10/25/2012 10:54:00 AM NEW PROGRAM See a potential priest?
Try calling him by name
THE THREE MOST RECENT candidates for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese — Joe Catalano, Steve Matthews and Pat Rice, pictured above — are in their 50s. Mr. Catalano is a former accountant; Mr. Matthews worked for the Visa credit card company; Mr. Rice was a salesman in the tire industry. Two of the men are now studying at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass.; the third is serving at St. Peter’s parish in Saratoga Springs. Priests of the Albany Diocese have to be ordained by age 60; the current candidates have previous education and will go through expedited studies. Father Walsh said the attraction to the priesthood for second-career men is the same for younger ones: “I just think it’s that search for peace and joy.”
Do you know someone who'd make a good priest? The Albany diocesan Vocations Office hopes you'll make your recommendation known.
In response to a projected much smaller number of priests in the Diocese in less than a decade, the Vocations Office is re-launching "Called by Name," a program that asks Catholics to identify single men between the ages of 16 and 55 in their communities who have the spiritual and leadership gifts to be good priests.
Parish leaders and priests will introduce the program on Priesthood Sunday, Oct. 28; two weekends in November will feature themed homilies and talks by laypeople on how priests influence their lives.
"It's the laity telling us who they want as the leaders of the future," said Rev. James Walsh, Vocations Team director. "Ultimately, they're the ones we serve."
Catholics will be encouraged to pray about the ideal qualities of a priest and submit nominations to parish offices by the end of November. Bishop Howard J. Hubbard will follow up by inviting the recommended men to a retreat and further discernment activities.
A similar initiative in the 1990s, brought on by glimpses of the declining priesthood, produced four priests currently serving at parishes in the Diocese.
The problem is much bigger today: The current roster of about 90 active diocesan parish priests is expected to drop to 39 by 2020.
Father Walsh and his team maintain a presence at youth events and Catholic schools around the Diocese, and host retreats and events for men in discernment. But when it became clear that younger generations of Catholics need personal invitations, he decided to take a more proactive approach.
What priests do
The Bishop, the diocesan pastoral council, the presbyteral (priests') council and the deans (priest-leaders of different areas of the Diocese) agreed to the program. A team organized packets filled with resources to answer a variety of questions potential priests and their families might have.
One such list details the daily activities of a priest, from counseling to sacrament celebration to "domestic tasks.
"Priests do this just like everyone else: cooking, laundry, grocery shopping, housecleaning," the list explains.
Father Walsh told The Evangelist that "the vast majority of people don't have a feel for what we do when we're not saying Mass on Sundays."
One page in the resource packet instructs parents on how to let go of desires to have grandchildren - that letting God use their sons is a way to show gratitude for His gift to them - and how to overcome the misconception that their sons might be lonely as priests.
Other materials outline the array of ministries in which a priest can be placed; signs of a calling to the priesthood; and questions about celibacy, sacrifice, money and worthiness.
A survey released earlier this month by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) found that a "general lack of interest" was the biggest obstacle to considering the priesthood. Celibacy, not feeling called, having other life goals and doubts about the faith followed. Only one percent of men and women surveyed cited the clergy sexual abuse crisis as a reason not to seek a vocation.
The study found that three percent of never-married Catholic men have seriously considered a religious vocation. Pre-Vatican II Catholics (those born before 1943) were the most likely to have considered a vocation; Post-Vatican II Catholics (those born between 1961 and 1981) were the least likely.
There's been a slight uptick in discernment among millennial Catholics (those born after 1982). Participation in parish youth groups, attendance at Catholic schools, faith-filled families and encouragement from others made men more likely to consider the priesthood.
Be not afraid
In his own experience, Father Walsh has found that fear is the biggest killer of vocations. Ignoring a calling doesn't help, he noted.
"We are so busy, we don't have time to think about what our vocation is," he said. "We run after the small things. I think we're greatly influenced by society's opinion on what we should be doing with our life.
"True joy will come when you find what you're made to do," he continued. Potential priests "feel there's something more to life than they're experiencing right now."
It takes courage, Father Walsh added, to "step up and look at this thing, because you may very well lose some friends." But that's better, he added, than spending "the rest of your life wondering and looking over your shoulder."
He makes sure to tell boys and men that the seminary is not a commitment to the priesthood, but a "six-year dating period." Most men know whether or not it's for them after two years, and the time spent discerning can foster other career or vocational decisions.
Called by Name materials highlight several qualities of a potential priest, including above-average intelligence and good physical, mental and emotional health; a love for the poor; a willingness to sacrifice personal or material gain; and a desire to serve others.
Father Walsh usually boils it down to two other simple criteria: "Do you want this person to preach to your children," and, "Is this someone you'd want holding your mother's hand while she's dying?"