Campers gather to pray during Quo Vadis Days June 27-29, 2022, at Camp Hamilton in Monroe, Wash. The vocations-focused camp for young men in high school mixes faith and fellowship as they learn more about the priesthood, deepen their relationship with Jesus and discover how to hear God's call in their lives. (CNS photo/Katie Kolbrick, Northwest Catholic)

What Can Priests Do to Encourage More Vocations?

Simple initiatives to incorporate at your parish

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As director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for the past 10 years, I have tried nearly every program, event and suggestion offered to me to help encourage more men to prayerfully discern a vocation to the priesthood. What I have found makes the biggest difference and helps the most is prayer. This includes praying for all vocations — married life, consecrated life, the permanent diaconate, chaste single life and priesthood — by praying for each person’s courageous response to the universal call to holiness — that is, the way each lives out their vocation in preparation for heaven.

With that said, vocation directors must have help from pastors and other priests in the parishes. Parish priests have a personal relationship with parishioners who are discerning the priesthood. Priests that young men already know are the ones who can best help those men if they may be frightened or insecure about who God is asking them to be. Men discerning the priesthood need a spiritual father who will help them know the direction God is leading them. If you are a priest in a parish, God is giving you an incredible opportunity to help guide these men to where God is leading.

Prior to becoming a vocation director, I was blessed to be a pastor for six years. In those six years, there were different activities, discussions and approaches that I used to encourage more vocations to the priesthood.


Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

O God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd of your people: Grant that, when we hear his voice, we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


There were also things that I have seen other pastors do to help encourage men to consider the priesthood. Some of these things are incredibly easy, while others may require more effort. I would encourage you, in prayer, to ask God how he wants you to promote vocations in your parish. The following is a list of suggestions for things you can do as the vocation director of your parish.

Prayer. As mentioned above, prayer is the best and most powerful activity to promote vocations, and prayer for vocations is something we should do every day. Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is very committed to fostering vocations to priesthood and religious life. Shortly after he arrived, he wrote a prayer for vocations and asked every parish to pray the prayer during Mass. Since we started praying this prayer, we have nearly doubled the number of men entering the seminary as they discern diocesan priesthood and also have nearly doubled the number of women and men entering consecrated life.

We can also offer Holy Hours for vocations in our parishes and encourage the faithful to pray for vocations at that time. We should also be praying for our brother priests and bishops, for their strength, courage, faithfulness and growth in holiness.

Invite Men to Think about Priesthood. Invite at least one man in your parish to discern the priesthood each year. Seventy to eighty percent of men who enter seminary say a major influence was that a priest told them they would be a good priest. Unfortunately, only around 10% of priests ever say this to anyone. It can be frightening to say it to someone, not knowing how they will respond, and the man you say it to may not respond well. However, it will plant the seed, and in most cases the man will at least think about it for a while.

Joyful Priesthood. We should strive to share our joy in being priests. If people see a joyful priest, the men are more likely to want to be a priest, and all are more likely to encourage a family member or friend to become a priest. Of course, it is important to be authentic in our joy, and it may help to spend some time in prayer reflecting upon what gives you joy in serving God as a priest.

In this area also, it is important to mention that, as priests, we should not constantly be telling people how busy we are. Yes, we are busy. So is everyone else. However, when some people hear the priests talk about how busy they are all the time, they are not willing to encourage their sons or grandsons to think about the priesthood.

Preach on Vocations. At least once a year, it would be helpful for the priest to preach on vocations. We can preach on all the vocations or focus on one or two. It’s also helpful to share your own vocation story. For many men, the idea of a supernatural call has become embedded in young men’s imaginations, so when they receive the supernatural call in what appears to be a very natural way, they are not likely to respond.

Mass Servers. In many parishes, children quit serving in the eighth grade. Parishes that do well in promoting vocations typically will have children serve through senior year of high school. As a pastor, I asked my eighth graders to continue to serve throughout high school. This allowed me to talk to them before Mass and encourage them to continue growing in their faith. Also, research has shown that almost 70% of men who entered seminary served at Mass as a youth.

Ministry of Presence. Being present at different events that are important to young people in your parish shows concern and love for these parishioners and their families. It is not always possible to stay for an entire game, concert, play, musical or art show, so ensuring that they see you as present is of incredible importance. One tactic is to arrive early for an event and greet people as they arrive. People know you have other things to do, so, for the most part, they will understand that you are not staying for the entire event.

Jordan Danielson, left, of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, and Peter Specht of the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, participate in some classwork as part of their propaedeutic year at the St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. CNS photo/courtesy The Catholic Spirit

Diocesan Vocation Events. If your diocese offers different vocation events such as St. Andrew Dinners, Vocation Nights, Quo Vadis Camps or other events, personally invite men to these events. Most young people will not read the bulletin or really listen to the announcements at the end of Mass. For them to take a huge step in their mind of attending one of these events, it helps incredibly for the pastor to encourage them to go. For some of events, the pastor is invited as well, and it really helps if he attends. Also, please be sure to register for events by the deadlines. If there are not enough registrations, many times events may be canceled.

Teen Bible Study. Hosting a weekly or monthly Teen Bible Study helps teens in their relationship with God, and it may stir in their hearts the desire to serve God as a priest. These times also allow you to better get to know the young people in your parish.

Adoration, Corpus Christi Procession and Other Devotions. Instilling a love and respect for our Eucharistic Lord makes an enormous difference in young men discerning the priesthood. Many of the men who approach me about the priesthood acknowledge the importance of spending time every week in adoration. When I was pastor, our parish brought back the Corpus Christi procession. In addition, several months before the procession, we offered a display of Eucharistic miracles. Showing love, reverence and respect for God in the Eucharist helps lead men to think more often about being a priest.

