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Priests pedaling for prayers

After riding bicycles a little more than 340 miles over five days, three young priests of the Diocese of Peoria sailed across the Indiana state line April 28, bringing Priests Pedaling for Prayers to a close.

“It does seem a little surreal,” Father Tom Otto said at journey’s end. “Things like this seem insurmountable when you begin, but maybe like life, you focus on the short-term goals. … That makes it doable. Take one little bit at a time and before you know it, you’ve done something pretty incredible.”

The effort to raise prayers for vocations began April 24 when Father Otto, Father Michael Pica and Father Adam Cesarek dipped their rear tires in the Mississippi River, which marks the border between Iowa and Illinois. They were sent forth with the blessing of students at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy in East Moline, who lined both sides of the street outside the school to cheer them on.

Along the way, they stopped to talk with students and parishioners at 15 schools and churches about the need for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, as well as good, holy marriages “from which all vocations come.”

They also celebrated Mass, took part in Holy Hours for vocations, stopped to pray at the Bishops’ Mausoleum in St. Mary’s Cemetery in West Peoria, and visited with people at potluck gatherings, dinners and receptions arranged by the vocation apostolates or Knights of Columbus councils in each area.

At most stops, they received pledge cards from children and adults with promises of prayer, sacrifice and good deeds to support them on the ride and ask God for an increase in vocations.

“What’s been really neat to see is the goodness of the people of our diocese. That’s been, for me, absolutely the most powerful part,” said Father Cesarek, who is parochial vicar at four faith communities in central Illinois.

“The overwhelming support we had from each and every place we went, the joy that each place had and the excitement that they maintained … really invigorated me and gave me an incredible hope for our diocese,” he said.

He said the trio were inspired by the good, holy people they encountered, including the priests of the Diocese of Peoria, many of whom were on hand for their visits and offered them hospitality for the night.

“There were things that surprised us along the way,” said Father Otto, parochial vicar at two parishes and a chaplain for students at Monmouth College. “The fact that every school and every parish did something different for us was a nice surprise.”

The pedaling priests found a drumline waiting for them at Costa Catholic Academy in Galesburg, a parade with students from St. Mary School in Pontiac and St. Paul School in Odell walking or biking with them, and signs, streamers and tunnels of enthusiastic students at others. When they arrived at Schlarman Academy in Danville, near the Indiana border, students were holding a large “Finish Line” banner they had signed.

Father Pica, parochial vicar at three parishes in McLean and DeWitt counties, credits the welcome at the schools with “pumping us up and getting us ready to go, giving us momentum to do the ride.”

That was especially important on April 26, when the priests did their “century” ride — 100 miles in one day. In all, they were on the road for 20 hours and 45 minutes, averaging about 17 miles an hour.

Each priest had a tough day, but it wasn’t the same day so they were able to support and encourage whoever was struggling. They prayed the rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet and caught up with each other when the wind was at their backs and they were able to ride side by side.

“There’s moments of quiet, which is all right, too,” Father Cesarek said. “There are moments of suffering out there. I was kind of keeping in mind particular people, some of the kids in our school who are suffering with cancer, offering that suffering for them.”

They emphasized that they aren’t the only priests willing to suffer and go the extra mile for their people.

“There are so many priests out there who will do anything and everything and they don’t get recognition for it,” Father Pica said. In fact, these men prefer to remain behind the scenes.

Would they do it again?

“Ask us in a couple months,” Father Otto said, laughing.

“Without question,” Father Cesarek said, “we would all be open to it again, if the Lord wills it.”
  • Published in Nation

Father Yvon Royer's call to priesthood

Father Yvon Royer’s ministry as a priest was shaped by his experience growing up on a farm as part of a large family.
 
“Farming has taught me a lot of lessons that I have carried into my ministry,” said the pastor of St. Peter Church in Vergennes and St. Ambrose Church in Bristol. These include the value of working hard and the importance of taking care of what one is responsible for: people and property.
 
Farming helped him to be practical in his approach to all situations and to be able to see that like the land needed to be cared for -- tilled, stones removed and given proper nutrition –- people’s relationship with God needs attention.
 
Father Royer, 54, has been influenced by the image of the Good Shepherd and by exposure at an early age to the reality of tragedy.
 
