"Encouraging" seems to be the word that best sums up the status of priesthood vocations in the Diocese of Rochester, according to Carol Dady, diocesan coordinator of priesthood-vocations awareness. The diocese currently has five men in major seminary and five more men seriously discerning a potential call to the priesthood, Dady said.
"It feels like the tide is rising a little bit as far as vocations awareness in the diocese is concerned," Dady recently remarked.
This good news comes at an appropriate time, as priests throughout the nation gear up for National Vocations Awareness Week, which takes place Jan. 10-16. During this week, diocesan priests and deacons often are encouraged to share their own vocation stories, either from the pulpit at weekend Masses or at special parish events, Dady said. Parishioners are encouraged to pray for priests and help spread the word about priestly vocations.
"The whole week is an opportunity to join with parishioners around the country just to do whatever they can to strengthen vocations," she said.
Catholics worldwide, meanwhile, have been celebrating the Year for Priests, which Pope Benedict XVI last year proclaimed would extend from June 2009 until June 2010. Last September, Bishop Matthew H. Clark and 125 diocesan priests observed the Year for Priests by gathering for a day of reflection at Notre Dame Retreat House in Canandaigua.
"It was kind of an opportunity for them to focus on their unique spirituality as priests," Dady said. "It was a day for them to really share stories and pray together and talk with the bishop one on one, just to kind of talk about this unique life that they have in common."
Catholics at several diocesan parishes began praying for priests and seminarians long before Pope Benedict XVI announced the Year for Priests, Dady said. Several members of St. Rita Parish in Webster, for example, gather each weekday after morning Mass to pray for vocations.
"They’re really good about staying in touch with the seminarians, which is so encouraging to them, especially when they’re far away in Europe. They send them birthday cards, and at the holidays they send little cards and gifts," Dady said.
Three of Rochester’s five seminarians currently are studying in Europe. Peter Van Lieshout and David Tedesche are studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, and Michael Costik is studying at the American College in Leuven, Belgium. Matt Jones is studying Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, and Peter Motola is studying at Theological College in Washington, D.C.
Five more men currently live in Becket Hall, the diocesan residence for men in priestly discernment. Three of these men currently are taking graduate-level philosophy and religious-studies courses — prerequisites for major-seminary study — at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford. The other two are enrolled at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, also in Pittsford.
"There are no guarantees that they’re going to make it all the way through and get ordained, but we have these 10 solid, bright men who are on the path. That’s encouraging," Dady said.
Men in discernment at Becket Hall each are assigned to a parish, where they work with a mentor priest, help out in various parish ministries and sit in on staff meetings, she added.
"That gives them a little experience of parish life, and seeing how a parish is run," Dady said.
The diocese recently moved the Becket Hall program from Rochester’s Most Precious Blood Church to its current location in the former rectory of St. Thomas More Parish in Brighton.
"It’s a larger space, and we needed a larger space than Most Precious Blood," Dady said, noting that the need for a larger space is not a bad problem to have.
"We want to keep filling it up," she said. "I feel like that in itself is a great sign to the people in the diocese that vocations are alive."