Men discern vocations at Becket Hall - Catholic Courier
Justin Miller, a discerner living at Becket Hall, prepares for Mass at Brighton's St. Thomas More Church April 29. Justin Miller, a discerner living at Becket Hall, prepares for Mass at Brighton's St. Thomas More Church April 29.

Men discern vocations at Becket Hall

BRIGHTON — Just over a year ago, Frank Vivacqua II realized something was missing from his life.

He loved his career in education and the students and families he worked with in the Greece Central School District. He was happily involved in a number of ministries at his parish, Our Mother of Sorrows in Greece. Nonetheless, as he became more involved in church ministry, he began to feel God was asking more of him. He applied for an opening for a Catholic-school principal, but something told him that really wasn’t what God wanted for him.

"Eventually I spoke to a priest, because it was something I couldn’t figure out on my own," Vivacqua said.

The priest suggested that Vivacqua contact Father Timothy Horan, director of priesthood vocation awareness for the Diocese of Rochester. After talking with Father Horan and attending an event for men considering priestly vocations, Vivacqua applied and was admitted to Becket Hall, the diocesan residential program for men discerning possible priestly vocations.

Vocations rising

Vivacqua, 36, is one of five students currently living at Becket Hall, which is located in the former rectory at St. Thomas More Parish in Brighton. All five will graduate from the program during a May 21 ceremony at St. Thomas More Church, and at least five more men are set to move into Becket Hall in September, according to Father William Coffas, director of Becket Hall.

All five of this year’s Becket Hall residents are planning to enroll in seminaries for the 2011-12 school year, bringing the total number of seminarians for the Diocese of Rochester to 14, said Carol Dady, coordinator of diocesan priesthood vocation awareness.

This will be the largest number of seminarians the diocese has had in more than 10 years, Dady said. There have been a few "sparse" years over the past decade, and 2005-06 was one of those years, she said. That year, there were just two men at Becket Hall and five in seminary, but the recent larger numbers of seminarians and discerners marks a possible trend in the diocese toward greater interest in priestly vocations.

No one knows exactly why priestly vocations appear to be on the rise, although Father Horan and Father Coffas have a few guesses. Father Horan said he believes some men look to the priesthood after being disappointed by the false promises of happiness in an often-superficial world. Other young men see the Catholic Church facing many challenges today and want to represent the church in a positive way, he said.

Still others, he said, likely were inspired by the late Pope John Paul II, who modeled the behavior of a true follower of Christ and exhibited Christian virtues that stirred their hearts.

"He brought many to the church, and his example of suffering and service was very inspiring," Father Coffas agreed. "I don’t think it is any mistake that a few years after (his death in 2005) we’re starting to see a real upswing in the number of vocations to the priesthood."

Several men in discernment have told Father Coffas they also were inspired by local priests, who work very hard yet find priestly ministry very fulfilling. Dady, Father Horan and the rest of the diocesan vocations-awareness team have worked tirelessly to encourage young men to open their hearts and minds to God’s call, he added.

"When you plant the seed and cultivate it, it does start to bear fruit," Father Coffas remarked.

Yet the vocations team is not in the business of recruiting, Father Horan said. Rather, team members provide support and a safe environment for men who might be considering the priesthood, Dady noted.

"What we do is share what we know about a life that is full and meaningful, and we invite others to consider walking down that path. It’s sharing the good news," Father Horan said.

Learning from example

Living in community at Becket Hall gives discerners the opportunity to witness this full and meaningful life firsthand, according to Becket Hall resident Dominic Marini, 23. Father Coffas and Father James Lawlor live with the discerners at Becket Hall, so the men are able to watch the priests and learn from their examples, Marini said. Not only do the discerners learn what a day in the life of a priest is like, but they also learn from the priests’ spiritual habits, Vivacqua said.

"We begin to learn the routine of being spiritual throughout the entire day, and carrying that virtue with you when you come home," he said.

By living in community, the students also realize they’re not the only ones striving to answer God’s call. Many men are hesitant to pursue priestly vocations because they fear a life of loneliness, but living at Becket Hall helps them realize that they’ll never be alone and that they will have much in common with their fellow discerners and, perhaps one day with their brother priests, Father Coffas said.

Each weekday at Becket Hall begins with morning prayer, during which the discerners pray the Liturgy of the Hours in the chapel, followed by daily Mass at St. Thomas More at 8 a.m. Two of the discerners serve or are sacristans during Mass each day, so parishioners begin to realize they are a contributing part of the parish community, noted Justin Miller, 25.

After Mass, Becket Hall’s residents walk back to the former rectory for breakfast before splitting up to attend classes. Miller, Marini and Vivacqua attend St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, where this year they’ve taken the 30 credit hours of philosophy and 12 credit hours of religious education that are required to enter major seminaries in the United States. The other two Becket Hall residents — Carlos Alberto Builes Gil and Carlos Mario Sanchez Betancur — are from Colombia, and had already completed most of their required philosophy and religious-studies course work before coming to the United States. Instead, the two Colombians take English classes at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Pittsford.

Each discerner is required to spend between three and five hours per week serving at a local parish, working with a mentor priest and gaining experience in a variety of ministries. All five students regroup in the chapel at 5 p.m. for evening prayer before eating dinner together. On Tuesday nights they forego evening prayer in favor of Mass in the chapel with Father Coffas or a guest priest, and after dinner Father Coffas or the visiting priest will give a talk about a particular aspect of priestly formation. On Thursday evenings, dinner is followed by Scripture-based reflection and faith-sharing, which help the students develop the skills they’ll need to be good homilists, Father Coffas said.

Men who are considering Becket Hall are invited to participate in a monthly faith-sharing night, which gives them an opportunity to find out how the program works and ask questions of current discerners. Men interested in the program must apply and go through several interviews with vocations-office staff before being accepted into the program, Dady said.

A good candidate for Becket Hall is a young man who loves his faith and is comfortable talking about it, and who has healthy relationships with both men and women, she said. He must be humble and motivated by a desire to serve and bring the church’s nourishment to others, Father Horan added. People who seek the priesthood as a way of running away from the world and hiding from their personal problems will not be accepted into Becket Hall, he noted.

Men who enter Becket Hall are under no obligation to enter the seminary or become priests, Dady noted.

"We certainly don’t presume to know where God is calling them," she said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about Becket Hall or priestly vocations, go to the diocesan website,, and click on the "Vocations" link near the top of page; search for Becket Hall on Facebook; or call the Vocations Awareness Office at 585-461-2890.

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