The son of Andrew and Bertha Royer, he was born in Newport in 1963, the second of five children. His mother died suddenly at the age of 55 in 1993; his father remarried and lives in Derby with his wife, Annette.
 
In 1975, when young Yvon was in the seventh grade, his father became seriously ill and was not able to work for more than a year. Then a cow broke some of his ribs, and he lost an eye through a farming accident. “Each incident left my father unable to work for a period of time, and we [Father Royer and his two brothers] just took over” the farm operations, Father Royer said.
 
He first lived on a farm in Holland and then on one in Newport Center.
 
“My parents believed that if we were old enough to go to school then we were old enough to do chores,” he said. “Thus starting in first grade my brother and I, (we are what is known as ‘Irish twins’ because we were both born in the same year) were responsible for cleaning and feeding the heifers for both morning and afternoon chores.”
 
By the time they were 10 they were responsible for milking the cows and rose at 5 a.m. They did chores until it was time to get ready for school; after school they went to the barn until about 7 p.m. to do the evening chores. “I never really minded doing chores except on Sunday evenings when I would have rather been watching football,” he said.
 
During the haying season his two brothers and he worked in the fields during the day and then decided who was going to continue to work in the fields and who would take care of the chores. “I did most of the baling. Back then we would end up with around 20,000 small square bails that we would put on an elevator into our hay barn above the livestock which consisted of 70 milking cows and 50 heifers,” he said.
 
Father Royer attended Newport Center Elementary School until seventh grade when he discerned that he might be called to the priesthood. He transferred to Sacred Heart Elementary School in Newport and graduated from Sacred Heart High School; both schools are now closed.
 
He graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester with bachelor’s degree in religious studies and a minor in philosophy.
 
Upon graduation he entered St. Paul’s Seminary in Ottawa and earned a diploma in pastoral counseling; he was ordained a priest in 1990.
 
The Royer family farm was called “The A&B Farm & Sons,” the initials of his parents. The farm was sold in 1996, three years after his mother died. “Before we sold the farm, we sold the rights of the land to Vermont Land trust which would help ensure that the land could remain as farmland and not be developed. It has sold again, and it is still a working farm,” Father Royer said.
 
Two of his brothers own their own farms nearby.
 
Attending Mass at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Newport was always a priority for Mr. and Mrs. Royer. “If we were not able to get to the early Mass on Sunday then we knew that we would be going to the later Mass,” Father Royer said.
 
Two experiences led him to become aware of the importance of his relationship with God. The first was when he broke his leg during a ski outing in the fifth grade. “In the six weeks that I was not able to do chores, our religious education class was working on what prayer was,” he said. “As crazy as it sounds, I am forever grateful that I did break my leg because it allowed me the time to foster my relationship with God through my prayer life. That relationship has never wavered.”
 
The second experience was his father’s illness in 1975. “Because I felt comfortable with God, I told Him that if He healed my father I would become a priest. He is still living, and I am a priest. I really wonder what God was thinking as He listened to my offer.”
 
His parents, the family’s practice of the Catholic faith and their connection to St. Mary Star of the Sea Church all influenced his vocation. And now, as a priest, his greatest joy is found in the many opportunities that he has to share the joy of God’s love in his many one-on-one interactions and via the classes he teaches as a parish priest.
 
“The greatest challenge is to help our parishioners recognize that despite our hectic lives a connection to one’s parish family is needed,” Father Royer said. “We need to know that we are truly part of a bigger plan, a plan that is part of God’s mission for us. Being part of a faith community helps us keep this as a focus. We have a responsibility not just to ourselves but to all that God has created.”
 
He currently serves as dean of Addison County, a member of the Presbyteral Council and a member of the College of Consultors. He is the chaplain for the Daughters of Isabella and the chairperson of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. He has served churches in Rutland, Chittenden, Burlington, Derby Line, West Charleston and Newport and was assistant chaplain at the Catholic Center at the University of Vermont.
 
