The Fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally called “Good Shepherd Sunday” due to the focus and theme of the assigned Lectionary readings. This year, on Good Shepherd Sunday, the Church marks the 58th annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Christians are asked to pray for more vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, and are encouraged to build a “culture of vocations” in their parishes, schools and homes.
Every year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations commissions the Center for the Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) of Georgetown University to survey the upcoming ordination class, those men who will be ordained to the Sacred Priesthood this year. It is always interesting to see what the national trends are, and to compare them to our local experience in our Local Church, the Diocese of Harrisburg. CARA reports that:
- On average, responding ordinands first considered priesthood when they were 17 years old.
- Two-thirds of responding ordinands (65%) are Caucasian. One in six (16%) are Latino/Hispanic. One in ten (10%) are Asian/Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian. And one in twenty (6%) are African/African American/black.
- The four most common countries of origin among foreign-born ordinands are Mexico, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Poland.
- Three in five (60%) completed an undergraduate or graduate degree before entering seminary.
- In regard to participation in various activities before entering the seminary, half of all responding ordinands (46%) participated in a parish youth group. A quarter (25%) participated in Catholic campus ministry/Newman Center.
- Nine in ten responding ordinands (93%) report being encouraged to consider the priesthood by someone in their life (most frequently, the parish priest, a friend, or another parishioner).
- Half of responding ordinands (47%) indicate that they were discouraged from considering the priesthood by one or more persons. Most often, this person was a family member (other than parents) or a friend/classmate.
That full CARA report and profiles of the Ordination Class of 2021 can be found here: https://www.usccb.org/committees/clergy-consecrated-life-vocations/ordination-classes
On June 5 at 10:00 a.m., Bishop Ronald Gainer will ordain two men to the Sacred Priesthood in St. Patrick Cathedral, Harrisburg. While due to the pandemic, it is an invitation-only event, you may view the Ordination Mass livestreamed on the Diocesan YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/hbgdiocese. Both Rev. Mr. Aaron Lynch and Rev. Mr. Peter Rettig are native sons of our Diocese, and they were raised in St. Patrick Parish, Carlisle, and St. Andrew Parish, Waynesboro, respectively. At the time of their ordination, Deacon Lynch will be 26 years old, and Deacon Rettig 27 years old. They both completed their undergraduate college degree at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Overbrook.
Prior to entering seminary, Deacon Lynch attended public schools, while Deacon Rettig matriculated through St. Andrew School, Waynesboro, Corpus Christi School, Chambersburg, and then St. Maria Goretti High School in Hagerstown, Md. Both of our new priests this year were active in their parish youth ministry programs and served as altar servers, and both men attended our Quo Vadis Days retreats before entering seminary.
On the wider level, this past year the Diocese of Harrisburg sponsored 24 seminarians. Two seminarians were born in other countries: one came to our diocese from a religious community and while in formation here he discerned a call to the Diocesan, rather than religious, priesthood. Another seminarian came to study at a university in our Diocese, and while here and active in its Catholic Campus Ministry, he discerned a vocation to the priesthood. Two of our seminarians are converts to Catholicism from other Christian communities. Five of our seminarians entered our formation program immediately after high school, two entered the seminary after a couple years in college, five enrolled in seminary following the completion of an undergraduate degree, and 12 entered the seminary after a secular career.
For those who are statistically-minded, if you take out the ages of our two oldest seminarian candidates, the average age of our Diocesan seminarians is 27 years old.
For some, these statistics and facts may offer an interesting, if not tedious, read. But the story these numbers tell, or rather the story they do not tell, is more important. There is no singular recipe on how to raise up more vocations to the priesthood or consecrated life. Our seminarians come from different areas of our Diocese, entered the seminary at different ages and with different life experiences, and are at different stages on the journey toward the altar of God. But when you get to know our seminarians, you will find that at vulnerable moments of their lives they had a healthy and vibrant experience of our Catholic faith. They were encouraged by their pastor, religious sisters, teachers, catechists, or youth ministry leaders to be open to a religious vocation. They were nourished by growing in a habit personal prayer and Eucharistic Adoration. Each one of our seminarians, in their openness to God’s calling, saw healthy priests who were secure in their own vocation, joyfully tending the flocks entrusted to their care.
These positive experiences of a living faith gave inspiration and encouragement to men who were weighing competing life choices, and even when the realization of a horrible and sad past gave many young men a reason to not look toward the priesthood as a lifelong vocation, they realized that Our Lord was calling them to be a response to the problems that have affected our Church.
So, how should the parent, the parishioner, the teacher, the youth minister, or the pastor foster a culture of vocations? First, in our daily prayer as individuals and families, we must express an openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit and a willingness to be led by it. We must open the vista to our young people to see the Church’s ministers at work: a young man will never think about becoming a priest if he does not see what priests do, or young woman will never consider the consecrated life if they do not know what joy and meaning that consecration brings! And thirdly, every parishioner and every priest must work to make their parish, their school, or their campus ministry program a sincere, vibrant, and loving place where Jesus is loved and His teachings cherished.
If we truly want more young people to respond to the vocation to priesthood or consecrated life, we will word to build a culture where openness to God’s spirit is evident. We will humbly show forth the Church’s ministers at work, quietly building the kingdom of God. And we will be the best possible community of faith we could possibly be. And we can trust that Master of the harvest will send forth laborers for His harvest!
(Father Sawicki is the Vocations Director for the Diocese of Harrisburg.)
By Father Jonathan Sawicki, Special to The Witness