Director with Fr. Konkel's retirement on January 1, 2002. Reverend James E. Myers, S.S., succeeded Fr. Blanchette in July 2004.
For all but two and a half years, the Institute has operated at St. Patrick's Seminary as an independent program. As of July 2001, the Vatican II Institute came under the formal ownership of St. Patrick's Seminary. The Society of St. Sulpice will continue to provide staffing and operational support.
When priests "graduate" from the three-month program, they have experienced an intensive 24-hour-a-day, seven days a week experience which is, as Fr. Konkel puts it, "heavily spiritual but also importantly provides priests a chance to address their human needs, namely their health (through nutrition and exercise) and their intellectual stimulation (by providing time for reading). Most priests just need time to read, rest and reflect."
"They learn as much from each other during the three-month period as they do from us," Fr. Konkel said. "Each session has its own character and personality because of the diversity of its participants, but all of the sessions result in the establishment of lifelong friendships."
Since its inception the program has enrolled more than 2,000 priests from 35 countries and 25 religious orders. It is the only sabbatical program in the country which restricts its enrollment to priests only. It is a "true-adult" program, meaning it has a seminar approach and does not require writing, although many priests use their free time to write. It is not a "therapy" program, although counseling and spiritual direction are offered as instruments toward continuing priestly and personal growth.
A wonderful by-product of the Institute's presence at St. Patrick's Seminary is the interaction between experienced priests and exuberant seminarians. They share meals daily, share weekly Masses and have joint social occasions.
"Vatican II priests learn from seminarians and seminarians learn from the priests," Fr. Konkel says. He claims that priests, without the daily pressures of their parish or ministry, are able to draw upon the enthusiasm and spirit as exhibited by seminarians. In turn, seminarians hear real life experiences and get an appreciation that their priesthood will be one of continual learning and rededication.
"I probably know more priests than anyone in the country," Fr. Konkel matter-of-factly states. "I can travel anywhere in the country and be within driving distance of a priest that has been through our program. I know from having worked with so many priests over so many years that the priesthood is amazingly blessed with so many quality priests. But priests need to be affirmed just like everybody else. The Vatican II Institute affirms them in many ways, and they leave feeling good about themselves and their priestly lives."