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Spokane priest to head American seminary in Belgium
by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register
(From the Sept. 13, 2001 edition of the Inland Register
Father Kevin Codd has been a priest in the Spokane Diocese for 22 years. He served as a parish priest all over the diocese, from Oroville to Walla Walla and even spent a year in Guatemala.
For the past two years, he has been in Belgium, serving as vice-rector of The American College, a seminary in Leuven (also known as Louvain).
“College doesn’t mean the same there as it does here,” said Father Codd. “It means either residence or, in this case, seminary.”
On Sept. 1, Father Codd became rector of the college, to serve a five-year term “at the gracious will of Bishop Skylstad.” He will be installed in the post Sept. 21. Msgr. Robert Pearson, pastor of St. Augustine Parish in Spokane, will represent Bishop Skylstad at the ceremony.
Belgium is a tiny country tucked between France and the Netherlands. The population of about 10 million is predominantly Catholic. Leuven is about 40 miles east of Brussels, Belgium’s capital.
The American College of the Immaculate Conception (its full name) is closely connected to the Catholic University of Louvain. People in programs at the seminary attend classes at the university. Both institutions have a long history; The American College was founded in 1857, and the university in 1425. “The university is the oldest full Catholic university in Europe,” Father Codd said, “and maybe even in the world.”
The new rector is in familiar territory. Father Codd took his priestly formation at The American College from 1975-79, and earned a degree in theology from the Catholic University. He was ordained Aug. 22, 1979, along with Father Gary Sumpter. It was the first ordination performed by Bishop Lawrence Welsh.
While the building is the same – “the ruts in the floors are still there, just deeper,” said Father Codd – change has come to the seminary.
For one thing, there are fewer seminarians, which the rector sees as a blessing. “That works in our favor, since we have more time to spend one-on-one with each seminarian,” he said.
For another, many of the seminarians who come are older, some embarking on their second career.
“When I entered the seminary, we were all very, very young, right out of college,” said Father Codd. “Recently we ordained a man who had just celebrated his 40th birthday.”
There is also greater cultural diversity. Seminarians come from everywhere: the Philippines, Mexico, Vietnam, the United States. A seminarian from England will join the group this year.
Seminary formation programs are also different these days. The programs used are much more established now than when Father Codd was a student at the college. He said the American bishops have come out with a program, and Pope John Paul also wrote “a wonderful pastoral letter on priestly formation.”
As rector Father Codd said he is “first and foremost responsible for the appropriate formation of seminarians turned over to us by their bishops.” The staff is made up of four full-time priests and one part-time. Each of them is responsible for a certain area, such as liturgy and homiletics, spiritual direction or pastoral formation.
He also represents the college to other seminaries and bishops, and is the primary representative from the college to the Catholic University of Louvain.
Two of Spokane’s recently ordained priests, Fathers Jose Luis Millan and Miguel Mejia, were students at The American College. This year, two other men from the Spokane Diocese are seminarians at the college: Pedro Bautista-Peraza and Alejandro Morales-Meza.
Not all who come to The American College are seminarians. Some students are ordained priests or women Religious. Some are laity on sabbatical, studying for a further degree or church license. “We have different programs going at all times,” said Father Codd. “It’s not just a seminary.” About 30 people currently live at the college; slightly more than half are seminarians.
The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops owns The American College. American bishops bought the college with the purpose of training European men to become priests and serve in America. “But almost immediately after it opened,” said Father Codd, “the bishops began sending American men to the college for their formation.”
Father Codd speaks Spanish and hopes eventually to learn Dutch. Leuven is in the north part of Belgium and Dutch is the primary language. English is the language spoken at the college, however. Students at the CUL can take classes in French, Dutch or English.
His own education continues as he works in Belgium. Father Codd has become a history buff and is working on his STL (License of Sacred Theology) in church history.
“The American College is deeply tied to the Northwest,” he said. “A lot of the early priests, bishops and missionaries came from Louvain and The American College.” He plans to write about “these Louvain men,” especially Bishop Aegidius Junger, the second bishop of Nesqually, a territory in the Pacific Northwest which included Seattle and the Spokane area.
Father Codd grew up in St. Charles Parish in Spokane where his mother, Cecelia Codd, still lives. Most of his 11 brothers and sisters also live in the area.
“I always wanted to be a priest,” he said. Primary influences on his vocation included Msgr. Oakley O’Connor, long-time pastor at St. Charles, and a paternal uncle who was a Jesuit priest.
Father Codd said he continues to use the pastoral instincts he developed as a parish priest, except in a different context. “How we work with people doesn’t change. What is different is the kind of people we’re working with,” he said. “In a parish you have a potpourri of human beings with all their different needs, wants, and issues. Here, it’s basically preparing young men for the priesthood, guiding them towards healthy human spiritual lives.
“What we do in a parish is managing and building a healthy community, and that’s what we do here (in Louvain),” he said. “We want to keep things healthy, focused and keep our mission clear as much as possible.”
Whether it’s ministering in a parish in the diocese or in a college in a foreign land, Father Codd said being a priest is “very humbling.” Perhaps just like the seminarians in his charge, he, too, is “always being challenged to grow.”
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