Sunday, December 4, 2022

‘Fishers of Men’ Transitions from Dinner to Online Fundraiser, Building on Connections between Parishioners and Seminarians

A preeminent event of the Diocese of Harrisburg, the Fishers of Men fundraiser has consistently attracted hundreds of guests for an evening of dinner, entertainment, service and fellowship presented by seminarians.

It’s a unique event, with the seminarians staffing everything from coat check to hors d’oeuvres tables, pouring coffee and serving dinner, and sharing their vocation stories.

The annual October event has strengthened familial connections between parishioners and seminarians, while raising crucial funds for seminarian education and formation.

Although the 2021 Fishers of Men dinner was tabled as an in-person gathering this fall due to health concerns surrounding the pandemic, the Diocesan Office of Vocations is relying on those familial bonds and the generosity of the faithful to bolster an online fundraiser in place of the banquet.

“We are asking for the faithful’s support of this year’s Fishers of Men event, which is a live, online fundraiser, and asking for their generosity to continue to support the education, formation and assistance provided to our seminarians,” said Father Jonathan Sawicki, Diocesan Vocations Director.

The cost is approximately $40,000 per seminarian each year for tuition, room and board. There are also other costs: money for books, travel expenses and assistance with healthcare, he explained.

Currently, the Diocese has 19 seminarians.

Father Sawicki said the seminarians’ connections to the people of the Diocese is clearly evident – fostered in part by parish assignments and programs like Fishers of Men.

“Our Catholic community is very interwoven,” he said. “People who receive a seminarian on a summer assignment stay connected to that seminarian, whether through e-mail, notes or social media. They really feel a connection to our seminarians, and these connections are real. They want to support their future priests. They look forward to the Fishers of Men dinner, where the seminarians are serving their salad and refilling their coffee cups and presenting their dessert plates.”

“Our Diocese has a very familial, interconnected spirit, and people are very connected to those ties. They pay attention to our seminarians when they start out, and have a sense of pride when they are ordained,” he added, noting that those connections “really energize our seminarians and our priests. We’re looking forward to having the Fishers of Men dinner in 2022, and it’s why we’re asking for support of the 2021 Fishers of Men online event.”

An Investment in Seminarians

Gregory Udzinski attended the Fishers of Men dinner as a high school student in 2018 and 2019, and was impressed by what he saw: seminarians welcoming patrons at the door, happily serving dinner, and sharing stories about their discernment as they formed connections with guests.

Today, in his second year of college seminary at St. Charles Borromeo in Philadelphia, Udzinski is a beneficiary of the faithful’s financial support of the Fishers of Men fundraiser.

“The first time I attended the dinner was in my junior year of high school,” he said. “Being served by all the seminarians was pretty awesome. As we were eating, a couple seminarians would get up and give their vocation story or a witness. That was encouraging for me to hear, that these guys are normal people, pursuing the will of God. It was so encouraging to consider that maybe I could do this, too.”

“The second time I attended, I was really beginning to discern my vocation, and it was actually that night that I told one of the transitional deacons that I was applying to the seminary,” said Udzinski, a native of St. John the Baptist Parish in New Freedom.

He is now benefitting from the fruits of the Fishers of Men fundraiser, and expressed his gratitude to those who contribute to it.

“The financial support makes seminary life possible for me,” he said. “It helps the Diocese pay for my tuition. It helps the Diocese purchase books for me, send me to classes and pay for all the needs I have as a seminarian. I’m very grateful for it.”

“To those participating in Fishers of Men this year through the online fundraiser, I am beyond grateful for your support of us. It makes it possible for us to attend seminary and be formed into the men God wants us to be. Without your support, we wouldn’t be where we are today, and we wouldn’t become the men that God has willed us to be thus far. I thank you tremendously for your past support, and your support this year as well,” he said.

Deacon Damon Tritle, a seminarian in his final year of formation at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., expressed what it means to receive such generous financial and spiritual support from the faithful.

“[Seminarians] are in a unique situation where we are completely reliant on people’s support,” he said. “Since I came into the Church 17 years ago as a new convert, I’ve been building these relationships. In my pastoral assignments, I’ve gotten to know them. These are people who I know and serve and will continue to serve throughout my life. That grounding in actual, tangible relationships makes it special, knowing that they believe in what we’re doing as a local Church and what I’m doing in my ministry, and knowing that they care enough to put their dollar where their mouth is. It’s really humbling, knowing that we have the people’s love and support.”

“Because of their support, we are able to get an incredible, holistic, well-rounded education, not only in academics but also in human formation, in growing in our relationship with the Lord, in our pastoral formation. We are better equipped to serve the people of God because of their contributions,” said Deacon Tritle, a native of Corpus Christi Parish in Chambersburg who is serving at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Gettysburg.

Gratitude for Spiritual Support

Deacon Thomas Meinert, who is serving at St. Leo the Great Parish in Rohrerstown, said when the people of the Diocese say they’re praying for the men in formation, they mean it.

“When I meet people, no matter where it is – the Fishers of Men dinner, the parish assignment that I have – the amount of people who come up to me and greet me by name and let me know that they’re praying for me is humbling. I’m positive they pray for us daily because they tell me every chance they get,” he said.

Currently in his final year of formation at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, Deacon Meinert said he has appreciated getting to know the people of the Diocese “because it gives me a face to put with when I’m praying about coming back to the Diocese to serve as a priest, and these are people I’m going to be serving. The care and concern they have for their potential future priests is something that is blessed and grace-filled,” he said.

“I also want to thank the people who have so generously contributed to the Fishers of Men dinner in the past,” said Deacon Meinert, a native of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Hershey. “People really stepped up last year, and even though we couldn’t have the dinner in-person, just like we can’t this year, they knocked it out of the park and continued to give. We would love to ask you for your continued support of the Fishers of Men for this year and years to come.”

Fellow St. Charles seminarian Gregory Udzinski echoed the sentiments.

“Without the prayers of the faithful, I don’t know where I would be right now,” he remarked. “Ever since I began mentioning to people that I was applying to the Diocese to be a seminarian, people would say, ‘I’ll be praying for you,’ ‘You’re going to be on my daily Rosary list.’ …. It’s so terrific to see that support, and encouraging to know that people are praying for me, knowing I have that Divine help right next to me every day. I can feel the increase of graces from last year to this year, because it’s God taking that grace and giving it to me when I need it. I am most grateful for those praying for their priests and those who hope to be priests.”

“To those participating in Fishers of Men this year through the online fundraiser, I am beyond grateful for your support of us,” Udzinski added. “It makes it possible for us to attend seminary and be formed into the men God wants us to be. Without your support, we wouldn’t be where we are today, and we wouldn’t become the men that God has willed us to be thus far. I thank you tremendously for your past support, and your support this year as well.”

Visit www.hbgdiocese.org/vocations/fishers-of-men/ to support this year’s fundraiser and learn more about our seminarians.

(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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