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Cori Fugere Urban

Cori Fugere Urban

Cori Urban is a longtime writer for the communications efforts of the Diocese of Burlington and former editor of The Vermont Catholic Tribune.

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'Extern' priests serving in Vermont

There was a time when the Diocese of Burlington sent priests to serve in missions in the developing world with groups including Maryknoll and The Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle.
 
But as the clergy shortage became more acute in Vermont, parishes here began to welcome more and more priests who were born outside the United States; in effect roles were reversed and Vermont became “mission territory.”
 
Of the 74 priests in full-time ministry in Vermont, there are currently 22 “extern” priests serving here with permission of their home bishop or religious order.
 
The extern priests serve at 41 churches and the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.
 
“Without their assistance, we would not be able to provide pastoral coverage to a large number of churches,” said Msgr. John McDermott, vicar general for the Diocese of Burlington. “Their presence is essential at this time in the life of the Diocese.”
 
Father Romanus Igweonu was ordained for the Diocese of Abakaliki in his native Nigeria and served there as a parochial vicar, pastor, teacher, principal and chaplain before coming to the United States to study in 2004, earning advanced degrees in education. An educational specialist, he worked in special education in Pittsburg before then-Burlington Bishop Salvatore R. Matano invited him to serve in the Diocese of Burlington.
 
Though he also looked into educational positions, Father Igweonu chose to come to Vermont “because my first vocation is as a priest; I have to pay homage to the Church.” Education, he said, is his “second career.”
 
He arrived in Vermont in 2006 and served churches in Fairfax, Milton, Ludlow and Proctorsville before his current assignment as administrator of St. Bridget and St. Stanislaus Kostka churches in West Rutland and St. Dominic in Proctor. 
 
“When I came to Burlington, I met life. I met love. I met brotherliness and unity and acceptance,” he said. “I came as a missionary to Vermont, but I feel one with the presbyterate of Vermont,” which makes him feel more of a diocesan priest than a missionary. “As imperfect as I am, they treat me as a brother.”
 
The growing numbers of African-born clergy and religious ministering in the United States are at the vanguard of an important moment in both the U.S. and worldwide Catholic Church, said Jesuit Father Allan Deck, a teacher of theology and Latino studies at Loyola Maryknoll University in Los Angeles.
 
"The Church is growing in Asia, in Latin America and most especially in Africa," he said. "So at this moment in time and as we move into the future, the life of the universal Church, the leadership of the universal Church -- and all the hard work that we need to do to evangelize -- more and more has to be assumed by up-and-coming groups, and one of those groups is the Catholic faithful of the various countries of Africa.”
 
Father Deck served from 2008 to 2012 as the first executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.
 
The priest called the influx of foreign-born ministers "a globalized priesthood, a globalized religious."
 
Father Maria Lazar, pastor of St. Charles Parish in Bellows Falls, was ordained a priest of the Heralds of Good News order. In his native India he was a parochial vicar, pastor and Catholic school administrator.
 
“One fine morning my superior [in the religious order] called me and said to prepare to go to Vermont,” he recalled. “Vermont was not on the map according to me back then,” he added with a smile.
 
But he arrived in Vermont in 2009 with another member of his order. “I didn’t know anything of Vermont,” he said. “I had no idea about the climate, the culture or the people.”
 
And though he thought he could speak English, he realized he did not speak it fluently. In fact, at first “it was not distinguishable,” he said.
 
Acclimating to a new place can be a challenge for a missionary priest, but Father Lazar did not balk; the object of his order is to train and supply priests where they are needed. “I’m a minister to the people. I cannot be hiding in a room,” he said, noting that in seminary he was told he could be sent “anywhere” so he would have to “bloom where you are planted.”
 
He has served churches in St. Albans, Barre and Rutland.
 
Asked if there is a priest shortage in his home diocese, Father Igweonu said, “yes and no.” Many parishes still need pastors because of an expansion program, so though there are many young men going to the seminary, “there are not enough priests because of the expansion,” he said. “No amount of priests is enough because the Church is growing in Africa.”
 
His plans to stay depend on the wishes of his home bishop and the bishop of Burlington. “I see my life as a priest anywhere I’m called to serve,” he said.
 
Father Lazar is committed to the Diocese of Burlington for 10 years, and when that is complete, he would like to go home to India, but he will, in obedience, go where he is needed. “I said ‘yes’ to God when I entered the seminary and when I was ordained. I should continue to [say ‘yes’] until my last breath.”
 
Father Julian Asucan, pastor of St. Augustine Church in Montpelier at North American Martyrs Church in Marshfield, was ordained in 2000 for the Diocese of Talibon in the Philippines where he assisted the bishop and was a parochial vicar and pastor before coming to Vermont in 2008 after learning the Diocese of Burlington needed priests.
 
