With the new school year now under way, two dozen seminarians are either settling in for the school year, or serving in parishes, says Father Brian Alford, director of Vocations for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
“We currently have 24 men in formation for the priesthood,” says Father Alford. “We accepted four new men this year after having ordained four last spring, so we are holding pretty steady with regards to our numbers of men in formation.” Two of the seminarians are members of the Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf Apostolate, and they are doing pastoral work in parishes in the diocese. The others are all engaged in studies at various seminaries.
“We have two men who are studying at Mundelein Seminary. We have four men studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. There are four men studying at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. We have five men at St. Meinrad Seminary in southern Indiana. We have one man in formation at Sacred Heart Seminary (in) Hales Corners, Wis. Finally, there are six men in college seminary at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis,” Father Alford says.
“There’s certainly no formula when it comes to deciding where to send our men. We want to strive to keep our men together so as to build fraternity, but we also value the variety of experiences that these men bring from their different seminaries,” Father Alford explains. “From year to year, we take into account a variety of factors and try to make the best decision for the man and for the group that he will be joining.”
Currently, seminarians range in age from 19 to 60 years old, with the four youngest of the 24 having been born in 1997. Father Alford says the average age of the seminarians now is about 29 years old. “The trend in recent years has been for men to enter a little earlier than in previous years, but the difference is not drastic,” he says.
When it comes to numbers of men joining the seminary, Father Alford says he feels confident God will sustain the priesthood. “I’ve seen the way the Lord is working in the young — and not so young — men in our diocese. There is a real openness to the possibility of a priestly vocation and that gives me great hope.
“As a wise priest once told a group of vocation directors, 99 percent of the work of vocations is the Lord’s. He’s given us 1 percent, which is a lot, but (we should) never forget that it’s the Lord who is doing the more significant work. That advice has given me a lot of peace to keep working hard to promote vocations, but even more, to turn it over trustingly to the Lord in prayer, having a faith that the Lord will be true to his promise that he will provide shepherds for his church.”
Parents, family members, fellow parishioners and friends can all take part in supporting vocations. “I think an obvious thing is to pray for vocations. For families, I think it is important to ask that they give permission to the Lord, if you will, to choose their son or daughter for a vocation to priesthood or religious life if that is his will,” Father Alford says. “It’s easy to pray for the Lord to call somebody else’s children, but it’s a real act of faith and trust in God to offer one’s own children.
“I also think it’s important to tell a young person that you think they might have a vocation. Of course, we don’t want to just tell this to everybody, otherwise it seems inauthentic,” he says. “We have to be discerning, and if we notice that a young man has some qualities of being a good priest — prayerful, engaged in parish life, joyful, willing to serve — why not suggest the idea of considering a vocation? If they say ‘no,’ you’ve done your part and planted a seed. That simple suggestion, though not initially acknowledged, may actually be a significant point in that person’s discernment. I know it was for me.”
Father Alford is pleased with the group of seminarians who are in formation, and with those former seminarians who are now priests. “I’ve been very impressed with the men the Lord is inviting to discern a vocation to the priesthood in our diocese,” he says. “I hear so many positive comments from those responsible for their formation at their seminaries and from the parishes where they have been serving in the diocese. I’m looking forward to seeing them share those gifts, God-willing, as priests in the diocese.
“We have a wonderful group of priests in our diocese, which I think is a contributing factor to the quality of our seminarians,” Father Alford concludes. “With the quality of the priests we have now serving so faithfully in our diocese, and with those who will be joining in the future, I’m very excited for the many blessings that are in store for our diocese.”