Nurturing a culture of vocations in our diocese

By Mary P. Walker
Senior Correspondent

National Vocations Awareness Week was celebrated Nov. 2-8. During that week and throughout the year, parishes are encouraged to focus on creating a “culture of vocations” for the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life.
“A culture of vocations is one that provides the necessary support for others to hear and respond to God’s call in their lives,” said Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh, N.C., chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
How well is the Diocese of Austin fostering this culture of vocations? Father Jonathan Raia, diocesan Vocations director, believes we have made great strides. There are currently 46 seminarians preparing to become diocesan priests, including 13 who began the seven to nine year process this fall. All of the new seminarians are from within the diocese.
Because some seminarians may eventually realize that God is not calling them to the priesthood, Father Raia cannot project ordinations more than a few years into the future. For the next five years, he expects that an average of about five priests will be ordained, with six in 2015 and 2016. 
One area of concern in the U.S. and our diocese is that the number of native-born Hispanic priests is low compared to the population of Hispanic Catholics. Father Raia is pleased that five of the new seminarians are of Hispanic heritage, and four are bilingual. 
“We are very grateful for the generous men who have come to our diocese from other countries, but we really need to work to foster a culture of vocations among our Hispanic community here so that more young men come forward and receive the support of their family to serve as priests,” Father Raia said. 
In addition to the diocesan seminarians, there are also 24 men and 21 women in formation for religious life, including four men and three women who entered formation this year. In the last year, four men were ordained priests in their religious orders and four women professed their final vows. 
While the “numbers” indicate that our diocese is well on the way to creating a culture of vocations, there is always more to do, Father Raia said. In such a culture, it would be “normal” for young men and women to consider the priesthood and religious life as they pray and think about their future. All parents would pray for their children to discern God’s will, and would help them if they want to explore the possibility of a religious vocation. All parishes would pray regularly and publicly for God to raise up young men and women within their parish to serve the church as a priest or consecrated religious. 
One way to foster this prayer is through the St. Therese Vocation Society. Because she fervently prayed for priests and missionaries, St. Therese of Lisieux is the patron saint of vocations. Through the society, we are invited to join her prayers. 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 the Eucharist, children commit to praying for priests and religious, and ask Jesus to help them and their classmates discover God’s will for their lives.
Action accompanies prayer in a culture of vocations. When a young person demonstrates the qualities of a good priest, brother or sister, we can directly encourage that person to consider the priesthood or religious life.
“The number three seems to be critical in making a difference in the life of someone contemplating a vocation,” said Father Shawn McKnight, USCCB’s executive director of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. “When three or more people encourage someone to consider a religious vocation, he or she is far more likely to take serious steps toward answering that call.”
Father Raia asks us to think of young men and women who are prayerful, generous, joyful and have attractive personalities. 
“Pick the right moment, and tell them the qualities you’ve seen. Ask them to consider whether God is calling them. Don’t push — just invite. You will be surprised at how God will use this to tug at the person’s heart,” Father Raia said.
New seminarian Callan Sweeney of Emmaus Parish in Lakeway said, “I was in high school when I was first asked if I had ever considered becoming a priest by a young adult we volunteered with in our youth group. The funny thing was it had never honestly crossed my mind.” 
A friend of fourth year seminarian Paul-Michael Piega of St. Mary Catholic Center in College Station suggested that God had blessed him with the qualities that make a good priest. 
“To hear about your gifts from others is a completely affirming experience. There are many times that a person is unable to honestly see what he or she can do in a given situation, but if someone else notices, you have a fuller sense of what traits you really have,” Piega said.
Looking forward to being ordained a priest in June, Deacon Hai Nguyen of St. William Parish in Round Rock believes those who encouraged him were cooperating with the Holy Spirit. 
“I am so thankful to them, and I am very grateful to God for his grace to help me accept his love and mercy in order to respond and to discern his call,” Deacon Nguyen said.
Vocation resources are available online, through every parish and through the diocesan Vocations Office. For more information, e-mail vocations@austindiocese.org, call (512) 949-2430 or visit 
www.austinvocations.com.

Upcoming events

  •  Discernment Dinners for high school men are held on the first Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. at St. William Parish Rectory at 1105 Deer Run in Round Rock.
  •  Discernment Dinners for men 18 and older are held on the second Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. at St. Charles Borromeo House of Discernment at 905B Duncan Lane in Austin.
  •  Heart of Jesus Men’s Discernment Retreat for men 18 and older will be held Dec. 19-21 at Cedarbrake Catholic Retreat Center in Belton.
  •  Project Andrew for men ages 16 to 45 will be held Feb. 14 at 10 a.m. at St. Mary Cathedral in Austin.
  •  Project Miriam for women ages 16 to 45 will be held Feb. 21 at 10 a.m. at St. Mary Cathedral in Austin.
  •  Heart of Mary Women’s Discernment Retreat for women 18 and older will be held April 24-26 at Cedarbrake Catholic Retreat Center in Belton.
  •  The next Ordination to the Priesthood will be held June 6 at 10:30 a.m. at St. William Parish in Round Rock.
  •  Quo Vadis Retreat for high school men will be held June 27-28 at St. Thomas More Parish in Austin.
  •  The next Ordination to the Transitional Diaconate will be held July 11 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Austin.

For more information on all of these events, visit www.austinvocations.com or call (512) 949-2430.