In its first 30 years of existence as a suburban parish, Incarnate Word Catholic Church in Chesterfield, Mo., produced not a single priestly or religious vocation. No one had even come forward to express potential interest in the seminary or a convent.
Then came September 2001. That was the month Father Robert Hermann — who is now St. Louis Bishop Robert Hermann — introduced his parishioners to perpetual Eucharistic adoration, along with a Life Teen program.
Less than two years later, four Incarnate Word men had entered the seminary. Of these, three have been ordained.
Around the country, similar anecdotal evidence seems to point to a trend: Where Eucharistic adoration goes, vocations follow.
According to Bishop Hermann, once adoration was established at Incarnate Word, a strong desire took hold among his parishioners. They wanted to pray specifically for vocations. “The parish was excited, and I was relieved,” he recalled for the Register. “We now had something that could help foster vocations. We found the help that was always there — Our Lord.”
Bishop Hermann emphasizes that, along with the power of communal prayer for young people, Eucharistic adoration provides the potential candidates themselves with a unique experience of “peace, light and guidance for their lives.”
He adds that he has been impressed with the transforming power of the Eucharist among young people through his work with Life Teen and on youth retreats.
“Kids these days are hyper and restless,” he explains. “They are seeking the vertical in a world filled with horizontal noise. They are looking for meaning and love. When they come in contact with Eucharistic adoration, they are riveted on the love that comes from the Eucharist.”
And then there’s the simple gift of quiet time.
Young people “are drawn into this deep, deep silence where they experience relief and peace, and they are then attracted to Our Lord,” says Bishop Hermann. “They associate this peace with being with the Lord. If the hearts of the youth are open, then that is when they begin to hear the call. The Lord speaks to their hearts.”
Janet Doyle of Chicago knows the power of prayer in the Real Presence of Christ, exposed for adoration. The mother of three and grandmother of four is the organizer of a weekly Holy Hour dedicated to praying for priests and vocations at Queen of Martyrs Church in Evergreen Park, Ill. Eucharistic adoration has been a part of this parish’s daily life since 1993.
“We’ve been doing this now for almost 15 years,” says Doyle, who also serves her parish as a lector. “There is a core group of four or five of us, along with a few other people who show up every Thursday night at our adoration chapel from 8 to 9 p.m. We dedicate that hour to praying for priests.”
Power of the Presence
The Holy Hour includes prayers from a small booklet called Chalice of Strength: Prayers for Priests. “It’s important to pray for priests,” says Doyle. “I know they have a hard job to do.”
While Doyle can’t directly trace a vocational success story to Queen of Martyrs’ adoration chapel, she’s certain the prayers emanating from this small group are helping a candidate discern a vocation somewhere, somehow — on the Lord’s timetable.
The Church has long echoed the same sentiment: The harvest of future priests and religious will come from the prayers of the whole Church.
In 2002, Pope John Paul II made this clear in his address to the clergy of the Diocese of Rome. He said that the task of praying for vocations is “for the entire community.”
“Vocations decline when the intensity of faith and fervor diminishes,” the late Holy Father pointed out. “The Church’s commitment to vocations must have at its roots a great common commitment, one that calls upon lay people, priests and religious. … Each parish and Christian community … must feel a shared responsibility in proposing and accompanying vocations.”
One way to interpret those words: Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results.
Trust and Perseverance
In the Diocese of La Crosse Wis., Father Joseph Hirsch found his vocation while praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. After graduating from the local high school seminary, he was less than thrilled about the prospect of continuing on into college seminary.
It was the advice of Archbishop Raymond Burke (who was then Father Burke) that gave him the push to take the next step.
“He told me, ‘If you have a vocation to the priesthood, go where the bishop tells you, and find your vocation in the Blessed Sacrament chapel,’” recalls Father Hirsch.
While at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., he did just that. He says there were no extraordinary signs, wonders or miracles that solidified his calling to the priesthood; he simply kept going to the chapel, trusting God to take control.
It was on the day of his ordination to the diaconate that he felt a profound assurance that God wanted him to be a priest.
Ordained in 1986, Father Hirsch serves today as the vocations director for the Diocese of La Crosse. He gives the same advice to young people that Archbishop Burke gave him more than 25 years ago.
Father Hirsch also notes that Eucharistic adoration is a key part of formation in many seminaries today — and that, he says, is a change from years past.
“Twenty years ago, when we would have a high school retreat, we did a lot of skits. Today it is not a real retreat if we do not have Eucharistic adoration,” he says. “Adoration puts you in a relationship with the Lord. And it is the Lord who is going to give you the strength to do the impossible at times as a priest.”
Or, as Pope Benedict XVI put it in his 2005 encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love): “[T]he devotion of the faithful shows an infallible intuition of how [purely benevolent] love is possible: It becomes so as a result of the most intimate union with God, through which the soul is totally pervaded by him — a condition which enables those who have drunk from the fountain of God’s love to become in their turn a fountain from which ‘flow rivers of living water.’”
Both Father Hirsch and Bishop Hermann agree that it is in the silence before the Blessed Sacrament where young people hear God’s call.
“My advice to anyone contemplating a vocation,” says Bishop Hermann, “is to spend time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. If a calling to a priestly or a religious vocation is in their heart, it will bring them peace and joy, and it will continue to grow stronger and stronger.”
Eddie O’Neill reports from
Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Editor’s Note: For more on Eucharistic adoration for vocations, go to USCCB.org/vocations/monstrance.shtml, CircleOfPrayer.com/vocations.html and Vocation.com (click on “Promoting Vocations”).