Asked for his advice for a young person considering a call from God to religious life or priesthood, Father Royer responded: “A lifetime of happiness will only be found when we say ‘yes’ to God’s plan for us. Do not let fear stop us from saying ‘yes’ to God’s call. Who is it that we should desire to please more, God or society? I would also say that as a priest we receive many blessings and honors because of our priesthood, but our desire to answer God’s call should always be focused on the desire to be of service. May we learn to follow Jesus’ example of how we are to love, serve and forgive as Jesus has done for us.”
 
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Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 
 

Q&A: celibacy, chastity, promises, vows

Three weeks of testimony from Australia's Royal Commission of Inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse have included many discussions about whether celibacy might be a factor in clergy sexual abuse. Catholic News Service asked Father Michael Fuller, executive director of the Secretariat of Doctrine and Canonical Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to explain the difference between celibacy and chastisty, a promise and a vow.

1. What is celibacy? Do priests take a vow of celibacy?

Simply put, celibacy is a promise not to marry and is based on the passage from St. Matthew's Gospel where Jesus says, some "have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." In the Latin rite, candidates for the priesthood, when they become deacons, make a promise of celibacy along with other promises, such as the promise to hold true to the mystery of faith, to maintain and deepen the spirit of prayer, and to conform their lives to the example of Christ. All of these promises are for the sake of the kingdom and for the service of the people of God. The promise of celibacy, of not to marry, is seen by the church as not only a gift of the person to God, but even more so, a special grace given to the priest that will allow him to faithfully serve the people.

2. Is there such a thing as mandatory celibacy as opposed to voluntary celibacy?

The promise of celibacy is one that a person freely resolves to follow. Some people argue that it is mandatory, but that word is not used by the church and conveys a certain negative attitude toward the gift of celibacy. It is true that celibacy, along with all the other promises a priest makes, are obligatory -- meaning that they are part of what it means to be a priest in the Latin rite. What always must be remembered, however, is that no one is forced into becoming a priest; it is a decision that is -- and must -- be made freely and without any coercion. It is also a decision that can only be made after years of discernment and study, and part of that study and discernment includes understanding what a life of celibacy entails. After such discernment, the promises of celibacy, prayer, imitation of Christ, and obedience are freely made at ordination.

3. Why do some people suggest that not being married might be a cause for child sexual abuse?

This is a difficult one, and must first be answered by the fact that studies conclude that there is no link between celibacy and child sexual abuse. For thousands of years, and in many different religious traditions, celibacy has been practiced and has not been a cause for child sexual abuse. In our times, people have a great difficulty in thinking anyone could live a life of celibacy (even with the countless number of people who do) and so they think that there must be a link between the two. Our culture today is oversexualized, which has led us to think that sexual relationships are something unreasonable or unnatural to forgo, and so when there is a crisis such as child sexual abuse, people believe there is a link, when of course, there is not one. Sadly, child sexual abuse is all too common, and involves abusers from all walks of life and it is something that should never happen. One good that has come out of this crisis is the growing awareness of this terrible abuse, which is leading to better means of prevention.

4. What is chastity and how does it differ from celibacy?

Chastity is a virtue that everyone is called to live by; it is the state of being chaste. Chaste comes from an old Latin word which means being pure from any unlawful sexual relationships. In other words, chastity is the virtue of living out your sexual life in the proper way, which is, if you are married, to be sexually intimate only with your spouse and, if you are unmarried, to refrain from sexual intimacy with anyone, for the proper place for sexual relationships is within a marriage. Therefore, chastity is a virtue that should be lived out by everyone, according to their state of life. The person who chooses celibacy promises to remain unmarried for the rest of his life. In this case, to practice the virtue of chastity means he will refrain from all sexual relationships.

5. Are only priests called to be chaste, or is that expected of everyone? Do people make vows of chastity?

Everyone is called to chastity, as defined by their state of life. Men and women who enter the religious life do make a vow of chastity. The vow of chastity is one of the three evangelical counsels that a person entering the religious life vows to follow. The three counsels are obedience, chastity and poverty. Each religious community -- such as Franciscans, or Dominicans, or Benedictines -- will have different ways of expressing these, but they are the common denominator of religious life. The vow of chastity that a religious professes is to live in a state of integrity regarding sexuality, which, in this case, means to forgo sexual relationships. In practice, it looks just the same as celibacy, but is not called celibacy because of the difference between a vow and a promise. 

