For the last twelve years here as bishop the diocese has had one single Vocation Director, Father Leonard Plazewski. The role and responsibility of the Vocation Director in the life of the local church is very significant. He or she devote all their waking energy to the pursuit of men for the priesthood or religious life as a priest or brother and of women for religious life as a sister. Theoretically, that is their job description but realistically, since religious communities have their own Vocation Directors, he or she spends most of their time searching for young men who think God is calling them to priesthood. Father Len has done that for us for a dozen years and today he and I are announcing that he will leave that position at the end of this calendar year. I am certain that all of my diocesan family know him because he has in all likelihood preached in your parish four times on vocations (he made the rounds of the 76 parishes and missions four times in twelve years). Since assuming the responsibility, he has put into place many dinners at my residence or occasionally some other place called PROJECT ANDREW dinners where pastors and associate pastors come with interested young men juniors in high school and above for a meal and to listen to our vocation stories. Annually he has gathered the eleven year olds of our elementary schools and for a long time juniors in high school for what is called FOCUS ELEVEN because sociologists tell us that their science has found that vocation decisions begin to be made first at eleven years old and then later during the eleventh grade. In the last few years he has gathered inquirers for a period of reflection and retreat just prior to Christmas. He never gives up on his search for vocations and as a result, our diocese has been the best in the state in recent years in attracting men to the seminary. The Church of St. Petersburg owes Father Plazewski a debt of gratitude as he winds down his work and begins in a yet-to-be determined assignment. Along the way, he has served the last several years as the president of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors and has visited many other dioceses to assist them in their Vocation promotion.
Today, I am announcing that Father John Blum, pastor of St. John Vianney parish on St. Petersburg Beach, will assume the role of Diocesan Director of Vocations on New Year’s Day. He will continue to serve as pastor of his parish so his appointment is part-time in Vocations where he will serve almost strictly as Supervisor of Seminarians. To assist Father Blum, I am also announcing that Father Carl Melchior, associate pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Largo, will serve as Assistant Vocation Director while continuing in his present assignment. Father Carl’s task will focus on recruitment and when they are accepted by the Diocesan Vocation Board and admitted to the seminary, his work will be complete and they will become Father Blum’s responsibility. To give up a full-time Vocation Director for two part-time Vocation Directors is not the best idea but our current clergy personnel requirements do not allow me at this time to do otherwise. Hopefully and prayerfully in a couple of years, we will return to a single, full time Vocation Director.
When I arrived fourteen years ago, Father Michael O’Brien who is now serving as pastor of St. Justin the Martyr parish in Largo was serving in this capacity. He did a wonderful job also so I have known nothing but good Vocation Directors. And let me add that during my time as Rector-President of the College Seminary in Miami (1979-1984), the Diocese of St. Petersburg had splendid Vocation Directors (Fathers Arthur Proulx, Dennis Hughes, Robert Tabbert, James Johnson) who brought splendid candidates to the seminary for admission. Vocations for and from this diocese have always been a blessing and some who chose to leave and get married remain faithful, wonderful Catholic men. I have always emphasized that quality of candidate is far more important than quantity of candidates but I must confess to being proud that last school year and this coming we will again have 32 seminarians, a testimony to Father Plazewski’s labors.
These men in formation can be assured that the two men soon to split the responsibilities will be every much as supportive, grateful, present and wise as their predecessors. Finally, this is a good moment to offer my thanks to the Diocesan Vocation Committee which has advised Father Len along his way, to the members of the St. Petersburg chapter of Serra International (who pray for, work for, and support vocations to the priesthood and religious life) and to the Diocesan Seminary Admissions Committee which gives a great deal of time to meeting prospective applicants and judging their fitness for the journey to the altar. Today marks the beginning of a significant change in our Vocations Office but I believe it will be seamless.
Tags: Biography, Fr. Arthur Proulx, Fr. Carl Melchior, Fr. Dennis Hughes, Fr. James Johnson, Fr. John Blum, Fr. Len Plazewski, Fr. Michael O'Brien, Fr. Robert Tabbert, Seminarians, St. Catherine of Siena-Clearwater, St. John Vianney-St. Pete Beach, St. Justin the Martyr, Vocations