We have begun the "Called by Name" program to promote vocations to the priesthood. Right now, we focus on priestly vocations because the need is so great, but a future program will seek to identify potential candidates for lay ministry, the diaconate and religious life, as well.

There are some who believe that to resolve this crisis would involve ordaining married men and ordaining women to the priesthood. That is not a decision to be made on a local level or a decision which is likely to be made soon, and we do need more priests right now.

Currently, in the 14-county Diocese of Albany, there are 128 parishes and 90 priests to serve them. In eight years, the way things are trending, there will be only 39 priests.

Right now, there are some Catholic parishes in America which can't even have Mass every Sunday because of the shortage of priests. We are back to the missionary days of America, when a priest might visit a farflung church once a month, and that is a tragedy.

The Eucharist is the center of the Catholic life. It is the one way Jesus said He wanted His memory kept alive. As the community of His followers, we come together on the day of Christ's resurrection, share our faith and tell stories about Jesus - and He comes to us as our food, giving us the strength to live the way He did.

To some people, priests seem mysterious. I read a story about a priest who was invited to a dinner party at the home of some parishioners. A little boy in the family kept staring at him. The priest asked the boy what he was staring at, and the boy pointed to the priest's neck.

The priest said, "Do you know why I'm wearing this collar?" The boy nodded and replied, "It kills fleas and ticks for up to three months."

So, people do not always understand priests - not just how they look, but how they spend their time and why they chose their life. A priest has a full schedule: administering sacraments, writing homilies, counseling. I also serve on boards, write a question-and-answer column for Catholic papers around the country and do media relations for the Diocese.

I do take the time to have fun, too - to play golf, go to basketball games, watch Notre Dame games and go out to dinner with family and friends. All of that is important and keeps me grounded.

I remember when I started thinking about priesthood. I was in 11th grade at Catholic Central High School in Troy. When I was little, I had wanted to be a fireman, then a baseball player; then, as I got into high school, a doctor or lawyer - some kind of work where I could help people.

It occurred to me one day, as a junior at Catholic High, that if I wanted to help people the most, I could try to help them get to heaven. I'm not a very sophisticated thinker, so it was as simple as that.

Despite some hard days since, I've never regretted that choice; so, it doesn't surprise me to learn that, in a number of national surveys - including one done only three years ago - priests report one of the highest rates of job satisfaction of any profession.

On Thursday night, I finished a parish council meeting about 8:30, and I had a message that a woman in her 90s was close to death. I had been there a few days before, prayed with her and given her absolution and the sacrament of the sick. But I figured that the family must be gathering and another visit might offer them a measure of comfort.

I went back there, and all of us stood around the woman's bed and said an "Our Father" and a "Hail Mary" and I blessed the woman once more. I came home and thanked God that I am a priest. The woman died later that night.

I'm in my 70s now and a lot of us are, so we really do need more priests. What can you do to help? If you know someone you think would make a good priest, encourage him. A study this year out of Georgetown University found that three percent of never-married Catholic men have seriously considered a religious vocation. That's 350,000 men in America; if only 10 percent of them entered the seminary, the problem would be solved.

The study also found that respondents who had at least three people encourage them to be priests were five times more likely to consider a vocation than someone whom no one encouraged.

In your pews are white cards; they ask you to consider whether there are any men you know who might possess the qualities to be good priests. Write the name of that person on the card and drop it in the collection basket. The people whose names are suggested will be invited to an evening of recollection with Bishop Hubbard in January.

I hope that you will take the time to think about this and pray about it. It's no exaggeration to say that the future of the Catholic faith in the Diocese depends, to a great extent, on your help.

(Father Doyle is pastor of Mater Christi parish in Albany and diocesan chancellor for public information.)