6. What is the difference between a vow and a promise?

These two often get confused, and people often think that a vow is more serious than a promise. That is not true; they are both equally strong and serious. A vow is a personal act of devotion in which you promise to live a certain way in order to grow in charity as a disciple. A vow then, is directed toward your personal salvation. A promise is directed differently, in that the focus is on others. A promise, then, is also an act of devotion, but one that is directed to growing in charity by serving God in a specific way that involves a focus on his church, his people. In the sacraments we make promises, because they always involve the community of faith, whereas a vow is more personally focused.

A vow is a promise a person makes to God. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "A vow is an act of devotion in which the Christian dedicates himself to God or promises him some good work" (CCC 2102). So, a man or a woman entering the religious life, out of devotion to God, promises to live a life of chastity, obedience and poverty. It is something where he or she says, I am doing this out of love for God and for the salvation of my soul. 

Priests and deacons, however, do not take vows, but they do make promises, which are equally binding. A promise is made for the sake of the kingdom and for the church. In the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, holy orders and marriage, promises are made (and therefore, it is not technically correct to say marriage vows). In a promise, you are saying, "I will do this out of love for God and for the sake of others." In marriage, you promise to be true to your spouse, out of love for your spouse and being the "domestic church." In baptism, you promise to be live as a disciple of Christ, rejecting Satan and all his works, and to serve God faithfully in his holy, catholic church. In the promise of celibacy, you promise to remain unmarried for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and at the service of God's people.
  • Published in World

Father Luke Austin's call to priesthood

“I was interested in some form of government service, but as God methodically drew me to my vocation, He was calling me to another form of service and another way to love,” said Father Luke Austin.
 
The pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary-St. Louis Parish in Swanton and Highgate Center said it was a challenge ending an approximate 2-year relationship, but he did not miss the law when he decided to enter the seminary. “There was, at the same time, a growing feeling of freedom to make such a decision.”
 
Asked to share his vocation story with Vermont Catholic readers, Father Austin offered his thoughts not only on his own vocation but ways to encourage men toward the priestly life.
 
His parents, Pauline and the late Dr. David Austin Sr., were raised in Vermont and attended Catholic schools; they met in Burlington.
 
When Father Austin was in kindergarten, he would “play priest,” and his grandmother’s housekeeper sewed him some “vestments.”
 
“But the funny thing is that I never considered it as something I would be when I grew up,” he said.
 
He attended Christ the King School and Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland, graduating in 1994; he treasures his Catholic school experience. He graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1998, majoring in government and obtained a law degree from George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., in 2002.
 
It wasn’t until the end of law school that he first considered the priesthood as a real possibility. “The [clergy sex abuse] scandals had broken in Boston, and I was thinking about all the good priests and nuns who had a cloud of suspicion because of all the uncertainty,” he said.
 
He spoke with his university chaplain, who then became the vocations director for the Archdiocese of Washington, and he encouraged the young man to stay in touch as he entered to workforce.
 
Before entering the seminary, Father Austin worked as a legislative correspondent for the Senate Judiciary Committee and had various summer clerkships in at prosecutor’s offices in the Washington area. He worked as an attorney on contract basis for the Department of the Interior.
 
The Washington vocation director encouraged him to become more involved in his parish, attend vocations events and see a spiritual director. “After peppering my spiritual director was all sorts of questions and running out of them, he said to me: ‘so what are you waiting for?’ At that point, I knew I had to speak to someone back in Vermont, just to make sure God wasn’t calling me there,” Father Austin continued. “But after speaking with a number of Vermont priests, I felt the sense of community and greater need in Vermont, and through that, my call to diocesan priesthood here. I am grateful God called me back home!”
 
He had no one role model, but talking to a number of priests played a role in his discernment to first enter seminary. He contends “the call” is best described as “living out God’s specific grace given to us at baptism, lived out in a certain time and place.”
 
After attending Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., he attended North American College in Rome and studied canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
 
Ordained in 2010, Father Austin has served churches in Manchester Center, Arlington, St. Johnsbury, Lyndonville and Danville.
 
Father Austin, who enjoys reading and skiing, is now judicial vicar for the Diocese of Burlington.
 
