Catholic Herald Staff
In an April 21 interview with the Catholic Herald, Diocese of Superior Vocations team member Fr. Patrick McConnell spoke about the virtual discernment group he began facilitating about 12 months ago with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Open to “any young man who is discerning God’s will in his life,” Fr. McConnell explained the weekly Zoom call includes night prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours and time for personal check-ins, questions and conversation.
Fr. McConnell leads the call, regularly joined by Fr. Adam Laski and sometimes by Fr. David Neuschwander, as well as diocesan seminarians Dan Tracy and Isaiah Schick. Between six and 15 young men join each call, with upwards of 30 who have participated at one time or another.
“It’s an easy way to connect,” the priest explained. “A really fruitful way to stay connected, to engage and maintain (a) relationship with these men – to let them know that the church cares about them, that God cares about them, and that we can still be connected,” he added, noting the weekly virtual gathering will likely continue after the pandemic fully winds down.
Participants range from college students and young professionals to a few high school students. They’re from Phillips, Amery, Hayward, Hudson and various colleges across the Lake Superior region in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
While guys have come and gone from the gatherings, the clear expectation, Fr. McConnell said, “Is that they want to be men who are seeking the will of God … open to what God wants and willing to grow in holiness.”
Initial connections were made through email and monthly reminders go out for the weekly call.
A smaller group of the men are doing a virtual book study on “To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood,” by Fr. Brett Brannon, meeting monthly to go through the book.
The initiative – which Fr. McConnell says was “not rocket science” – has caught the attention of neighboring dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. McConnell has been contacted by them and two other dioceses inquiring and wanting to model something similar.
It has definitely been a stepping stone for movement along the stages of discernment. Some of the young men are in the process of application to the seminary and the group helps them stay in touch with the diocesan vocations team as well as ask questions and feel supported.
“We have young men definitely seeking and interested,” Fr. McConnell assured.
“We have young men that are eager to make the next step,” he said, clarifying it is a personal process and that the bottom line is wanting to be open to God’s will, however that becomes clear.
“The most important aspect of any process of knowing God’s will,” McConnell reflected, “is an intimate relationship of prayer and community. You have to have someone you can share your life with and your relationship with Christ with.”
The virtual discerners call has been an effective means of doing just that, in about 30 minutes once a week.
It also provides a chance to be human and connect with like-minded men, to talk about everything from athletic endeavors and job opportunities to house projects.
Some of the men were able to gather in person for an ice fishing day in early March. Eight gathered for the discerners’ outing, which was pulled off by the Rice Lake Knights of Columbus.
The Diocese of Superior Vocations team is planning to hold an in-person Andrew Dinner on Aug. 15 in Medford. For more information on that event – details yet to be determined – and general discernment resources, visit callednorth.org.
Fr. McConnell may be contacted directly by anyone wanting more information about joining the weekly calls at .
Fr. Patrick McConnell