First class of St. Joseph House of Formation seminarians graduate from Newman

May 28, 2020

Above photo: The 2020 class of St. Joseph House of Formation Newman graduates (left to right): Caleb Kuestersteffen, Tomas Nolla, Jesus Banuelos, Matthew Cooke and Will Mohr.

The Catholic Diocese of Wichita established the St. Joseph House of Formation in 2017 for seminarians seeking higher education while on their journey to priesthood.

In that same year, a partnership was formed with Newman University, Wichita’s only Catholic University, to have the seminarians obtain their associate’s and bachelor’s degrees from Newman.

Representing the first graduating class from the St. Joseph House of Formation, five seminarians graduated with honors from Newman with a Bachelor of Theology this year.

Father Mike Simone

Father Mike Simone, chancellor and director of the St. Joseph House of Formation, said this first group of young men helped “mold our house’s hallmarks of being a place of charity, prayer, fraternity and study.”

Simone looks forward to continuing the partnership with Newman and increasing involvement with the Newman community.

“The first seminarians to graduate from Newman truly emulate the ‘Jet Spirit’ of being those who will go into the world to transform hearts in the name of Jesus Christ. The knowledge and formation they received in the House of Formation and at Newman has prepared them to one day be pastors of local parishes with true servant hearts.”

Father Chad Arnold, assistant director of the St. Joseph House of Formation, said this group of graduates left a lasting impression on their younger counterparts.

Father Chad Arnold (photo courtesy

“They have learned from this set of seniors a real appreciation for their professors at Newman. The graduates think very highly about their professors,” he said. “The seniors have also provided a wonderful example of being ‘all in’ at Newman. Though many of them were transfers, Newman is their school and they are proud of it.”

Graduate Caleb Kuestersteffen said he will be transitioning into a four-year graduate theology program, which is necessary for ordination into priesthood. 

After spending the summer learning Spanish full time at the St. Joseph House of Formation, he will continue his formation beginning fall 2020 at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, also known as Mundelein Seminary, located northwest of Chicago.

He believes Newman primed him well for his future.

“I think that Newman has prepared me well for this transition,” he said. “With both a solid understanding of the ancient and thomistic philosophical traditions as well as an introduction to Catholic theological principles. Equally important has been the ongoing development of the value of learning for its own sake. Discovering and investigating ‘what is’ is the primary goal of having an intellect, no matter the subject.”

He said his Newman education has led to a more fulfilled life in conjunction with a deepening relationship with God. The faculty played a large role in this experience, going above and beyond in their example and instruction.

“All my classes have increased and honed my critical thinking skills, allowing for a clearer view of my own judgments, truth in their development, eloquence in their expression and respect in dialoguing with others. The professors didn’t just confer the required material, they intentionally presented and engaged personally with their students. Through their investment, we are led toward greater academic understanding with the end goal of a well-examined, well-lived life — not just financial success.”

Caleb Kuestersteffen poses with material he created to be used by Newman University commemorating the St. John Henry Newman canonization.

Fellow graduate Matthew Cooke agrees. He has gained a greater appreciation for the wider world and different world views of those around him. 

“There are things in the world that money or position can’t give to you. I’ve gained a greater appreciation of where joy and fulfillment come from. A greater reading ability and a greater desire to read.”

Outside the classroom, Cooke said Newman became a second family, leaving him with lifelong memories and friendships he won’t forget. His participation in numerous events on campus; the St. John Henry Newman canonization “lock-in,” lunch and learn seminars, Campus Ministry events, intramural sports and much more, will continue to be favorite memories he will carry with him as he moves on.

Matthew Cooke (left) poses with fellow Newman student Matthew Nguyen after an Ultimate Frisbee match at Newman University.

Cooke is also continuing in formation and will be attending the same seminary as Kuestersteffen in the fall.

Newman Chaplain Father Adam Grelinger, also a Newman alumnus, said the partnership between the university and the St. Joseph House of Formation is important for everyone involved.

“This partnership strengthens the tie between the Diocese and Newman, both today and in the future when these men, God willing, become priests,” explained Grelinger. “I believe the Newman community benefits from having these men around as they are great witnesses to us all of trying to live a life dedicated to God. In turn, the seminarians also benefit by getting to know the sisters and more people of Wichita. There is also a great benefit for seminarians to take classes with our other students — it makes the classroom more dynamic.”

Kuestersteffen loves that the Diocese partnered with Newman. He values his education and what it has done for him so far and what it will continue to do for his future.

“Fundamentally, there is more to a good university education than attending classes and passing tests,” he said. “Our shared humanity is understood only in connection with others — as fellow thinkers — but more deeply as individuals in relationship. It is these relationships that have developed in the context of campus ministry, ultimate frisbee or just visiting with professors and peers between classes that I value more than any course material.”