He advises men considering the priesthood to speak to their parish priest. “You need to talk to someone about it, because chances are, the questions you have are the same that your parish priest had,” he said.
 
He tries to encourage vocations to all callings, not just priesthood. “I ask my confirmation students if they have asked God what His plan is for their lives,” he said.
 
He also planned a Chalice Prayer Program in which each week a family takes a chalice home as a centerpiece for daily prayer for different vocations.
 
“As much as government service or a wife and children would be a beautiful thing, I know my family is the Church,” Father Austin said.
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Brothers who are now priests say strong family life key to all vocations

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- He had planned this moment for months, had thought about it for years. What would he say in this profound moment in his life and the life of his brother that both would remember for the rest of their lives?

Yet when Father John Hollowell came to his younger brother, Father Anthony Hollowell, to give him a sign of peace minutes after he was ordained a priest, all of his planning disappeared and he said words that he never considered: "I love you."

This moment, which Father John described as "a blessing of the Spirit," happened June 25 in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis when Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin ordained six men as priests for service to the church in central and southern Indiana.

When Father Anthony Hollowell became a priest that day, he filled out three sets of brothers who have been ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis since 2009.

All priests share a common brotherhood in their deep bond of ordained life and ministry. Fathers Anthony and John Hollowell, David and Doug Marcotte, and Andrew and Benjamin Syberg experience it at an even deeper level as brothers. And they hope their witness will deepen the faith of archdiocesan Catholics, and encourage them to make their families the seed bed of future vocations.

But while they recognize the importance that growing up in faith-filled families had on their future as priests, the priests acknowledged that growing up together came with more than its fair share of scuffles.

"Love fight," said Father Anthony while reflecting on the times when he and three of his brothers would wrestle their oldest brother John.

"In our family life growing up, we fought a lot," Father Anthony told The Criterion, the archdiocesan newspaper. "But, in my mind, it was never outside of the context of our love for each other. You could stretch it at times. But, even in our worst fights … there was always a deep love there."

Fathers Doug and David were the only children in their family, and were born less than two years apart.

"Just being the two of us, we played together quite a bit," said Father Doug, pastor of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Augustine parishes, both in Jeffersonville. "But being brothers, at times it ended up with a dispute and a fight."

Brothers also can be "partners in crime" in both their youth and adulthood, as Fathers Andrew and Benjamin found out when they were classmates for a period while in priestly formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

"We got into a little trouble," Father Benjamin said with a laugh. "We'd have too much fun sometimes. There'd be some slapping and giggling with us sitting in the back of class from time to time. We got along so well."

In the midst of all the fun times and fights they'd have as children, the brothers also had the faith planted in them by loving parents who then nurtured those seeds with love, but also in other ordinary ways.

One was an uncompromising dedication to attending Mass on Sunday.

"We were at Mass every single Sunday, unless you were bleeding or dying," said Father Doug, who was ordained in 2013. "You were there."

"If we were on vacation, Dad was going to find us a place to go to Mass," said Father Anthony, who is pursuing graduate studies in Rome.

These priests all cited their parents' example of living out their faith and their vocation to marriage.

"That was the first vocation that we were exposed to, and it was a very solid one," said Father Andrew, associate pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus.

His brother recalled the influence of his parents' dedication to spending an hour in adoration of the Eucharist each week at 2 a.m. on Tuesdays in a perpetual adoration chapel.

"Even as a kid, not being all that prayerful, I knew that my parents prayed and I knew that it was important," said Father Benjamin, who was ordained in 2014 and serves as administrator of Our Lady of the Springs Parish in French Lick and Our Lord Jesus Christ the King Parish in Paoli. "I believe that so much grace over the years has come from their continued dedication to do that. God is very rich in his blessings when we continually turn to him in that kind of way."

The Marcotte brothers also saw in their parents a witness to the importance of service in the church by "being active in a variety of things" at St. Michael Parish in Greenfield where they grew up.

"They both spent time in giving to God," said Father David, who was ordained in 2014 and serves as administrator of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Martinsville. "That helped us to think about what ways we could give of ourselves to the church as well."

As young adults, each of the brothers came to discern that God was calling them to serve as priests.

