Priestly team in Rochester seeks to reinforce call to vocations - Catholic Courier
Four men in clerical garb laugh as they sit next to each other as they prepare to discuss diocesan priests vocational journeys.

Fathers William Coffas (from left), Peter Van Lieshout, Daniel L. White and Joseph Martuscello of the Diocese of Rochester’s Priesthood Vocations Awareness Team prepare for a video interview with the Catholic Courier April 18.

Priestly team in Rochester seeks to reinforce call to vocations

Where can one find potential priests for the Diocese of Rochester?

In quite a few spots, if turnout for a late-December 2022 event was any indication.

Twenty young men from several parishes around the diocese attended a dinner at Greece’s Our Mother of Sorrows Church that month to learn about priestly life. The event was organized by the recently expanded diocesan Priesthood Vocation Awareness Team.

Should these and other men continue exploring the priesthood, they will draw closer to what Father Joseph Martuscello described as a life in which the rewards outweigh the challenges.

“There are days where we make a lot of sacrifices, and we may get tired,” Father Martuscello acknowledged. However, he added, “That is the greatest joy — that I sacrificed and put out myself for the people of God and for Jesus Christ.”

Rochester Diocese expanded vocations team in 2022

The awareness team, appointed by Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, expanded to four members in 2022. It comprises Fathers Martuscello and William Coffas, who serve as parochial vicar and pastor, respectively, at Our Mother of Sorrows and Rochester’s Holy Cross parishes; Father Peter Van Lieshout, rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral; and Father Daniel L. White, parochial vicar at Wayne County’s St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Katharine Drexel parishes.

These priests strive to connect with discerners individually and in such group settings as dinners and discussion sessions. In recent months, the team also collaborated with the Catholic Courier on “Called to Priesthood”, a video series highlighting diocesan priests discussing their priestly ministries and the joys of their vocation.

And on April 30, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Our Mother of Sorrows was scheduled to host a vocation-information event at which faith-formation families were to meet with priests and representatives of other types of vocations.

Rochester priests say everyone can play a role in vocations awareness

Father Coffas said the Priesthood Vocation Awareness Team is imploring diocesan clergy to increase their efforts to identify and approach men who might be experiencing calls to the priesthood. For instance, he lauded the many pastoral leaders who invited young men and accompanied them to the December dinner at Our Mother of Sorrows.

Father Van Lieshout, meanwhile, noted that priests also can inspire vocations simply by serving as positive models.

“If I’m living out my priesthood every single day, hopefully that, in and of itself, is promoting vocations,” said the cathedral rector, who has worked in diocesan vocations awareness since 2016.

Father Van Lieshout also noted that the laity can play key roles by approaching men in their parishes and asking if they’re considering the priesthood.

Praying for vocations is vital too, Father Van Lieshout said, citing as an example the Mothers of Lu — a coalition whose members pray for priestly vocations from within their own families. He noted that families can inspire vocations simply by practicing their faith together regularly.

“Every Catholic has a responsibility to promote vocations, particularly through prayer,” Father White stated, quoting Matthew 9:38 and Luke 10:2 in which Jesus instructs his followers to “ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”

Priests encourage men to act on vocational call

What type of person, spurred by the prayers and encouragement of others and his own spiritual calling, ends up becoming such a laborer?

Father Coffas said nearly all the seminarians he’s known have had histories of active engagement in their parishes, taking on such roles as sacristan, altar server, extraordinary minister of holy Communion and music minister.

Less easy to gauge is the age at which a young man seriously begins weighing the possibility of a priestly vocation. Father Coffas said he thought often about the priesthood even as a child, whereas Father White said he didn’t begin embracing the idea until graduate school.

Father Van Lieshout noted that someone considering priestly life must, at some point, ask himself if he’s willing to put his thoughts into action — possibly leading to seminary — and not wait for others to do so instead.

“Are you going to respond?” he asked. “Will you be one of the men in your generation to respond to that call?”

In an interview for one of the Courier vocations videos, Father Matthew Walter emphasized that ordination only takes place after several years of preparation, so men should not hesitate to explore the possibility of priesthood for fear of permanent commitment. He added that those who step forward are apt to benefit from the discernment-process experience, regardless of its outcome.

“Be courageous and you will never regret trying to follow the Lord — whatever happens, whatever path the Lord will lead you on,” said Father Walter, who currently is parochial vicar at St. Benedict Parish in Canandaigua and Bloomfield and will become parochial administrator of Corning’s All Saints Parish in June.

God’s grace provides worthiness for the priesthood

Father Martuscello noted it’s also common for men sensing a call to the priesthood to hesitate in making a commitment because they question whether they’re worthy.

“The truth is, no one is. But it’s by God’s grace that makes us worthy,” said Father Martuscello, who in June will become parochial vicar at St. Mary, Auburn; Ss. Mary & Martha, Auburn; and Our Lady of the Snow, Weedsport.

“We look at the people Jesus chose in his own ministry, the apostles — that they weren’t perfect people either — or the saints throughout the centuries,” he observed.

Despite one’s imperfections, “There are certain things that the priest can do that ordinary people can’t do,” such as administer the sacraments of the sick and penance, celebrate Mass, and perform many other invaluable acts of ministry, Father Martuscello said.

In a similar vein, Father Walter said he sometimes asks himself, “What if I had said no, or what if I had turned back?” If he had given in to rationales for not pursuing the priesthood, many people — including those in great need — might not have received priestly support, he noted.

Rochester priest says his vocation is ‘totally worth it’

Father Coffas acknowledged that many discerners can be daunted by the prospect of living a permanent, celibate life in God’s service. Adding to the challenge of increasing priestly vocations, he said, have been the COVID-19 pandemic, which impeded in-person vocations outreach and depressed overall Mass attendance, as well as “a society where faith is not seen as celebrated and important by a growing number of people.”

“But we can’t let those challenges prevent us from continuing the mission of Christ,” he emphasized, adding that the Priesthood Vocation Awareness Team has already received many positive responses as it seeks to add significantly to the Rochester Diocese’s current total of four seminarians.

He said he believes many young people today are seeking “something purposeful, a cause I can believe in” and that exploring the possibility of priesthood could be the fulfillment of such a search.

“It’s a joy to be able to do these unique priestly things,” Father Van Lieshout said. “All the while it involves sacrifices, but it’s totally worth it.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about priestly vocations in the Diocese of Rochester, visit rocpriest.org.

Tags: Holy Orders, Priests
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