SSPX Seminary Update: Vocations, Formation & Tradition


In the past I have explained why increasing vocations isn’t rocket science. A recovery of orthodoxy and tradition consistently leads to a boom in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Having previously highlighted dioceses such as Lincoln and Charlotte, as well as the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP), I would now like to turn your attention to the Society of Saint Pius X.

Much ink has been spilled discussing the complicated history and canonical status of the SSPX. What hasn’t received nearly enough attention is their continued growth, most visibly illustrated by the 2016 relocation of their U.S. seminary to accommodate new enrollments. 

I recently had the privilege of corresponding with Father Patrick Abbet, vice rector of the Society’s North American seminary, regarding vocations, formation, and the traditional Latin Mass.

LG: St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary moved from Winona, Minnesota to Dillwyn, VA in 2016 to help address increasing enrollment. How many seminarians do you now have?

Father Patrick Abbet: We currently have 80 seminarians. On June 22, God willing, we will have the ordination of seven new priests and six new deacons.

LG: Did all of your seminarians grow up assisting at the traditional Mass, or did some discover the Mass and the Society of St. Pius X later in their discernment?

Father Patrick Abbet: Around 80% of our seminarians did grow up assisting at the Traditional Mass. The majority of that figure come from families who attend Mass in SSPX Chapels. Additionally, more than 65% of our seminarians went to one the schools run by the priests of the Society of Saint Pius X.

LG: Do you have any statistical data on your seminarians, such as average age, average number of siblings, etc.?

Father Patrick Abbet: The majority of our new seminarians are between 18 and 21 years old. Very often, they come from large Catholics families. The exemplary generosity of their parents is certainly a positive influence on their vocation.

LG: Does the North American Seminary follow the same curriculum, both academically & liturgically, as H.E. Archbishop Lefebvre established at Ecône?

Father Patrick Abbet: Yes, we follow the six-year program which Archbishop Lefebvre established. The entire course of studies begins with a year of Spirituality, followed by two years of Philosophy and three years of Theology. During their year of Spirituality, seminarians learn “the principles of the interior life, of life in the presence of God and in union with God, the foundations of the spiritual combat, the soul of the apostolate, and so on; and they apply themselves to putting these principles into practice in their personal life.” (Rule for the Seminary) To this program we have added a preparatory year of Humanities. During this year, seminarians study some classical works of literature, as well as Latin; additionally, they take introductory courses in philosophy, scripture, and the history of the present crisis in the Church.

LG: I believe I read that the Society has five seminaries and is present in 35 countries. Do most of the North American seminarians come from the US, Canada, and South America? Will most of those who are ordained remain in the Americas?

Father Patrick Abbet: There are a total of six seminaries of the SSPX worldwide. Our own seminarians come mainly from English speaking countries: specifically, the United States, Canada, and Ireland. Currently, we also have one seminarian from Mexico, and another from the Dominican Republic. Our Founder, Archbishop Lefebvre, wanted every seminary of the SSPX to be international. As far as the assignments of the new priests, I would say that between half and two-thirds remain within the United States.

LG: As I have written about before, more Catholics are realizing the important role of tradition in fostering discernment & vocations. Dioceses and orders who have begun to embrace the traditional Mass are experiencing increased vocations and fervor. In your opinion Father, what is it about the traditional Mass of the Roman Rite that draws young men to it and (often) to the priesthood?