Seminarians Mickey Fairorth, left, Andrew St. Denis, Dominic Mirenda and Robert Bollinger arrive at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Bally, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 6, 2021. The St. Charles Borromeo Seminary students in the Philadelphia archdiocese rode in the third annual Biking for Vocations event. CNS photo/Facebook, Office for Vocations to Diocesan Priesthood via

Field Trip to a Seminary. Touring a seminary and giving high school men an opportunity to interact with seminarians is one of the most beneficial ways to help a man discern the priesthood. By visiting a seminary and talking with seminarians, a man’s fear of the unknown is removed. This allows men to more readily see themselves as a candidate for the priesthood.

Invitation to an Ordination. Attending an ordination Mass can be life-changing for a young man. The beauty and reverence of the ordination Mass can be incredibly inspiring. Sharing the meaning of the various parts of the ordination can also help explain the beauty of our faith and our joy in being priests.

Visit Religion Classes. Priests need to be visible in schools and visit classrooms both in Catholic schools and PSR (Parish School of Religion) programs. A visit to religion classrooms offers the chance to talk with students about the Faith, to answer their questions and to show that priests are normal people. By doing this, some young people may realize their openness to the priesthood. These men will be more likely to contact the pastor to discuss their discernment and possible vocation.

Invite a Seminarian to Live with You. It is inspiring to see young men who are saying yes to serving God and a priestly vocation. By having a seminarian stay with you in the rectory over the summer, during Christmas break or Holy Week, the People of God see that there are young men pursuing the priesthood. This can open the eyes of parents and grandparents. This can also help the young people in a parish realize that seminarians are normal people like themselves. Parish support can also help the seminarian, who may struggle to discern or question his vocation. By living in the parish many times, a seminarian’s vocation and discernment are strengthened.

Maryknoll Father John Siyumbu distributes Communion during his ordination to the priesthood at the Maryknoll Society Center in Maryknoll, New York, on June 3, 2022. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, celebrated the ordination Mass. OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

NET Ministries, FOCUS, Totus Tuus and Others. Ministries that allow young adults the opportunity to evangelize others are a great blessing to a parish. They also allow young people to experience the ministry of serving others and bringing others to Christ. Encouraging young adult evangelization programs is a great way to help young men serve the Lord and consider if God is calling them further to the priesthood.

Parish Vocation Committee. Often in parishes, many lay people are interested in assisting in vocations to the priesthood. A parish vocation committee can help oversee the technical support the parish can offer to foster vocations. This group can focus on communicating diocesan vocation events, hanging posters, providing flyers, hosting parish vocation prayer opportunities and offering support for seminarians. This is a great way to get more people in your parish involved in supporting vocations to the priesthood.

Consider Outside Help. Research and consider using ministries that provide quality communication pieces about discerning the priesthood. One such resource is Vianney Vocations. This ministry has worked with more than 100 dioceses to assist them in reaching young Catholics to open their hearts to God’s call.

Young Adult Group. Parishioners in their 20s who have left college and have not yet discerned their vocation can sometimes lose their way in parish life. Having a young adult group at the parish allows this group to meet others who are also discerning what is next. This age range can quickly foster vocations, especially if a parish priest is willing and able to be present to the group at times, encouraging them to a deeper relationship with the Lord.

Pope Francis greets seminarians and the rector from the Pontifical North American College during his general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on Sept. 29, 2021. In his message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, the pope said that priests and laity should work together to evangelize. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Adopt a Seminarian. Some parishes encourage their parishioners to adopt a seminarian. Participants will get a picture of the seminarian and his email and mailing address. This allows families to communicate with the seminarian and let him know they are praying for him. Many times children in the family will draw pictures to send to the seminarian. Depending on the family and the seminarian, they also may schedule a visit to the seminary.

Traveling Chalice or Statue. There are several different programs for parishes where an individual, couple or family will receive a statue or chalice at the end of Mass. The family then spends the week praying for vocations, and a new family receives it the following week.

Top Three Suggestions

In conclusion, the suggestions above are just that, suggestions. We all know there is a shortage of priests in many of our dioceses and communities, and I hope that the above list inspires you to help in promoting vocations to the priesthood, all vocations and the universal call to holiness. The list is not exhaustive, and I’m sure there are great ideas out there waiting to be tried.

The top three I would suggest as typically being the most efficacious would be praying for vocations, asking a man to consider discerning priesthood and living a joyful priesthood. In my experience, those three have had the greatest impact on men discerning priesthood from a parish.

Our lives as priests are incredible gifts that God wants us to share. By encouraging others to discern the priesthood, we are offering them the greatest gift they could receive, serving God and God’s people as we all strive to become saints.

FATHER DANIEL J. SCHMITMEYER is the director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.


Prayer for Vocations

Almighty Father, you have created us for some definite purpose.
Grant us the grace to know the path you have planned for us in this life and to respond with a generous “yes.”

Make our archdiocese, parishes, homes and hearts fruitful ground for your gift of vocations. May our young people respond to your call with courage and zeal.

Stir among our men a desire and the strength to be good and holy priests. Bless us with consecrated religious and those called to a chaste single life, permanent deacons, and faithful husbands and wives, who are a sign of Christ’s love for his Church.

We commend our prayer for vocations to you, Father, through the intercession of Mary our Mother, in the Holy Spirit, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

— Vocations Prayer of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati



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