When Pope Benedict XVI announced the Year for Priests in June 2009, it seemed to Jerry Usher like the confirmation of an idea he had had for 20 years. He thought, The Year for Priests is now the time to unveil “Vocation Boom.”
The first phase of his new initiative is VocationBoom.com, which launched on Sept. 14, 2009, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.
The website’s purpose is to provide a place where young men interested in the priesthood can find resources and serve as “a one-stop global meeting place relating to priestly vocations to provide encouragement, motivation and inspiration to one another,” says Usher.
Usher has worked on the idea since his college days. After graduating from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, he spent three years in a seminary, followed by a year of pastoral assignment, during which he and some friends started a newsletter on vocational discernment.
Although he ultimately discerned the priesthood was not his calling, Usher says the desire to promote the priesthood and priestly vocations never left him.
“I had a much broader vision for the project than just the newsletter,” he says, hoping to include other media.
“God has opened up new opportunities for us,” he reasoned, “so we started to develop the website, the first phase of the initiative.”
Usher’s media experience has come in handy. From 1998-2008 he became creator and host of “Catholic Answers Live” and helped some Catholic radio stations get off the ground. He also founded and currently heads Third Millennium Media to assist Catholic radio, ministries and apostolates in their rapid growth.
Now with the Vocation Boom website, Usher is bringing his media and theological expertise to promote vocations to the priesthood.
The website provides links to a number of videos like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ award-winning “Fishers of Men.” Among more than 20 videos to date, viewers can watch a profile of St. John Marie Vianney, hear Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, listen to seminarians, and see what life is like as a seminarian.
“Some have had several thousand views,” says Usher. One of the most viewed is “I Will Give You Shepherds,” which he produced along with two other videos: “God’s Call” and “It’s Your Call.” Creating more custom videos for this section is on Usher’s “to develop” list.
But that’s not all. Check out the growing list of U.S. seminaries and their contact information. Also find links to another increasing list of diocesan vocation directors and religious orders.
Usher welcomes any diocese or religious order that wants to put a link on the site, and he hopes to get every U.S. seminary listed.
A recent online addition is interviews, including one of Grant Desme, who left major league baseball to enter the seminary this year and Usher himself being interviewed by journalist Teresa Tomeo on her “Catholic Connections” program.
VocationBoom.com is gaining attention. On their list of “Top 10 Vocation Sites” for 2010, the USCCB’s Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations website, ForYourVocation.org, calls Vocation Boom the “Best New Resource on Priesthood.”
And among Vocation Boom’s advisory board of priest, deacons and laypeople are St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt, Father Larry Richards and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers.
“I’m very grateful as a priest to Jerry Usher,” says Father David Toups, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Tampa, Fla., “for his great love of the priesthood. Jerry, as a faithful Catholic man and apologist in the Church, understands so well that without the priest there is no Eucharist. So his desire and the desire of Vocation Boom is intended to help build up the whole body of Christ by focusing on vocations to the priesthood.”
Father Toups, recent associate director of the Committee for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations at the USCCB and author of Reclaiming Our Priestly Character (Institute for Priestly Formation, 2007), sees Vocation Boom as “tech-savvy and colloquial enough that a young man can easily navigate and relate to the message of Vocation Boom.”
And considering the Holy Father’s message for the 2010 World Day of Prayer for Vocations was titled “Witness Awakens Vocations,” Father Toups sees Vocation Boom’s particular focus on the personal witness of priests’ and seminarians’ vocations as a way to awaken vocations in young men.
Phase two of the initiative is gaining ground, literally: the Vocation Boom Road Show.
The road show was launched last December when Usher recorded programs at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and Sts. Cyril & Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich., to air in major cities during National Vocation Awareness Week (in January).
The road show will continue with live or taped shows and events. The programs have already aired on Relevant Radio, and Usher appeared on Boston’s CatholicTV.
Transitional deacon Eric Fedewa of Sacred Heart Major Seminary, to be ordained for the Archdiocese of Detroit next June, was featured on one VocationBoom.com interview.
He believes Vocation Boom is a great way to help out guys who are thinking of the priesthood, especially because of the kinds of resources like “videos on vocations to the priesthood and testimonies of seminarians.”
Videos like “Fishers of Men,” he says, “really help guys realize the gravity in a good sense: It’s not just an average thing you do, but a supernatural calling.”
Along with the videos Fedewa finds the contact section very helpful. “A lot of times, guys have no idea what to do if they feel called to the priesthood,” he says.
What’s next for VocationBoom.com? Making the site more interactive, with a forum and comment boxes. Usher also hopes to have a regular weekly radio and TV show, plus rallies and retreats to get young men and their families together to encourage and inspire them to think about priestly vocations.
“It all depends,” he says, “on God providing us with the resources.”
So far, they’re booming.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.