EDITOR’S NOTE: Look for more stories on vocations in upcoming editions of the Catholic Courier.
The 2007-08 school year has been an encouraging one for the Diocese of Rochester in terms of priestly vocations. On June 28, Bishop Matthew H. Clark will ordain Edison Tayag to the priesthood upon completion of his studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Brian Carpenter will be ordained a transitional deacon on May 31 and looks forward to priesthood ordination in 2009, following one more year at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill. And, in September of this year, five men completing a year of discernment at Becket Hall will head off to seminary to begin formal studies for priesthood.
People are often surprised to hear that we have men in formation for priesthood in this diocese. Our current numbers are happy news. This is the largest group to begin formation together in a very long time. It shows us that, not only does God continue to invite men to consider this counter-cultural way of life, but also that men continue to respond to the invitation. Both are necessary … the call and the response.
So, what is the path that leads to priesthood? What happens between God’s invitation and the laying on of the bishop’s hands in ordination? According to many priests I’ve spoken with through the years, the paths can be as varied as those who travel them. But, there are steps that men pursuing a vocation to priesthood in the Diocese of Rochester today would share in common.
For anyone discerning a vocation — ordained, married, lay, religious or dedicated single life — several things are important: an intimate relationship with God that is rooted in prayer, a sufficient amount of self-knowledge and a trusted person to talk to who understands that particular vocation.
When a man expresses interest in discerning a priestly vocation in this diocese, he is usually invited to start by speaking with his pastor or someone in the diocesan Office of Priesthood Vocation Awareness. Initial conversations help him to sort out his feelings by providing information and answering basic questions. Subsequent conversations over time, along with prayer and spiritual direction, help a man to clarify if priesthood is indeed the path to which God is calling him. If the desire persists, he is invited to apply for a period of formal discernment at Becket Hall.
Becket Hall is a one-year residential program for young men who have completed at least two years of college and are discerning a call to priesthood in the Diocese of Rochester. The program begins to address areas of spiritual, human and pastoral formation in the context of a prayerful and supportive community life. Residents also are able to work on academic requirements while they are there. A four-year college degree and a minimum of 30 credit hours in philosophy and 12 credit hours in religious studies are required for admission to major seminary. The decision to continue on to major seminary following Becket Hall is one arrived at mutually by both the candidate and the diocese.
The program of priestly formation for the Diocese of Rochester includes four years of academic study at a major seminary and one year of supervised pastoral experience in a local parish. Currently, Bishop Clark assigns seminarians to North American College in Rome; American College at Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium; Theological College at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.; and St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill.
God’s invitation to consider priesthood can be a mysterious thing. It can come to a young man serving at the altar for the first time, or a widowed father considering the next steps on his personal journey to holiness. It can come to lifelong Catholics and those newly received into the church. The feeling can wax and wane during a lifetime, but many describe it as a persistent thought that doesn’t go away.
Saying “yes'” to a vocation to ordained ministry — just like saying “yes” to any lifelong commitment — requires sacrifice, but can reap great rewards and real joy. With any vocation, the “yes” should be a result of daily prayer and careful discernment of God’s will. Only then can we hope to discover the plan for happiness that God freely invites each of us to follow.
It’s a wonderful thing to observe these young men at Becket Hall. Each of them has already achieved a certain amount of success in their lives, in such areas as education, music and information technology, and all exhibit a great love for the gift of faith they’ve been given. Still, there is a desire to do more, to be more for Christ. This year of discernment has allowed them to slow their steps and carefully examine those desires — to sort out what is from God and what is not from God.
Whether or not the Becket Hall experience ultimately leads to priesthood ordination, I’m happy they have chosen to use this time to seriously consider how to respond to God’s generous invitations. I pray that each discovers how it is that Christ is calling him to “come, follow me.” I hope you will, too.
Dady is coordinator of priesthood vocation awareness for the Diocese of Rochester.