Among the six, the brothers who were ordained second acknowledged some influence on their own discernment from those that preceded them in the seminary. When they were in priestly formation, the brothers supported each other.

For all three sets of brothers, the importance of the family in fostering vocations is key.

"That is where vocations are found, that's where they're discovered, that's where they're fostered, that's where they grow," said Father Andrew. "That's where it starts. The family is so important to vocations, whether it's married life or (religious life) or the priesthood. Parents are the driving force behind that."

Father Benjamin agreed. "It's about the family. And, to go deeper, it's about marriage. Two people who love each other completely and live that out in the church are the greatest thing that can produce vocations to the priesthood."

The church, Catholics and the broader society should do all they can to bolster families, Father Doug said.

"I don't think we are going to solve the priesthood crisis -- or the marriage crisis -- without strengthening our families," he said. "That doesn't mean that there are not priests who come from less than ideal family situations."

"But, I think we do have to acknowledge that strong families help people to be able to say, 'Yes,' because they've been formed day in and day out."
  • Published in Nation

Studies track effect of family encouragement on vocation pursuit

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- There is no single answer to what spurs a young man or woman to consider a vocation to religious life or the priesthood.

"Vocation is a very complex chain of events," said Mark M. Gray, a senior research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

There is no doubt, according to Gray, that the influence of family contributes to a son or daughter's decision on whether to pursue a religious vocation. But, just as parents can encourage a vocation, they also can discourage consideration of a vocation.

Gray, who is director of CARA Catholic Polls, points to a study issued jointly last year with the National Religious Vocation Conference, "The Role of the Family in Nurturing Vocations to Religious Life and Priesthood," as particularly telling on a family's effect on vocations.

Family members of seminarians, priests and religious are usually Catholic themselves and are more likely than Catholics in general to have attended a Catholic school, according to that study. They are more likely than other Catholic adults to say that their faith is the most important part of their daily life. One in five also had a priest or a religious already in their extended family, according to the study.

These family members report a more engaged prayer life than do other Catholic parents or other Catholic adults in general, the study said. Nearly nine in 10 pray daily, compared to just over half of U.S. Catholic adults and just over a third of Catholic parents. They also feel more strongly than Catholic adults in general that it is important that younger generations of the family grow up Catholic.

"We know it's obviously a consideration," Gray told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.

"The importance of family is in encouraging. But it takes more than one person," Gray said. "If it's just your mom ... or just your dad, that's probably not enough. If two people encourage you or three people encourage you," one is more likely to consider a vocation, he added. Friends, priests and sisters can assist in this process.

"Unfortunately, it's just as often that sometimes parents are the people that discourage you" from consideration of a vocation, Gray said. That's the reverse from two generations ago or more, when families were happy to have a son or a daughter enter a convent or the priesthood.

"There's a real sense of 'that's not my role,'" Gray said. Those attitudes, he added, stem from "a sense of individual autonomy that people should pursue their (own) interests -- 'I want my children to follow their dreams' -- rather than some sort of negative attitude toward the church."

One reason parents may discourage a vocation is that, with lower birthrates, they have fewer children to follow their own dreams.

In "New Sisters and Brothers Professing Perpetual Vows in Religious Life: The Profession Class of 2015," issued in January, CARA asked those new members of religious orders, both male and female, about the size of their family. Only 4 percent reported being an only child. 

The most common response from both men and women was that they had three siblings; 25 percent said so, and close to 25 percent reported they had one sibling. But 15 percent said they had two siblings, 9 percent said four siblings, and 22 percent said they had five or more siblings.

Catholic heritage is another indicator of openness to vocations, with 78 percent of the Class of 2015 saying both parents were Catholic. Moreover, 28 percent said they have a relative who is a priest or a religious.

While parents may be encouraging their children to think about religious life, more survey respondents said they got encouragement from parish priests, other religious and friends. 

Mothers did more encouraging than fathers, but new male religious got more encouragement from parents to pursue a vocation than did women religious by roughly a 2-to-1 margin.

A 2012 study, "Consideration of Priesthood and Religious Life Among Never-Married U.S. Catholics," examined family discouragement in some detail. 

