Making distinctions is at the heart of philosophy: something is this and not that. We human beings like making distinctions, and we are, for the most part, very good at it. We classify animals, plants, soil, rocks, clouds, and bodies of water by making distinctions. One of our favorite distinctions to make is about ourselves, and I don’t mean simply in terms of race, faith, ethnicity, sex, politics, or economics, as much as we enjoy making such distinctions. The kind of distinction that seems to fascinate many of us is the one that addresses that way in which we encounter the world through our personality, temperament, or basic hard-wiring as human beings.
Consider conversations that you’d have when you’ve identified someone who is like you, or the total opposite of you. Maybe you’ve found comfort in meeting a fellow introvert who understands you, or you’ve been impressed by someone’s pragmatism or another’s artistic eye. Perhaps you’ve taken the Myers-Briggs and things click into place when you share the differences or similarities of your profile with one another. The same sort of thing can happen when chatting about the Four Temperaments, Strength Finder, or your Spirit Animal. The ancient Greek aphorism, “Know Thyself,” seems to be at the heart of this quest to know what kind of self we are.
I teach at a college seminary, and one of my most important charges is to help my seminarians come to know who they are. Certainly our deepest identity comes as sons and daughters of the Father, a relationship given to us through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. But there are secondary identities as well that help us to be able to give our lives away in love to God and others, and they are worthy of our attention.
My late mentor, Fr. Lee Monroe, used to say that there are four basic types of seminarians: Geeks, Meeks, Greeks, and Freaks. I’ve been doing seminary work for most of my priesthood and I’ve come to believe that Fr. Monroe was right. It’s not that every seminarian fits perfectly into one category without any nuance or variance, but it is to say that there are different kinds of men in seminary formation, and that’s a good thing, because there is not one mold for the priesthood.
A little while back I went off a tangent in my ethics class and shared Fr. Monroe’s “Four Types of Seminarian Theory” with my students; it resonated with their experience and they encouraged me to write a piece on these fine distinctions. So here they are, the four types of seminarian:
Like geeks everywhere, the seminarian who falls into this category is intelligent, enjoys school, tends to thrive in the classroom, and is most at home surrounded by his books and some good conversation with a few close friends. Typically, Geeks carry high GPAs, but some Geeks don’t concern themselves much with grades or studying for particularan classes, but they nonetheless always seem to be involved in something intellectual, mechanical, or digital. Geeks also like board games, and some are known to dress up and speak in different voices when playing such games.
Most seminary Geeks are introverted, but everyone knows who they are and where they are, which is important, because they are the clearest thinkers in the house. And when something goes wrong in the community, especially in terms of computers, projectors, phones, and stereos, a Geek can fix it. It’s important to ask Geeks for advice, because they usually won’t offer it unless they are given an invitation.
Geeks are a great blessing to the seminary community, and even if they don’t always show it, they enjoy being part of the community.
When the average person thinks of a Catholic seminarian, the image that comes to mind is likely that of a Meek. Seminarians who are part of this group tend to be the most pious, prayerful, contemplative, and devotional of the seminary community.
Meeks spend a lot of time in the chapel, and depending upon whether they are traditional or charismatic, you may or may not see them until you step over them in the middle of the night. They are easy to identify, as Meeks like to wear their faith on their sleeve or around their neck with crucifixes, medals, and a variety of other religious wear. Meeks are also the most invested in conversations about liturgy, for better or for worse. You can also tell a Meek by his room décor, as it will often look more like a religious goods store than a college dorm room, with an abundant supply of holy water and extra rosaries for the taking. Meeks are known to burn incense in their rooms and have at least one candle lit at all times.
If you have any prayer request, report it directly to a Meek and be assured that it will not be forgotten. He may even give you a prayer card to let you know he’s been praying for you and your intentions.
If the Meeks are the stereotypical seminarian, the Greeks are the ones who break the seminarian stereotype. These are the athletes (or former athletes) of the house who take exercise, nutrition, and warm-up pants seriously. They are the seminarians who are constantly hearing, “I didn’t know a seminarian could do that!” after throwing a football, hitting a three-point shot, doing twenty pull-ups, kicking a soccer ball the length of a field, or running a marathon.
Unlike Geeks, Greeks spend a lot of time out of their room. They’re often in the gym, on the field, lifting weights, or watching sports in the lounge. Greeks love helping non-Greeks in the house appreciate the rules of sport and will encourage their brother seminarians to get up early for a run, or suggest healthier food options in the refectory. Although they may not come off as the most intellectually curious, most Greeks do well in the classroom, because they know they need to be eligible to play in the tournaments.
Greeks are fairly easy to identify by body type, but even if they have lost their form, wearing sports jerseys when they are not playing sports is also a dead give-away. Pay special attention to the shoes, even if they are black.
The final type of seminarian is somewhat of a catch all for anyone who is not a Geek, Meek or Greek. I’ve occasionally heard this group referenced as “Misfits,” but to keep up our phonetic consistency, we’ll call them ‘Freaks.’
So, who exactly are these Freaks? They are your artists, poets, and musicians. They are the seminarians who know the cultural scene well and listen to bands you’ve never heard of and quote films that you’ve never seen, and they secretly like to make you feel like you are not very hip, because they are the hipsters of the seminary. They too have identifying marks. Look especially for longer hair, or perhaps short hair on the sides and a tight part. Facial hair is also a sure sign you’re dealing with a Freak, especially if it seems over grown, waxed, or smells like patchouli. These guys are natural evangelizers and often invite their non-Catholic friends to seminary events, making others in the house a bit uncomfortable.
The Freaks are also the ones who successfully reach out to their favorite actors, bands, and artists on social media, displaying an expertise in the culture of encounter.
When a man enters the seminary, it’s pretty easy to figure out what kind of seminarian he is. But if he’s doing formation properly, and if the house has an equitable share of Geeks, Meeks, Greeks, and Freaks, over time he will be harder to identify at first glance by an outsider. The reason is that as the seminarian is formed not only by Christ and the formation faculty, but by the seminary community as well, he will find himself molding his personality in such a way where he’s taking a little bit of inspiration from each different type of seminarian, while becoming the best of his predominant type. The hope is that by the time a man finishes his seminary career that he’ll be able to interact and appreciate all different kinds of people, while knowing that Christ is fully alive in him, as God made him, whether he’s a Geek, Meek, Greek, or a Freak.