As guests trickled into the Chase Park Plaza Khorassan Ballroom at about 6 p.m. on Nov. 4, Kenrick-Glennon seminarians anxiously waited to serve them, with the joy of the Gospel visible on the seminarians' smiling faces.
With the exception of serving dinner and busing tables, Kenrick-Glennon's finest performed all of the tasks associated with 25th annual Convivium, the dinner/auction which is the seminary's largest fundraiser.
Whether behind the scenes, setting up before or breaking down afterward, or on the scene, selling raffle tickets or gift bags, they executed perfectly the game plan prepared by Adam Pleimann, the Cardinal Glennon College senior serving as seminarian in charge of the event.
They also took pictures for guests at the exquisite ice sculpture of the seminary belltower, talked up the bounty in the silent auction and mingled before dinner, then visited tables throughout the dinner and auction part of the festivities.
Mostly, though, the seminarians thanked the guests — about 500 this year — for their ongoing support of the seminary, which Archbishop Robert J. Carlson called "the best in the country." The enrollment of 132 this academic year is the largest in 30 years, with room to accommodate more.
"It's great to be able to converse and have one-on-one interactions with some of the seminary's benefactors," said Mitchell Baer, a second-year theology student out of St. Paul Parish in Fenton. "You're able to see that link between someone and the seminary.
"It's exciting to see their excitement for the seminary."
The Convivium supports the seminary's annual operation budget, the Kenrick Student Life Association, the Cardinal Glennon College Student Activity Fund and seminarian retreats, including the annual retreat to the Holy Land.
In the Holy Land, future priests "walk in the footsteps of Christ," Archbishop Carlson said, simply.
While that trip ranks among seminarians' highlights, the support also is evident in mundane, everyday ways.
"Heating, lighting, the food," said Jacob Smith, a Cardinal Glennon sophomore out of St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Ellisville. "This is our biggest event; it helps to run our building."
But more than that, seminarians meet their supporters, and vice versa.
"All around, this is just a wonderful event for them to get to know us and us to know them a little bit, to put a name to a face," said Smith, whose job at the Convivium was to send guests to the raffle table. There, Cardinal Glennon senior David Halfmann was selling raffle tickets for the third consecutive year.
"It's my favorite gig," he said. "You get to meet everybody."
That human touch might be the main benefit of the Convivium.
"You get to interact with so many wonderful people from the archdiocese and outside diocese," transitional deacon Chris Rubie said. "You can see their love and support of the seminary."
After working the Convivium as seminarians, transitional deacons such as Deacon Rubie are invited back as guests.
"It's nice to sit down and enjoy the dinner and watch our brothers serve as we did," transitional deacon Todd Shepherd said. He attended with his parents, Sheila and Tom, who came in from Wichita for the Convivium. They sat at the Wichita table provided by Bishop Carl A. Kemme, a Kenrick alumnus. "We're very blessed," Deacon Shepherd said.
The Convivium's meet-and-greet aspect let seminarians practice for their future priestly ministries, "striking up conversations with people you haven't met before," Deacon Shepherd said.
And those people are special.
"They have been really charitable," said Father Brian Fallon, the archdiocese's assistant vocations director, as Convivium guests prepared for dinner. "I mean, there are a lot of good people in this room."