I had the privilege to spend some quality time with the majority of our diocesan seminarians at a gathering at the Villa Maria Catholic Life Center a few weeks ago. I fully agree with our vocation director, Father Brian Alford, that our diocese is so blessed with the 24 seminarians (counting the transitional deacons) that God has called to discern becoming diocesan priests for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
This is one of the finest groups of men I have ever seen for our diocese. They have a strong bond and support each other well. You may have met some of these men who may have been assigned to your parish for a summer internship. I hope you got the opportunity to get to know them, and personally welcome them to your parish, as well as having kept them in your prayers.
I have always said I believe every parish in our diocese has at least one gifted person who could be called to the priesthood; religious life as a sister, nun or brother; as well as to the permanent diaconate. Our goal is to have 40 seminarians by 2020 and 50 by 2025. What are each of us doing about encouraging and supporting our young people in listening to the Lord who may be calling them to a vocation of ministry in our church?
Soon our seminarians will return to their various seminaries to continue their education and formation. I know it means so much to know that their diocesan family “back home” is all behind them and thinking of them and lifting them up in prayer. I know in an assisted living center in Litchfield is a wonderful, Catholic woman named “Auntie” Pearl Hitchings, 103 years young, who has offered now at least 50 years of daily prayer for our seminarians. We bless their journey by our prayerful care and concern. I know that many wonderful Knights of Columbus councils throughout the year show their strong support to our diocesan seminarians, by their prayers, and much needed financial support.
Vocations as we often say are “everyone’s business.” Planting the seed begins at home by the parents and family, but the parish, filled with “intentional disciples” has a key role, like our diocese, to support and encourage vocations, too.
Recently Father Alford and a team of faith-filled leaders hosted a Called and Sent conference/retreat for youth and young adults at the Villa Maria on Lake Springfield. This Catholic gathering is another great opportunity to help young folks deepen their faith journey and help them deepen their love for God, while they discern his call to discipleship. Like the seminarians, I was privileged to share at this gathering with around 30 youth this call from the Lord to embrace “discipleship as a way of life.” You could see an eagerness to hear the discipleship message, and a hunger to know more about how to become a true “intentional disciple.” It was truly a special moment of grace being with them for an hour or so.
Marta Korte shared: “Called and Sent was a life-changing retreat for me. It was amazing and eye-opening. One of my favorite parts was the small Catholic environment. So many things changed in me during that week. I learned how to take my personal relationship to the next level. Choosing to attend Called and Sent was easily the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.”
Monica Dudek wrote, “Called and Sent was truly a life-changing experience for me. I think one of the biggest moments during the week was confession (reconciliation) and adoration. I have been able to grow in my faith and maturity.”
Drew Timmermeier, of Ss. Simon and Jude Parish, Gillespie attended this, his third Called and Sent gathering, and said, “For me, being a disciple is being a person of the virtues; being a person of faith, hope, and love. I remember when I first arrived I had no clue that there were so many youth that were serious about living out the Catholic faith. It was because of Called and Sent that I was able to find a bond with other Catholic youth that I never would have dreamt possible.”
I could tell Dennis Trickey, of Immaculate Conception Parish in Pierron, is really on fire for the Lord and truly felt so blessed by his experience. Dennis wrote: “The Called and Sent retreat was a life-changing experience for me. During adoration, I felt Christ’s intense love for me and I felt him wanting me to serve him by loving others, by helping them, and by praying for them. What it means to me to live a life of discipleship is spreading God’s Word and living life as Christ did, serving others, praying for others, and deepening my faith and helping others to get closer to God. This retreat helped me to grow in service. It made me realize that I have a lot of things that others don’t have. This makes me want to help others who are less fortunate. The retreat had a ‘welcoming’ feeling throughout the week. It was easy to see that everyone involved in the retreat loved Christ very much and they wanted to serve him. The retreat formed me into someone who wants to serve Christ more. Through this retreat I better learned how to talk to God, and I learned how to really listen to him.”
I commend Father Alford and the team who offered this Called and Sent experience. To say this was “successful” would truly be an understatement. All those who came to be participants were so grateful to the team for their leadership, and their example was truly inspirational. These are where the seeds of faith, the seeds of promoting vocations, are all being planted into the hearts and souls of these youth who attended Called and Sent. When we have these excellent opportunities happening all over our diocese it is easy to see the hand of God at work. What we see is true: He calls, he sends, and looking down on true “discipleship” at work — we can only imagine, he smiles.