Seminarian Juan Herrera of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., leads a procession at the conclusion of a Mass Sept. 16, 2021, marking the 125th anniversary of the opening of St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Creative Vocation Outreach

Taking actions to encourage parish vocation awareness

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Bonnar (new)Many years ago, when I was the director of vocations in my native diocese, I was blessed to be part of something very innovative at that time. Thanks to the bequest of a priest from the same diocese, I was permitted to produce with a local television station two 30-second commercials to promote the priesthood. The commercials were built around the theme, “A priest, an ordinary man called to do extraordinary work.”

Interestingly enough, the spots ran during Sunday NFL football games hoping to appeal to men who were tuned in to the games. I do not know how successful this outreach was. I do know, however, that it was, for some time, the talk of the town, even garnering national media coverage. There were a few dioceses that sought permission to use the spots to run in their portion of the Lord’s vineyard.

Both spots offered viewers a glance into the daily life of the priest who, as the voice-over states, “opens doors, turns on lights, builds bridges and save lives.” Of course, these extraordinary actions that take place in the person of Jesus Christ occur through an ordinary man.

Looking back 20 years later at the production of these commercials I am even more convinced of the importance for us as priests to do our part to recruit men for the priesthood. During the time when I was vocation director there was a document produced by the Bishops of the United States called “A Future Full of Hope.” In it the bishops spoke about vocations as “a shared responsibility.” In other words, this is an effort to be embraced not just by bishops and vocation directors, but every priest and member of the faithful. The same document called for the formation of vocation councils, to pray for and promote vocations in the parish.

In my second appointment as pastor in what was a large suburban parish, I called for a vocation council. It was actually one of the first things I did in that new assignment. A group of about eight parishioners came forward to begin the effort. They would meet each week for Holy Hour and pray for an increase in vocations. In addition, they would find ways to promote vocations by hosting seminarians in the parish, having school students write letters to them, developing prayer cards with a photo of the parishioners in formation and offering greetings and support to the priests in the parish on their birthdays and anniversaries.

What began nearly 13 years ago continues to exist now. I am happy to say that in this time two men from the parish have been ordained priests, one to the diocese and another to a religious community. At the same time, there are two men in formation for the priesthood, one for the diocese and the other for a religious community. Needless to say, the prayers of the council are making a difference.

With fewer of us priests, the work of promoting vocations has become all the more urgent. As we anticipate the beginning of a new liturgical year, this is a ripe moment for us to make some resolutions to promote vocations. Perhaps we can all resolve to personally pray more for an increase of vocations to the priesthood; we could fast or intentionally offer our sufferings for vocations.

If we are in a parish, perhaps we could consider adding a petition at each Mass for an increase of vocations to the priesthood. Prayer can make such a difference. We could also resolve to form a vocation council. It is as simple as inviting a group of people to gather regularly to pray for vocations and find ways to promote priesthood and support seminarians and priests.

Whatever our ministry, we could resolve to radiate more joy in what we do to convey that we are happy in our priesthood. It has been said that the best advertisement for priesthood is a happy priest. We are walking billboards and living commercials for the priesthood every day.

Finally, we could resolve to let people, especially men interested in the priesthood, know that we are ordinary men. Nevertheless, God always provides us with his amazing grace to do his extraordinary work.

BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.

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