Continuing to build a culture of vocations
By Amy Moraczewski
On July 1, Father Jonathan Raia took over the role of diocesan Vocations Director and Director of Seminarians. Father Brian McMaster, who had been in the position since 2009, became pastor of St. Helen Parish in Georgetown. While the title may be new, the work of creating a culture of vocations in the Diocese of Austin began long ago for Father Raia.
He originally met Father McMaster during his first year of seminary, and the two have been friends and brothers in Christ ever since. Through their priestly fraternity, Cor Jesu (“Heart of Jesus”), their bond has grown even stronger. While they were always at odds over their Longhorn-Aggie loyalties, Father Raia recently developed an appreciation for the Aggie Catholics after serving as associate pastor at St. Mary Catholic Center at Texas A&M University.
The time in College Station prepared him well for his new role, which requires he spend a great deal of time on college campuses throughout the diocese.
“Father Jonathan loves Christ, loves the church, and loves the priesthood. This alone is the greatest asset a vocation director can have. Additionally, he is great with young people. His year at St. Mary Catholic Center at A&M even deepened that,” Father McMaster said.
“I loved being at a college campus, in campus ministry. Being with the students and being a part of their lives was a lot fun,” Father Raia said. Many students, especially those considering priesthood or religious life, sought him out for spiritual direction, a skill that will be vital in his new job as well. Retreats, such as the Heart of Jesus discernment retreat in December, which last year included 13 Texas A&M students, provided a glimpse into his future work.
In January, he took five young men on the “Seminary Sprint,” an eight-day road trip to visit seminaries and religious communities of men in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. This enlightening experience encouraged at least one of the men to pursue the priesthood, and he applied to the seminary just a few months later. Other young men discerning the priesthood continued to seek out his guidance up until his final days on campus.
Breaking down his two-fold title, Father Raia analogizes it to “recruiting and supervision/retention in the corporate world.” As Vocations Director, he travels to schools and parishes, speaking about vocations and encouraging the consideration of priesthood and religious life.
“In general, I talk about how we are all called to love and that we can do that either through marriage or through priesthood/consecrated life,” he said. Young men and women considering religious life are directed toward the appropriate community for guidance, while Father Raia shepherds the young men who feel called to diocesan priesthood through the seminary application process.
Part two of the job description, Director of Seminarians, comes into play once the applicants are accepted into seminary. At this stage, Father Raia’s experience in spiritual direction will be extremely beneficial. When not visiting schools and parishes within the diocese, much of his time will be spent traveling to one of the six seminaries to meet individually with the men, assisting in their formation as future priests of our diocese.
While every seminarian attends college seminary in either Dallas or Houston, there are a number of different options in the later years. Currently the Diocese of Austin has 47 seminarians studying in Dallas; Houston; New Orleans, Covington, La.; Columbus, Ohio, and Rome.
When selecting a major seminary for each seminarian, Father Raia said it’s done on an individual basis.
“They all have different strengths. It is just a consideration of what’s best for this man, what’s going to challenge him and help him to be the priest that the church needs,” he said.
As part of their development, each seminarian spends one summer at the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. This experience had such a profound impact on Father Raia during seminary that he has elected to return over three different summers to serve as a spiritual director for a handful of the almost 200 men from around the country who are enriching their spiritual lives through this program.
In addition to serving as a mentor to seminarians prior to ordination, Father Raia has enjoyed the experience of working side-by-side with two young men during their first year of priesthood, both at St. William Parish in Round Rock and at St. Mary Catholic Center. He viewed the opportunity to have three priests in the rectory as a great blessing, an experience that offered a wonderful sense of community for the men.
Father Raia entered a new community recently when he returned to Austin to live in the Borromeo House alongside fellow priests, as well as young men discerning the priesthood. After a few weeks of shadowing his predecessor, he officially took over the position when Father McMaster departed for his new assignment in Georgetown. Father McMaster offered a great deal of advice and detailed notes, but Father Raia sums up his objective fairly simply, “to continue the work of forming a vocations culture in our diocese, continue building on what all previous Vocations Directors have done.”
Father Raia has served on the Vocations Team for three years, which has enabled him to witness the work of Father McMaster up close and personal, so it is no surprise that their objectives align.
Reflecting on his five years as Vocations Director, Father McMaster said, “I am especially proud of the quality of our seminarians and to see the culture of vocations continue to grow in our diocese.”
This theme of a “vocations culture” will continue to characterize the mission of the Vocations Director. As he passed on the official title, Father McMaster emphasized that this task cannot be achieved by one man alone.
“It’s important for lay people, religious and priests to all see themselves as vocation directors where they are. The diocesan vocation director’s job is made easy when everyone answers the call of Jesus to pray for vocations and to intentionally seek out men and women to invite to consider priesthood and religious life,” Father McMaster said.
For more information about vocations in the Austin Diocese, contact the Vocations Office at (512) 949-2430 or firstname.lastname@example.org.