The Society of Saint Edmund, which founded Saint Michael's College more than a century ago, elected Very Rev. Stephen W. Hornat, SSE as the Catholic religious order's new superior general on June 27. A member of the Saint Michael's Class of 1972 and a returning member of the college's Board of Trustees, Fr. Hornat succeeds Rev. Michael Cronogue, SSE, who led the Edmundites as superior general since 2006.
Fr. Hornat's election came during the Society's General Chapter meeting on the Saint Michael's campus. The purpose of these gatherings every four years is to elect leaders, conduct essential business, discern direction for ministries and enjoy fellowship. This recent meeting drew 21 delegates from the many locations where Edmundites currently minister, including the Society's longstanding southern missions in Selma, AL, where Fr. Hornat has been serving as pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church since 2011. Other delegates came from the Dioceses of Burlington, Mobile, AL, and Norwich, CT, as well as from Venezuela.
A native of Hartford, CT, Fr. Hornat first came to Saint Michael's as a seminarian right out of Hartford's South Catholic High School. After living off-campus in Burlington with other seminarians his first two years, he moved on campus where he became a charter member of Saint Michael's Fire and Rescue Squad. After earning his Saint Michael's political science degree, Fr. Hornat studied theology at Toronto School of Theology (M.Div. 1976). He worked in Campus Ministry at Saint Michael's from 1976-79 and as the Society's vocation director from 1981-89; he did admissions work for the college from 1980-83; then returned to Campus Ministry from 1983-89. From 1989 to 1998 Fr. Hornat was posted in Selma, AL, where he was founder and director of the Edmundite Mission Corps, created for new college graduates who want to do mission work. He returned to Vermont in 1998 and served as rector of St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington until 2008 when he returned to the Selma missions, from 2008 to 2011. He became pastor at his present Selma parish in 2011, and has been there since.
Fr. Hornat said he has not yet determined if he will stay in Selma or relocate to Vermont in his new job. He spoke of his priorities based on the recent Chapter meeting. "The General Chapter has given me a mandate to address the issues of membership and increasing vocations to the consecrated life, our evangelization to those who have been marginalized and to fallen-away Catholics; and to further our ministry to the poor and to the African American community in the South." His challenge is to determine "how can we strengthen those ministries given our diminishing numbers." The Edmundites also hope to "address the issue of young people who are struggling from addiction – a recovery ministry for young people in addiction." He said the Society already have been running a Recovery Center at Enders Island in Mystic, CT. He said another priority will be strengthening "our evangelization ministries at St. Anne's Shrine" in the Lake Champlain islands, which recently has been renovated to host retreats and group activities for the college and other groups.
Fr. Hornat says he is an avid racquetball player, "and I used to play a lot of basketball here on campus." During his Campus Ministry days he also was chaplain to the Purple Knights hockey team under former longtime coach Lou DiMasi, and was chaplain for the Saint Michael's Fire & Rescue Squad. That experience led him to become chaplain to the Burlington Fire Department as well for a time after September 11, 2001.
The new superior general's parents were immigrants to the U.S. from the Ukraine and he was raised in the Eastern rite Catholic Church, he said, explaining that he met the Edmundites when he attended a high school religious retreat with some of the priests at Enders Island in Connecticut in the mid-1960s. "I fell in love with the community and decided to join," he said.
He also hopes to continue invigorating the Society's mission among Saint Michael's students. "When I came here in 1976 we were filling the chapel with students and now the numbers have diminished so we see a need for a stronger outreach to the student population," Fr. Hornat said, adding that some approaches might be through expanded campus retreat programs, or through the faculty-staff "Pontigny Society" that works to advance the Catholic culture of the school. The Edmundites currently have two seminarians studying theology at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, MA.