OMAHA, Neb. — Serra International is using the Year for Priests to tackle the laity’s role in promoting vocations to religious life. More than 530 Serrans, several bishops and many priests gathered in Omaha for the group’s 67th International Convention Aug. 27-30, which focused on the theme “The Role of Christ’s Lay Faithful.”
“No one offers more support and encouragement for vocations than Serra,” said the host, Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, about the organization, which was founded 75 years ago. “The genius of Serra is that it’s founded in prayer.”
Serra has as its mission to foster and promote vocations to the ministerial priesthood, to support priests in their ministry, to encourage and affirm vocations to consecrated life, and to assist its members in growing in holiness.
Des Moines, Iowa, Bishop Robert Pates presented the landscape from which vocations are currently coming. Amid that landscape, he cited Catholic charismatic communities such as those in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Wichita, Kan., home-schooling families, lay associations such as Focolare, Communion and Liberation, and the Neocatechumenal Way, universities such as Texas A & M, Franciscan University of Steubenville and Benedictine College, ministries such as the Fellowship of Catholic University Students and National Evangelization Teams, and the influence of World Youth Day.
“In their families, churches and schools, they have been evangelized,” said Bishop Pates. “Authentic vocations emerge from discipleship with Jesus.”
Bishop Pates’ comments were backed up by the recent “Study of Recent Vocations to Religious Life” conducted by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate on behalf of the Chicago-based National Religious Vocation Conference.
Whereas 91% of finally professed women are age 60 and over, 43% of those currently in training are under 30; 71% of those in initial formation are under 40.
“We’ve heard anecdotally that the youngest people coming to religious life are distinctive, and they really are,” said Sister Mary Bendyna, executive director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. “They’re more attracted to a traditional style of religious life, where there is community living, common prayer, having Mass together, praying the Liturgy of the Hours together. They are much more likely to say fidelity to the Church is important to them. And they really are looking for communities where members wear habits.”
That data also found that just 1% of religious orders associated with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious have more than 10 women in the process of joining, whereas among the smaller Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, 28% reported having 10 or more candidates.
Many at the conference spoke of the importance of the family in the role of vocations and the negative impact of the disintegration of the family.
“The domestic church be--comes the first seminary,” said Archbishop Emilio Carlos Berlie of Yucatan, Mexico.
Families Foster Vocations
Echoing what Pope Benedict XVI said recently, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan emphasized the vocation of marriage and family.
Citing data from a recent Pew Research Center study, Archbishop Dolan stated that only about 50% of Catholic young people are approaching the sacrament of marriage.
“Taking care of the first crisis will take care of the second,” said Archbishop Dolan. “Vocations to the priesthood and religious life come from lifelong, life-giving, faithful marriages.”
Deacon James Keating stressed the invaluable role of the father in leading his family into the mystery of Christ.
“The father gazes upon the mother as Christ gazes upon Mary,” said Deacon Keating, director of theological formation at the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University. “The father needs to live in that mystery so that the family will not be resistant to the idea of a religious vocation.”
Sadly, many speakers noted, the family has become a place of great resistance to religious vocations. Archbishop Dolan spoke of the importance of recreating a “culture of vocations.”
“We need to recapture the climate, tenor, tone, ambiance in the Church where a boy or man isn’t afraid to publicly say, ‘I want to be a priest,’ and where his family, relatives, neighbors, parish, priest, sisters, teachers and even non-Catholics are robustly supportive,” said Archbishop Dolan.
During a panel discussion with four former seminary rectors, the now-bishops commented positively on the quality of men they’ve observed in seminaries.
“They have a dazzling, noble, boyish love of the priesthood, even in the face of the fact that the life of the priesthood has been so greatly tarnished in our culture and society,” said Archbishop Dolan.
Archbishop Dolan also noted the change that has taken place over the past 10 to 15 years.
“There has been an intense recovery of the arsenal of piety and devotion that’s such a rich part of Catholic spirituality that perhaps our generation let go of somewhat,” said Archbishop Dolan.
He cited two times that seminarians at the North American College in Rome demanded something of him as a rector.
“First, they asked for a daily Holy Hour with the Blessed Sacrament exposed,” said Archbishop Dolan. “Second, they asked that priests be available for the sacrament of reconciliation every morning. They led us in a recovery of that.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.