Father Patrick Abbet: The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass teaches us about the Mystery of Redemption. When we “touch,” so to speak, the love which Our Lord Jesus Christ has for souls, as we see expressed so well in the Mass, we may well be moved to follow Him. Archbishop Lefebvre teaches us that the Mass explains the priest:

“It is obvious that the priest participates in the great mystery of the Redemption. To participate in the mystery of the Redemption is the purpose of his priesthood, it is the raison d’être of his priesthood. His entire life, his entire apostolic life, his entire priestly life is nothing other than to spread the graces of the Redemption, to spread the graces of the Cross. The principal act by which he participates in the Redemption and by which he spreads the graces of the Redemption is, as you undoubtedly know, is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The priest is made, above and beyond all else, to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in order that the graces which descend from the Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ transpierced by a lance, be spread by His Blood: qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur, ‘which is shed for you and for many.’ These are the essential words which the priest pronounces at the moment of the consecration at Mass; this Blood which is shed for you, for us and for many. Alas! why is it ‘for many’? Precisely because many have refused it; many refuse the Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the graces of the Redemption. This is not because Our Lord did not will to shed His Blood for all, it is said at the Offertory ‘we offer this chalice pro totius mundi salute – for the salvation of the entire world,’ but, alas, in reality, how many countless souls refuse the Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ!

Thus we see the role of the priest, the essential role of the priest: to offer the Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ and to spread the graces by all of the sacraments and particularly by the Holy Eucharist and the sacrament of Penance. Moreover we have seen how a holy priest such as the Curé of Ars spent his life at the altar spreading God’s graces by his words and in the confessional spreading the graces of the Redemption for souls. There you have the priest! What a beautiful vocation! What a sublime vocation!” (Sermon given in 1980)

LG: Lastly, I read that completion of the Seminary was the first priority in Dillwyn, followed by the church. In addition, the entire property is approximately 1,000 acres in total. How is building coming along and what is the next scheduled project? Please let my readers know of any fundraising opportunities underway for those looking to assist you.

Father Patrick Abbet: We are still finishing certain parts of the Seminary, notably the administrative building, which will contain not only administrative offices, but also a parish hall and a bookstore for the faithful. Then, when God wishes it, we will build the church – a large and beautiful sanctuary to allow the Liturgy in its most solemn form to mold our young seminarians into holy priests, deeply attached to their Mass. In their name, I thank all our benefactors for their constant support. They may follow the ongoing project at or Please let everyone know that visitors to the Seminary are always welcome, especially for the Sunday High Mass at 10:00am. I also invite the faithful, especially families, to come to the ceremonies of ordinations on June 22 of this year. This beautiful traditional Liturgy is a living catechism on Holy Orders.

Posted on February 26, 2018, in holiness, liturgy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Franklin P. Uroda

    IMO, besides dispensing the Sacraments, especially The Eucharist, priests have to be vital and energetic champions-audible, visible, integrated and accessible-for the Truth, both Dogmatic and, especially in our times, Moral. Beyond their Liturgical duties, there is a vast spectrum of activity into which they can bring Jesus God Almighty and all that is involved with Him. They must “Put on Jesus” for all to see and be truly manly men: tough, dynamic, and inspiring.

  2. Hear me out – there are plenty of vocations. What, you say? And so where are those who feel, and will answer, the vocation to become a priest, monk or nun? They don’t exist, at least not in this world. They have been removed from the pool of religious vocations through contraception and abortion. The dream of having enough priests to fully staff all the churches around the world, plus missionaries and the like, will not – cannot – happen until Catholics take seriously the teaching of the Catholic faith and allow GOD to decided how many children a sacramentally married man and woman are to have, not by having the couple force their will onto God and thwart His great plan of creation. I have a very strong intuition, which came to me out of the blue, that Jesus’ return will be marked by the creation of a certain number of God’s ‘children’. If so, then contraception delays the 2nd coming. And although an aborted baby has been created, it never goes on to be a religious or to get married and have children, of whom one or more could be a priest, monk or nun. God knows that we need priests. Is He not a generous God? With all the prayers said for more priests, do you think He would leave us lacking? No. We are the cause. The foundation of the entire vocation crisis is this – by the will of mankind, those young men who would have answered the call to become priests, simply are not here to do so.

  3. Isn’t the SSPX still in schism from Rome? If so, certainly we shouldn’t be rejoicing that men are joining the SSPX in defiance of the Holy See. I’m sorry, but unless I’ve missed something, I don’t see this as a happy report.

