Sunday, 20 September 2015 17:12

Director of Vocations speaks about being called by God

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Seminarians number 23 as new school year begins

Now that the new school year is under way, nearly two dozen diocesan seminarians are settling in to their studies at a number of different seminaries, says Father Brian Alford, director of Vocations.

Seminarians number 23 as new school year begins

Now that the new school year is under way, nearly two dozen diocesan seminarians are settling in to their studies at a number of different seminaries, says Father Brian Alford, director of Vocations.

"We ended last year with 23 seminarians and started this year with the same number," says Father Alford. "That may not sound impressive, but considering we ordained four new priests, we have been blessed with new seminarians to fill the void left by their entering into priestly ministry.

"While 23 is a great number — considering we have doubled in numbers of the past five years — we still have room to grow," he says. "So, while I am very pleased, we shouldn't settle on a specific number, but continue to pray that more and more men will be generous in responding to the Lord's call."

This year the seminarians range in age from their late teens to age 60, but many of the men are in their 20s. They will be attending one of these seven seminaries: Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis; Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein; Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Ind.; Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis.; Pontifical North American College in Vatican City; Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis; and Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich.

According to Father Alford, statistics report that the average age at which a young man seriously considers a vocation to the priesthood is around age 17. "That does not mean, however, that they actively pursue that consideration, and so we get a whole spectrum of when guys tend to take the step to speak with me about their vocation," he says. "I would say that I have noticed a great deal of openness to a vocation among young men who are still in high school, especially as they get closer to that time of transition to college."

The same thing happens to men who are reaching the end of their college studies, he says. "They are at a point of transition and they are asking if this is really where the Lord wants them to go, and so the question arises in their hearts again."

Sometimes men who have been in the working world for a few years begin to consider the priesthood. "… they consider if this is what they are meant to continue with for the rest of their lives, or if the Lord may be calling them to the priesthood," Father Alford says. "This stirring may remain for a long time, as with our older candidates, but it is not quite so common. These men come with a whole host of experiences and backgrounds that make them more diverse in many ways than those who are younger."

Father Alford says Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners is "a fine seminary that is able to work with such diversity and successfully help these older men engage in formation in a way that meets their unique circumstances, while still maintaining a very thorough program of priestly formation that will prepare the men to be effective priests alongside their younger colleagues." Currently two diocesan seminarians are at Hales Corners: Deacon Paul Bonk, who is set to be ordained next May, and Cathedral parishioner Dave Beagles, who is in Pre-Theology I.

Father Alford said he and Bishop Thomas John Paprocki will continue to speak about vocations at confirmations, encouraging young people to consider how the Lord is inviting them to use the gifts that he has shared with them as they become fully-initiated members of the Catholic Church. They will also be hosting Andrew Dinners in each of the deaneries this fall, encouraging pastors and priests to invite young men that they think might have the qualities to be a priest to come to dinner, prayer and discussion with the bishop.

Additionally the Office for Vocations will be hosting a few discernment events this fall and winter for young men who are considering the priesthood. Finally, Father Alford tries to get to various high schools or university Newman Centers to speak about vocations or connect with people who are already in the process of discerning a vocation to the priesthood.

Parents can and should play a role in helping their children discern a vocation. "I think it is critically important to remind parents that the vocation of their children comes from God and it is the role of the parents to foster an environment where their child can be free to hear and respond to that vocation," Father Alford says. "Parents love their children and want the best for them. The same is true with God. He will never call your children to something that is not beautiful and fulfilling.

"Parents must be careful not to let their plan for their children diminish or silence God's call. In the end, it is the vocation of the child, not the parents. What children need most is to know that they are supported and loved in this important process," he says.

"And it goes without saying, parents need to pray for their child's vocation with that real sense of trust in the Lord's love for their child; a love that is greater than their own, and a love that will bring their child to great peace and happiness more than anything else, for it is God's perfect plan for them on their path to Heaven."

Parishes should also be praying for vocations, he says. "The most important thing to do is to root all of our efforts in prayer. It is good to pray in general for vocations, but to pray for specific names when you recognize somebody who you might think has a vocation to priesthood or religious life." That person may be a parishioner you notice at Mass or someone in your family.

"Another helpful thing to do is to suggest to a person that you see qualities in them that would make a good priest or religious," he says. "Don't worry if they don't seem to accept your invitation; it's ultimately not up to you. But that seed you plant might be that one that was needed to help them really consider the possibility."

On a personal level, Father Alford says he is thankful for the woman who recognized that he might be a future priest. "I speak from experience, having had a woman I had never met ask me if I had ever considered the priesthood. To this day, I've never seen her again, nor would I remember her if I saw her, but I thank God she had the courage to step out of her comfort zone and to ask me, a perfect stranger, about the priesthood.

"It's amazing to think how many young men or women might just be waiting for that comment," he concludes. "It's worth taking a step in faith and then leaving it in God's hands."

To reach Father Alford, call the Office for Vocations at (217) 321-1194 or email .