Vocations outlook is good, more work to be done
By Mary P. Walker
Father Brian McMaster, Vocation Director for the Diocese of Austin, knows that he is blessed to serve in Central Texas, where the Catholic faith is growing and vibrant. However, with this blessing comes the responsibility shared by all Catholics –– helping men and women hear and respond to God’s call to the priesthood and religious life.
The diocese has 50 men and women in formation for religious orders, and 40 men who are preparing to become diocesan priests. The formation of these diocesan seminarians usually takes seven to nine years. The good news, explained Father McMaster, is that ordinations to the priesthood are just about keeping pace with the number of priests who retire. However, the Catholic population is growing, which means that the same number of priests serve more of the faithful.
Most of the seminarians are attending one of five seminaries, while several are assigned to parishes for a pastoral year of service.
“We’ve noticed that each guy has a different set of gifts and a different set of needs. We believe we can maximize their gifts by sending them to different seminaries,” Father McMaster said.
He also said that the men are of a high “quality.” They are mature, know their faith, and have an active prayer life. In addition, they also have a keen sense of discernment, that is, the ability to hear the voice of God through prayer and within the circumstances of their lives. For the future, Father McMaster finds it encouraging that more young men are beginning to consider and discern a religious vocation during their high school years. Likewise, many in their college years, post-college and even in their 30s and 40s are open to God’s calling.
The universal church also benefits from the religious vocations that come from within our diocese. Most of the men and women from our parishes who are in formation for religious orders to become priests, brothers and sisters will serve God and his people in other parts of the state, country, and even the world.
In addition, with so many colleges and universities within the boundaries of the diocese, the campus ministry programs are having a positive effect on promoting vocations. These programs serve the spiritual needs of college students from all over the country at a time when they make decisions that affect the rest of their lives.
For example, St. Mary Catholic Center at Texas A&M University has a national reputation for providing an environment where students can hear God’s call and respond with an enthusiastic “yes.” This fall, 14 former students entered seminaries or began formation in religious orders, most outside of the diocese. The diocese is also seeing an increase of interest in vocations from students at the University of Texas, Texas State University, Baylor and St. Edward’s University.
While the Austin Diocese is not currently suffering from an acute shortage of priests, as other parts of the country are, the culture of vocations must continue to be fostered. As the Catholic population grows, even more priests are needed. In addition, the number of women entering religious life is far less than the total number of men in formation for the diocesan priesthood or entering religious orders.
Regarding female religious vocations, Father McMaster sees some bright spots. The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist is a growing order that includes many young sisters. They just completed building a convent in Georgetown. He hopes that their visible witness to the joys of religious life will encourage other young women to consider whether God is calling them. Also, at St. Mary Catholic Center, the Apostles of the Interior Life Sisters provide spiritual direction to the students. Through their ministry, young women are actively discerning whether God is calling them to religious life. Many other religious communities in the Austin Diocese are also sharing their faith witness with our daughters and sons, Father McMaster said.
During the upcoming liturgical year, there will be a diocesan-wide focus on inviting men and women to consider the priesthood or religious life. Father McMaster explained that relationships are the key to fostering vocations. Pastors, youth ministers, teachers, parish leaders, parents and fellow parishioners amplify God’s voice to young men and women louder than any vocations poster.
Priests, of course, have a vital role. Father McMaster said each pastor is the “vocations director” for his parish. As a resource for priests, the diocese has published a booklet to give them practical tips and reminders about the ways that they can promote vocations. For example, priests can pray, share their own vocation story, and promote diocesan discernment dinners and retreats. Along with the laity, they can also personally invite young men and women to consider the priesthood or religious life.
“Don’t be afraid to join your voice with Christ. The majority of young people will be hesitant at first –– so were the people in the Bible and many saints. Through their relationship with the Lord, the seeds that were planted grew,” Father McMaster said.
Other resources for parishes include a “how-to” guide for lay Catholics on forming a parish vocation committee. The guide also has lists of vocations activities and projects and offers practical guidance for parents.
The foundation for all vocations is prayer, Father McMaster said. We can all pray for our priests and religious, and ask God to keep calling workers for the harvest. St. Therese of Lisieux is the patron saint of vocations and missionaries because she fervently prayed for them. Through the St. Therese Vocation Society, the faithful are invited to join her prayers. The society was piloted in the Diocese of Arlington, Va., and is now established in our diocese. The membership commitments are simple, and center on prayer and offering sufferings for vocations, priests and religious.
For elementary school children, there is the Junior Society, which is a great resource for preparing children for their first Holy Communion. Many priests and religious have reported that they first heard God’s call during that time in their lives. After receiving communion, the children commit to praying for priests and religious, and ask Jesus to help them and their classmates discover God’s will for their lives.
Information about the society and parish vocation resources are available through parish offices and the diocesan Vocation Office.
For more information, visit www.austinvocations.com or call (512) 949-2430.