    • Ehnebic – Yes, you have missed something. The SSPX is not nor has it ever been in schism. The situation that best describes their situation is that of being in a canonically irregular state in which their status is not fully recognized by the authorities in Rome. Since Pope Benedict withdrew the excommunications of the four bishops consecrated by the great Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988, they have been in discussions with proper authorities in Rome for the purpose of gaining recognition for what they are – Catholics, in the fullest sense. It was Pope Francis himself who last year unilaterally decided to “recognize” the validity of their sacraments, see the links below.

      What has precluded the SSPX from gaining full recognition of their Catholicity has been the requirement Roman authorities have always exacted for the piece of paper that says “yes, you’re Catholic”, and that is an oath or affirmation of the dogmatic authority of the documents of the second Vatican Council. At the risk of over-simplification, the controversy over whether VII was dogmatic or pastoral and certain at least ambiguous statements contained in VII documents, which have been used by Modernists to radically distort Church teaching on virtually everything, was the fight that Archbishop Lefebvre took up and the Society which has followed.

      The point of the article here is that Tradition = Vocations. The SSPX has made the authentic Apostolic Tradition available to hundreds of thousands if not millions of people around the world, which has been a great blessing to them and the wider Church, in spite of the fact that the human portion of that Church has been led by men who are implacable foes of that Tradition and devoted entire lifetimes to doing all they could to destroy it. While the mainstream Church suffers because the human portion of it largely ignores or fights against Tradition, there are some who embrace it and are greatly blessed for it. Leading this group is the SSPX, which had to pay the price of bearing the falsehood that they are “schismatic” for their defense of the “teachings which we have passed on to you” to quote 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

      • Perhaps you could explain why a marriage is not valid by the SSPX (unless he obtains the permission of the local Roman Rite pastor). Then you could explain why the SSPX has no authority to grant annulments nor reject them. They have no tribunals. Next, you could explain why Pope Francis felt the need to write about the validity of their sacraments of Holy Communion, Baptism, Holy Orders, Last Rites and Confirmation. Confession and Marriage both need delegation by the local chancery and pastor respectively. Confession may be heard by any priest when someone is in danger of death. Confession and public scheduled Mass are questions of faculties and Marriage is a question of jurisdiction.

      • Andrew, you can’t prove that they are not acting in disobedience to the pope, and obedience is paramount. Several saints were treated unjustly and yet remained in obedience. There are several explanations as to why Lefebvre believed it was necessary for him to break away, and he may have acted in good faith, but lots of people make serious mistakes in good faith. Just because men are joining the SSPX doesn’t make it right. Why not trust the Holy Spirit?

      • Ruth is absolutely correct. Obedience is not just some pious afterthought nor is it employed only on our terms. Obedience demands a lot from us at times.

        I’ve had really good talks with many in the SSPX. My main point always goes back to how much traditional priests have suffered going through the proper channels. The priests and seminarians of the SSPX are not on the front lines of the battle. They are not even in the fight practically speaking. Traditional priests and seminarians visibly in union with Rome (those who are on the books and in diocesan chancery records) could use their help INSIDE the Church. The SSPX get to live their comfy lives with very small parishes (very few faithful comparatively) and very little spiritual influence. I’ve always told them to get into the spiritual fight with me, come to the front lines where you are desperately needed! Obedience requires inconveniences because we shouldn’t always nor do we actually always get our way.

  4. Yes the growth of the SSPX is legendary but what is never addressed is their equally high attrition rate. I know more priests and laity who used to be affiliated with the SSPX than I know who are still with the society. As is pointed out in this article the Society has become somewhat inbred and so more insular, and yes, cult like. At times they seem to resemble the Amish more than traditional Catholics. The shabby treatment of Bishop Williamson is but a symptom of a greater problem. Nevertheless, I pray for their mission though it seems to me they have strayed somewhat. They have left a lot of wreckage in their wake.

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