Encouragement was highest by the grandmothers of ethnic groups that weren't white or Hispanic, with 14 percent saying they had gotten a nudge from their grandmother. Ten percent of white respondents said their mother, and 9 percent said their grandmother, encouraged a vocation -- the highest percentages among this group. Among Hispanics, 10 percent of "other family members," other than parents or grandparents, encouraged a vocation.

But by the same token, 10 percent of other family members of Hispanics also discouraged a vocation. As a result, the difference between encouragement and discouragement was a wash, as it was with the other family members of other ethnic groups. Mothers, fathers and grandmothers recorded single-digit "net encouragement rates" across nearly all categories, but their percentages were lower compared to those rates for priests and priest chaplains.

Schooling also can play an important role in the choice of a vocation, since parents have the final say in what schools their children attend.

A CARA study done with Holy Cross Family Ministries and conducted in the fall of 2014, "The Catholic Family: 21st-Century Challenges in the United States," showed that only 11 percent currently sent their child to a Catholic elementary, middle school or high school; 5 percent, to a youth ministry program; and 21 percent, to a parish-based religious education program. In all, more than two-thirds, 68 percent, said they did not have any of their children enrolled in formal Catholic religious education.

"Even those in the highest income brackets are still relatively unlikely to enroll children. Among those in households earning $85,000 or more per year, only 14 percent have a child enrolled in a Catholic elementary school and 4 percent in a Catholic high school," the study said.

Family influence might have been greater when more Catholic children went to Catholic schools, but also when young men and women attended seminary or convent high schools, which were more plentiful in the post-World War II era. They provided a direct path to priesthood or permanent vows.

With men and women making the choice for a vocation later in life, family influence wanes, Gray said. "At CARA we're constantly looking at the next layer," he added. CARA recently received a grant to determine the impact of social media on vocations.

Women in particular, according to Gray, are "looking for religious institutes online" for one that matches their interests -- if they don't already have a relationship with a religious order. But, Gray cautioned, "you have to have an institute with the ability to work through social media to be found," and for many leaders of religious congregations, "the internet isn't something they grew up with."
  • Published in Nation

Actor Mark Wahlberg praised priesthood in video

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Typically, the Facebook page for the Diocese of Providence Office of Vocations in Rhode Island gets anywhere from three to 40 likes on its posts — most which celebrate seminarians, priests and their ministry.
 
But it took an actor and former member of a boy band to set its Facebook page on fire, not with a song, but with a video praising the priesthood, and one which had been viewed — as of Oct. 6 — 560,000 times and received more than 6,000 likes and upward of 8,000 shares.
 
Actor Mark Wahlberg, a native of Boston, where the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors had its annual conference Sept. 30–Oct.7, made the homemade video shown to those who attended and later posted on the Diocese of Providence vocations office Facebook page.
 
"We, the Catholic faithful, are counting on you to bring us good and holy priests," Wahlberg said in the video. "Enjoy my hometown this week and know that I will pray for you and for your success. Thank you for all that you do and God bless."
 
Some priests from the Boston area, who know Wahlberg, had brought up the idea of asking the actor to attend the conference once the city had been chosen as the location, said Rosemary Sullivan, executive director of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors. But as his schedule got tighter and tighter, he asked if he could do a video instead.
 
Wahlberg was promoting a film in which he stars, "Deepwater Horizon," about the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and how it affected the workers. The film was released the day the conference began.
 
He wasn't given a script for the priesthood video, but spoke from his heart, Sullivan said in a phone interview with Catholic News Service from Boston Oct. 6. Wahlberg spoke about how priests have helped him during difficult moments in his life and also are there for the good times: when he got married, when his children were baptized, when members of his family died and were buried, when he needs God's forgiveness, when he receives the body and blood of Jesus Christ to replenish his faith.
 
In the video, Wahlberg said he wants his children and future generations to have "good priests in their lives, just like I had." And even though he got into trouble in his youth, "I always had a priest to stick by me," he said.
 
When the video was shown in the conference, the reaction was silence, but a good kind of silence, Sullivan said: "He was so deeply sincere and you could feel it when you're watching the video."
 
"My Catholic faith is the anchor that supports everything I do in life," said Wahlberg, adding that he would be praying for the success of the conference and of the vocation directors.
 
