I thought you might be interested in how we look for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. There are many approaches, which can be taken to vocation recruitment, but the most important ingredient is a happy priesthood and religious life in the diocese. Priesthood can only seem attractive if the men who serve the young are themselves happy. Happiness and contentment in the priesthood is constitutive for recruiting good candidates for the seminary and for religious life.
In this diocese we have been blessed with a great number of vocations, which will in a few years begin to pay off with more ordinations. For almost thirteen years, Father Len Plazewski pursued anyone who showed even the slightest interest, never taking their name from his Rolodex of candidates until they contracted marriage. Using a variety of methods of contact, our Vocation Directors stay in touch with those who seem to be searching for priesthood. They meet them in their schools, on college campuses, invite them to discernment retreat week-ends, evenings of prayer and discussion throughout the year, and even twice a year take them to the college seminary for a week-end experience.
Once a year we hold something called FOCUS ELEVEN. All of the sixth graders in our elementary schools are invited to come to one spot for an entire day which focuses on vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Using skits, games, and many other ways to connect with eleven year olds, the matter of a possible religious vocation is brought up. Why eleven year olds, one may ask? Sociologists and child psychologists agree that it is about age eleven when children begin to think about what they want to be with they grow up so the moment is right in the maturing process and we take advantage of it. Eleventh grade is also an important moment when the sixteen or seventeen year old is beginning to think about where to continue their education after high school. We used to bring all the eleventh graders together as well.
On Thursday, I hosted what are called Project Andrew dinners, after the Apostle who first followed Jesus and then invited his brothers and friends to do likewise. On these occasions, young men in junior year of high school and older, are invited to dinner with the bishop accompanied by their pastors or associate pastors. We don’t do a “hard sell” on these occasions but each priest present and I share our own vocation stories. We offer to receive and answer any questions, which they have and then send them forth with the promise that to the extent they wish, we will stay in touch with them during their discernment experience. This year we will have had four of these dinners and I personally have met about twenty-five or thirty young men who express an interest.
While we have a good number of seminarians (thirty-one at the beginning of the present school year) I also wish to acknowledge that religious communities in the diocese also have sought and received vocations from our young men and women. There are, I think, about an additional six men studying for priesthood in religious communities such as the Jesuits, Salesians, etc.
Finally, when a candidate decides to apply to the diocese, a rigorous assessment process is begun which includes interviews with at least three members of the Diocesan Vocations Admission Board, myself, a full battery of psychological tests and interviews, and recommendations from teachers and friends, including always the vote of the man’s pastor.
Eventually the nomination comes before the full Admissions Board containing lay women and men, religious women, and diocesan priests. So what may have begun with a chicken dinner at the house of the bishop ends with ordination to the priesthood or profession of vows in religious life. At the time of this writing, we have nine men in the application process for the coming year which almost guarantees a total of thirty-five for the seminary next Fall. But I will close with this thought. This is not a numbers game which we are playing but a search for fine candidates for the priesthood. We know that not all we accept will make it to the altar.