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Oh Priest, Who Are You?

On this Holy Thursday when we thank God for the institution of the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Orders, it is good to recall this meditation on the priesthood by St. Norbert:

norbertO Priest, who are you?

You are not yourself, because you are God.
You are not of yourself because you are the servant and minister of Christ.

You are not your own because you are the spouse of the Church.
You are not yourself because you are the mediator between God and man.

You are not from yourself because you are nothing.
What then are you? Nothing and everything.

O Priest!

Take care lest what was said to Christ on the cross be said to you:
‘He saved others, himself he cannot save!’

Thomas Aquinas College Celebrates 52 Alumni Priests

The most recent Thomas Aquinas College Newsletter highlighted the more than 50 alumni ordained to the priesthood in the College’s first 40 years.  Serving as pastors, chaplains, seminary professors, and missionaries in 12 religious orders, 21 states and 8 countries, many more alumni are preparing for the priesthood as seminarians.

President Michael McLean says, “One of the greatest affirmations of the work we do at the College is that so many men who graduate from here go on to answer God’s call to the priesthood.”

Thomas Aquinas College is an Affiliate Member of the Institute on Religious Life. We are pleased to have on our Board of Directors, Rev. James E. Isaacson, S.J.C., Class of ’88.

Please visit the College website for more information.

Promoting Vocations in the Pacific Northwest

Portland vocations director, Fr. John Henderson

You are the one.

That’s the slogan the Archdiocese of Portland’s new vocations director uses to help Catholics discern their calling, whether it’s marriage or a single lifestyle, or religious life, the diaconate or priesthood.

Father John Henderson has been leading baptized people to find their calling in his new role in the vocations office since he was assigned to the position last summer. He oversees the 52 diocesan seminarians stationed at Mount Angel Seminary, a handful of other schools, and in local churches. He also promotes vocations in the parishes, recruiting men to the priesthood.

On his “To Do” list lately has been the preparation of the Archbishop’s Retreat, “On the Priestly Vocation,” slated for Jan. 27-29, at the Our Lady of Peace Retreat House. Father Henderson assists Archbishop John Vlazny in leading this weekend retreat for men who would like a chance to reflect on the possibility of priesthood.

For the rest of this story by Clarice Keating, staff writer for the Catholic Sentinel, click here.

Welcome to America

The Detroit Free Press published this article last week on the influx of foreign-born priests in the United States to help compensate for the relative shortage of American-born priests.

In 2011, about one-third of priests ordained in U.S. Catholic dioceses were foreign-born, up almost 50% from 1999, according to data Georgetown University compiled for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The number of foreign-born seminarians has varied between 20% to 30% over the past decade.

The article says that of the 293 priests serving at metro Detroit parishes, more than 50 are foreign-born, from countries such as India, Vietnam, Mexico, the Philippines, Cameroon, Poland, and Ireland.

Increase in Vocations

A recent Catholic News Service story reports on the continued increase in seminary enrollment in the United States. Some examples:

— At the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, 40 new seminarians arrived this year, bringing total enrollment to 186, the highest level since the 1970s.

— St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, welcomed 30 new graduate-level seminarians, making its class of 100 seminarians the largest since 1980. The influx forced 24 seminarians and two priests off campus into leased space at a former convent.

— In the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, where the St. Pius X diocesan seminary closed in 2004 because of declining enrollment, the number of seminarians has more than doubled–from eight to 17 in the past two years.

But the numbers alone don’t tell the full story.

“I’m tremendously impressed with the quality of the candidates, their zeal,” said Father Phillip Brown, who was appointed rector of Theological College in Washington last March. “We’re seeing a real renewal of the priesthood.”

Under Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, the Church worldwide has been blessed with a priestly vocation boom. The number of major seminarians surged from 63,882 in 1978 to 117,978 in 2009, an increase of nearly 85%, outstripping world population growth (58%) and Catholic population growth (56%) during the same time period.

Called to Service

Last week Pope Benedict XVI presided at Vespers at the Vatican basilica for the opening of the academic year in pontifical universities. His homily focused on priestly ministry, in the light of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations by Venerable Pius XII. The Holy Father reflected on the reading from the First Letter of Peter, which he said “invites us to meditate upon the mission of pastors in the Christian community.”

The Holy Father emphasized three essential qualities of a priest: “the aspiration to collaborate with Jesus in spreading the Kingdom of God, the gratuitousness of pastoral commitment, and an attitude of service.” A priest, he stressed, must sacrifice himself for the Church, making himself available to be “seized by Christ.”

The priests administer the sacraments, but do not control them, the Pope said. “They cannot dispose of them as they please.”