What's plain to see is that the actor "spoke as a son of Christ" in his plea to keep the priesthood alive and about a responsibility that doesn't belong to vocation directors alone, Sullivan said.
 
"We all bear that responsibility," she added.
 
And Wahlberg, as a Catholic, took that responsibility seriously in trying to see what he could do to help.
 
"This is an example where you use a gift God has given you," she said, adding that Wahlberg also was present at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015 and emceed an event attended by the pope.
 
It's important to follow his example and, as Wahlberg did, let priests, those who are thinking about the priesthood and vocation directors know what they mean to Catholic communities, Sullivan said.
 
"They need to know how much we love them and support them," she said. "Mark Wahlberg is challenging them, saying 'We need you to help us.'"

[Wahlberg's video can be viewed on the Diocese of Providence Office of Vocations Facebook page.]
 
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Former Holy Cross superior general now ministering in Bennington, North Bennington parishes

Holy Cross Father Hugh Cleary admits he did not like school when he was a child. It seemed everything was about memorization, and he just was not good at it.
           
But when he was in a sophomore English class as a seminarian at Stonehill College in North Easton, Mass., his teacher called on him for an answer even though he had not raised his hand. The teacher praised his student for his comments on the meaning of something they had read.
           
“From then on, I was on the Dean’s List,” said Father Cleary, now parochial vicar at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington and St. John the Baptist Church in North Bennington.
           
His current assignment has brought him full circle to this southern Vermont community where he spent a year of his seminary training in the Holy Cross order’s novitiate, once located in Bennington. Between stops here, he has been a parochial vicar, inner city pastor, novice director, provincial of the Eastern Province, Rome-based superior general of the worldwide order for priests and brothers and chaplain for the Monastic Family of Bethlehem of the Assumption of the Virgin and of Saint Bruno.
           
He moved to North Bennington to begin his current ministry in August.
           
“I love parish ministry in general,” said the 70-year-old priest who grew up in Queens, N.Y. He appreciates being able to share all of life with people, from the good times to the bad, from celebrations to mourning. “You get to know your parishioners. They have the strength of humanity. It all harkens back to that English class. What is literature but an expression of humanity’s joys and struggles?”
           
He feels privileged to be a priest. “People open up their heart to you. You gain so much strength from their heroic virtue lived every day,” he added.
           
The son of a New York City police officer and a stay-at-home mother, Father Clear has a single younger brother and an older sister who has five children and 16 grandchildren.
           
He always wanted to be a priest. “It was always in me,” he said during an interview at the Bennington parish center. “I can’t remember wanting to be anything else.”
           
His family life revolved around Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Bayside where he became an altar boy shortly after his First Communion. He attended the parish school through eighth grade then walked a mile to attend Holy Cross High School in Flushing.
           
He had thought about becoming a diocesan priest in New York, but in high school one of the Holy Cross brothers suggested he consider the Congregation of Holy Cross.
           
He was ordained in 1973 at Holy Cross Parish in South Easton, Mass.
           
Father Cleary – who grew up in a family in which education was emphasized – has earned five degrees: a bachelor’s degree in English from Stonehill College; a master’s in theology from Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind., a master’s in counseling psychology from Loyola University in Chicago; and a master’s and doctorate in formative spirituality from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
           
For him, education is a way to help one think and reflect on life.
           
When he was in the novitiate in Bennington, one of the changes that came about after Vatican II was that the seminarians did not have to earn their undergraduate degree in philosophy. So he and three other members of his class of 35 seminarians decided to major in English. “I thought it would be easier,” he recalled with a smile.
           
So with a nod to their future English degree, the four seminarians snuck out of their rooms one night to sleep on the grave of poet Robert Frost in Old Bennington. “We thought we’d do better in English with him than without him,” he added with a twinkle in his eye.
           
A former marathon runner, Father Cleary now enjoys walking and hiking, and besides his sacramental, Catholic school and visitation ministries, he is working with parents and sponsors of confirmation students in both parishes.
           
Fluent in Spanish thanks to a Maryknoll language school in Bolivia with experience ministering to migrant workers, he would like to resume that type of work if there is a need for it in southern Vermont. 
 
  • Published in Parish
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