“I wanted the experience of knowing what was beyond the borders of my country and to know the universal Church,” he said. “What we do there is the same thing we do here – celebrate the sacraments.”
 
He has served parishes in Bradford, Hardwick, Fairfax, Milton and Colchester.
 
He never thought of the United States as “mission territory,” but he understands the need now because of fewer American-born priests.
 
“For the Church to continue to exist, you have to have your own priests in the Diocese,” he said. “What if other Dioceses [and religious orders] did not send their priests?”
 
Father Lazar hopes that he will inspire young Vermont men to heed the call to priesthood. “Mission priests cannot stay here forever,” he said. “Mission priests are coming and serving and then they go to different places. Promoting local vocations is the only solution [to the clergy shortage], something every [Catholic] should work on.”
 
--Catholic News Service contributed to this story.
 
--Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Fostering a 'Culture of Vocations'

There is no doubt of the importance of the priesthood, consecrated religious life and sacramental marriage in the Church, but to foster and build these vocations, there must be a culture of vocations in each parish.
 
That was the message Rhonda Gruenewald, author of “Hundredfold: A Guide to Parish Vocation Ministry,” brought to a daylong workshop on the topic at St. Anthony Church in White River Junction Nov. 4.
 
The aim of her book — and of her presentations — is to inspire laypersons beginning or reviving a vocation ministry or committee and provide tested activities to bring about a culture of vocations in their parish.
 
Each of the 40 participants in the workshop at St. Anthony’s received a copy of the book, which gives background and ideas for a vocations ministry like a family Holy Hour for vocations, Eucharistic adoration for vocations, an altar server lunch with priests, a fish fry for vocations, seminarian trading cards, recognition of married couples at Mass and panel discussions.
 
“We are trying to create an environment where young people can hear and answer God’s call” to priesthood, consecrated religious life or sacramental marriage, Gruenewald said in her presentation entitled “Forming a Vocation-Friendly Parish.”
 
With some 3,500 parishes in the United States without a resident pastor, the number of religious sisters diminishing in many orders and many young people not considering marriage in the Church an option, this is a “clarion call to do something,” Gruenewald emphasized.
 
Though there is an uptick in the number of seminarians in some dioceses and some religious orders are receiving more new members, “we need an entity in every parish to pray and promote vocations,” she said. “We know God is calling. We have a listening problem.”
 
Members of vocations ministries must “till the soil” by making parishioners and visitors aware of vocation options and comfortable discerning God’s call for them, she continued.
 
Some suggestions: place a poster of seminarians in a prominent place in the church, include prayers for an increase in vocations in the Prayers of the Faithful at each Mass and make vocation-related materials available in parish book racks.
 
And to reach young people, it is important to reach families. “We need to equip families to talk about vocations,” Gruenewald said. “We need to get to work in age-appropriate ways when families are bringing their children to the parish.”
 
In addition to the ideas presented in her book, she provides a plethora of information on vocations ministry at vocationsministry.com.
 
Rita Baglini of Our Lady of the Snows Church in Waitsfield attended the workshop. “We have to promote vocations,” she said. “This is our faith.”
 
Even in a church like hers where many worshippers are vacationers, a culture of vocations is important so visitors can be inspired to listen to God’s call.
 
Fostering this culture of vocations can be a challenge especially in aging parishes, in the least religious state and in communities where many young people leave to find opportunities, she said.
 
But all parishes — regardless of the number of young parishioners — can be involved in vocations ministry at least with a prayer component. “Do something!” Gruenewald said, saying youth are attracted to the truth, to authentic witness for Christ and to the example of it being lived boldly.
 
Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne thanked participants for their interest in vocations ministry and said he hoped the workshop would “bear [the] fruit” of vocations in their parishes.
 
Father Jon Schnobrich, full-time vocations director for the Diocese of Burlington, offered workshop participants an overview of vocation work in the Diocese including the Totus Tuus summer programs that cultivate a culture of vocations directly and indirectly, his visits to parishes throughout the state to preach about vocations, his visits to Catholic schools, Masses at eldercare homes at which he encourages residents to pray for vocations and summer seminarian assignments in parishes where they are “joyful witnesses” to young parishioners.
 
Children can be inspired to a vocation at any age, Gruenewald said. “We don’t know what we’re going to do to affect vocations in God’s time. We just have to keep tilling the soil.”
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Vietnamese seminary candidates

Three candidates for the seminary for the Diocese of Burlington from Vietnam arrived in Vermont in May and spent the summer studying English at Boston University –- where they will study for two more semesters -– as they prepare for seminary studies, ordination and service to the Catholic community of Vermont.
 
