Youth work crucial to vocations

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Young men converse with priests and seminarians at the St. Andrew dinner held at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in New Richmond in May 2018. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff
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“Intentional relationships with those men who have shown an openness to God’s will.” This is how Fr. Patrick McConnell, Assistant Vocations Director for the Diocese of Superior describes the primary vocations work in the diocese.

The shortage of priests in the diocese is no secret. While the trend of one ordination every year, with some two year spreads, has been relatively consistent since the 1950s.

One notable reality in regards to those men ordained since 2000 – eight of the 18 are not in active ministry. One is deceased, five retired and two on leave. In addition, Fr. Adam Laski is currently studying canon law at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Of the three seminarians studying for the Diocese of Superior, Dcn. Joe Stefancin is estimated to be ordained in 2020. There will be a lull in ordinations after that, as the other two seminarians are still one year away from the four-year theology program that precedes ordination.

Chris Newkirk, who also forms part of the diocesan vocations team, did verify that “there has been a definite increase in responses and active inquiry with young men interested in the call to priesthood.” She could not provide names of those in the application process, but confirmed the process of official acceptance is underway.

Much credit is given to youth ministry efforts in the diocese. Newkirk added that fostering priestly vocations at a younger age has statistically proven to be helpful.

Fr. McConnell acknowledged many of the current vocational seeds have been planted and contacts made through youth rallies, Totus Tuus, Extreme Faith Camp and Discipleship weekends as well as experiences like the March for Life, Steubenville conferences and National Catholic Youth Conference.

“Many of the team of priests working on vocation promotion have attended these events and been able to begin walking with those young men present and open,” he said.

Newkirk confirmed these priests “have been doing an excellent job of keeping in contact with these young men and helping them in their beginning stages of discernment and potential application process.”

Another member of the diocesan vocations team is Fr. John Anderson, pastor for the New Richmond and Erin Prairie Catholic churches. For the past two years, he has attended the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors.

He commented there are many positive things happening; one being “a longing for faith and the traditions of it in some of our young adults and youth.

“It is a matter of how each of us affirms and encourages that. We are sometimes hesitant due to our past experiences or feeling that we do not know enough. There is nothing wrong with learning and relearning together!” he said.

Speaking of overt discernment opportunities, Fr. Anderson mentioned the St. Andrew dinners, seminary visits and silent retreat weekends.

The St. Andrew dinners have been hosted in most of the diocese’s deaneries within the last 18 months. These evenings offer a chance for young men and their parents to interact with priests, ask questions about the priesthood and discernment, hear priest and parent testimonials and pray together. Attendance at all of the events has been substantial.

There will be a St. Andrew dinner hosted at Immaculate Conception, New Richmond, on May 29.

Seminary visits include St. Francis de Sales Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and Immaculate Heart Minor Seminary in the Diocese of Winona. Fr. Anderson said these visits include experiences of prayer and reflection, meeting seminarians and learning about the formation and coursework.

Fr. McConnell recently took four men to a silent retreat at St. Francis de Sales Major Seminary focused on discernment of God’s call to the priesthood.

He spoke of the hope to renew former vocations groups in each parish and form new ones.

“I believe we have many gifts to serve vocations on our Vocations Team, but we all have limited time. The component that means the most is the support of vocations in the parishes,” he said, adding that support for men’s and women’s vocations to religious life needs to continue.

A new website for diocesan vocations efforts, “Called North” is still “a work in progress,” according to Newkirk, but it is live and available at callednorth.org. She invites people to start checking out the information and resources available and watch for updates.
“Once 100% of the content is up and running we will be sending out a letter to each of the parishes/clusters, more fully explaining the content and how they can use it in their own parish or cluster,” Newkirk said.

Persons interested in being involved with any vocations initiatives are invited to contact any of the Vocations Team members. Contact information can be found at catholicdos.org/office-of-vocations.

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