Pope Benedict also noted that “we must never forget that we enter the priesthood through the Sacrament of Ordination. This means opening ourselves to the action of God by daily choosing to give ourselves for Him and for our fellow man. . . . The Lord’s call to the ministry is not the fruit of any particular merit, it is a gift we must accept and to which we must respond by generously and disinterestedly dedicating ourselves, not to our own project but to that of God, that He may dispose of us according to His will, even though this may not correspond to our own desire for self-fulfillment. . . . As priests, we must never forget that the only legitimate ascension towards the ministry of pastor is not that of success but that of the Cross.”

Springfield’s Seminary Numbers at 25-Year High

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Diocese of Springfield

The State Journal-Register reports that the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois now has 20 seminarians, the most it’s had in over 25 years. The article includes some sobering facts to counter this news, including the approximately 50% attrition rate of seminarians and how even that number doesn’t quite keep pace with the needs of a diocese that has 131 parishes as well as various college, prison, and hospital chaplaincies.

Still, the news is encouraging and is further evidence of a stabilizing of priestly vocations in the U.S. after the decline of the 1970s and 1980s. Further, the Diocese of Springfield is bouncing back from the 1990s, when it underwent some significant scandals even before clerical sex abuse became a national story.

Yet the new generation is undaunted. As one of the current seminarians noted: “[By wearing the collar], people may immediately make assumptions about you that might be very bad. I know this is not about me. I know I’m not going to fix any huge problems on my own. But I can be, for the people God sends me to, an expression of the love God has for them.”

Amen to that.

Project Andrew . . . for Parents

Project Andrew, named for the apostle who invited his brother Simon (Peter) to come meet Jesus (see John 1:40-42), has become a popular vocation-related events for potential seminarians. While the format varies from diocese to diocese, the idea is to have young men “come and see” by spending an evening with the bishop, sharing a meal, discussion, and prayer.

The evenings encourage young men to actively seek out what God wants of them (maybe priesthood, maybe not), and then challenge them to be heroically generous in embracing and living out this vocation. In that sense, it’s about discernment, not recruitment.

Given that context, I wanted to share this article from my own archdiocesan newspaper regarding a Project Andrew event here in Kansas City. What I found to be particularly valuable was the addition of a parent component, as parents of the young men in discernment are invited to hear from parents of some current seminarians.

While the Church extols the great gift that vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life are to Catholic families, the fact is that many parents are opposed to this way of life for their children. There may be fears of “losing” their children or they may simply harbor misconceptions about the priesthood, consecrated life, or the Church in general–just the sort of things that dialogue and friendship with other parents could help resolve.

As Catechism, no. 2233 provides:

“Parents should welcome and respect with joy and thanksgiving the Lord’s call to one of their children to follow him in virginity for the sake of the Kingdom in the consecrated life or in priestly ministry.”

Ireland’s “Vocations App”

Answering the “call” is getting a little easier these days, and in a surprising place. Those who want more information on joining the Catholic priesthood in Ireland need look no further than their smart phone.

The Irish Bishops’ Conference is eagerly promoting its new “Vocations App.”

The app was launched Monday by Down and Connor Auxiliary Bishop Donal McKeown, chair of the episcopal conference’s Vocations Commission. The first in the world, this new app is available for download free of charge from the Apple app store.

The purpose of the app is to “assist current and future generations seeking to investigate and find information on vocations to the diocesan priesthood in Ireland,” announced the bishops’ conference in a press release.

The app was developed by a Dublin company, Magic Time Apps, and designed by Father Paddy Rushe of the Archdiocese of Armagh.

The launch of the app also heralded the official handoff of the position of National Coordinator for Diocesan Vocations from Father Rushe to Father Willie Purcell of the Diocese of Ossory.

Some of the highlights of the Vocations App include:

— contact details and statistics on the 26 dioceses of Ireland

— frequently asked questions to assist a person to discern his vocation, including questions such as “What does a priest do all day?” and “How long do you have to study?

— news feed running from the national vocations website

— “tests” to enable the user to reflect on vocation potential

Anticipated updates for the Vocations App include a “prayer counter” for those who want to pledge prayers for vocations, and an image gallery giving a window into the life of a seminarian.

Courtesy of Zenit.

Going to Bat for Vocations

As we await the outcome of the playoffs to see which baseball teams will compete in the Fall Classic, we know one team that will still be playing next week: the Padres.

No, not the San Diego Padres, who didn’t even make the playoffs this season, but the D.C. Padres.

Who are the D.C. Padres? They are priests and seminarians from the Archdiocese of Washington who play baseball–for fun and also to promote vocations. They play area high school teams and, as this article from Gazette.Net shows, use this platform to discuss vocations and the priesthood.

Check out the vocation site for the Archdiocese of Washington, which has many engaging features, including a video of the Padres in action. Let us pray that in Washington and elsewhere there will be more young men who are willing to “take the field” as tomorrow’s priests.