Giang Nu, 24, Thang Nguyen, 24, and Luan Tran, 31, answered what they consider to be God’s call to become missionary priests in Vermont.
 
“I was in the seminary in Vietnam and wanted to become a missionary. I prayed very much,” Nu said.
 
The three men made their way to Vermont with the help of a Boston Vietnamese Jesuit priest, Father Bao Nguyen, who works to raise funds for Vietnamese religious sisters, seminarians and priests to be trained in the United States.
 
Funds for their living expenses and education also come from the Vocations Office of the Diocese of Burlington and endowments.
 
There is a great need for evangelization, outreach and engagement of the culture to share the joy of the Gospel, said Father Jon Schnobrich, vocations director for the Diocese. “These men bring that witness of faith. They are following God’s will for their life.”
 
The presence of the men from Vietnam “helps us realize there is a universal dimension of the Church,” he continued. “We have a family of faith in all parts of the world.”
 
Nguyen was in the seminary in Vietnam when he felt a calling from God pushing him to go to the United States “to do His will,” he said.
 
Tran, also a seminarian in Vietnam, said his bishop asked him to consider becoming a missionary priest. “I’m very happy because I decided to come,” the former lawyer said. “We will do our best.”
 
The men agree that it was God who brought them here, and all are happy to be here. They stay with host families when not in school and said people have been friendly and welcoming.
 
Nu, a seminarian in Vietnam, said with a laugh that he wants to see snow in Vermont.
 
Though they miss family and friends and have found it challenging to learn English, they don’t worry. “Here we have help from the bishop [Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne], Father Jon and many people,” Tran said. “And God is helping us.”
 
When Jesus called His disciples, He said, “Come, follow me.” To that, Tran added that God called the three men from Vietnam to “follow me to Vermont.”
 
While studying at Boston University, they live at St. John Seminary in Brighton.
 
Considering his call to be a missionary priest, Tran described it as being born in one place and going to another to tell people about God. “The most important thing is you want to bring happiness to everyone. You want to make others happy. My father told me if you want to bring happiness to others, you have to be happy.”
 
To bring happiness to others, he said, priests celebrate the Mass, pray and listen, and that is what he intends to do.
 
For Nu, being a missionary priest also includes helping people – especially the poor – and being charitable.
 
“Being a priest is being a servant,” Nguyen said. “God is in the midst of everyone. I will serve God and everyone.”
 
Father Schnobrich said it is anticipated that the three men will enter the seminary in the fall of 2018 and be ordained in 2023 and incardinated for service in the Diocese of Burlington.
 
They have met members of the Vietnamese community in Vermont, now served by a priest from Montreal.
 
The addition of these men to the ranks of the diocesan priesthood is especially welcome at a time when the Diocese is facing a shortage of clergy and entering a synod to plan for the future.
 
Their arrival – with the assistance of Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy during the immigration process – “is incredibly hopeful for us,” Father Schnobrich said. “It’s exciting. … We feel incredibly blessed.”
 
He said he is inspired by the men’s faith and courage and praised their host families for giving them the sense that this is now their home.
 
“Sometimes my mother and father call me and are sad” because they miss him, Nu said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t worry. The Lord wants me to be here.’”
 
-- Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Photo book about Fatima anniversary

As a way to keep alive the memory of the Vermont celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, the Burlington Diocesan Division of the World Apostolate of Fatima (Blue Army) has produced a commemorative book with photographs of events throughout the statewide Diocese.
 
It is dedicated to the late Roland and Clairette Berard, longtime active members.
 
“If this book were not done, this tour would fade into the distant past and be gone very quickly,” commented Richard A. Gravelin of St. John Vianney Parish in South Burlington, former interim secretary and current president. “Having this little book as a remembrance will help keep this work alive a little longer.”
 
To celebrate the centennial, the Burlington World Apostolate of Fatima spread the message of peace, reconciliation and reparation throughout the state with a series of  events focusing on Our Lady.
 
The state statue of Our Lady of Fatima was brought to more than a half dozen parishes beginning in May at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Wilmington and concluding in October at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington.
 
“We believe that Our Lady is with us in helping her to spread the message for peace, and that God will grant the grace of conversion to sinners,” Gravelin said.
 
He is gathering photos people took on the tour as well as critical documents from the planning and implementation. He hopes to have 60 books published through an on-line publisher.
 
The book includes copy and about 60 or 70 color photos including photos of churches, windows, Marian processions with people, celebrants and priests.
 
For more information about the book, call is 802-862-2240. A PDF version can be downloaded from the attachment below.
 
  • Published in Nation
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