As a nuclear medicine technologist, Michael Johnson has had some difficulty adjusting to religious life. In his second year of formation for the U.S. province of the international Salvatorian religious community, he’s quiet a lot, spending hours in prayer and discernment for his future.
“It’s hard for me to just sit,” Johnson told Our Sunday Visitor in a recent interview. “I’m used to doing things, I’m used to producing. That’s our society here in America.”
Now, though, he is quiet. And he is relying on the prayers — and financial support — of others as he spends this time discerning God’s call for him.
“I have a lot of time for prayer and contemplation,” he said. “It’s a real gift to have the space and the time to really focus on God and see where God’s calling me. I wish everyone in the world could have a year like I have right now where they can just spend time going deeper inside themselves and seeing God inside themselves and inside others.”
Johnson’s story is not unique. The Salvatorians, who are based in Milwaukee, currently are bursting with vocations — something Father Joe Rodrigues, vocations director and U.S. provincial, called a “blessed problem.”
“Here it is we have men who are choosing to respond to the call,” he said. “The irony is how we are going to sustain them.”
With the high cost of education, housing and formation “it was amazing how [the bills] added up,” Father Rodrigues said. To meet the needs of his growing community, Father Rodrigues recently launched the Adopt an Apostle campaign — a program matching those in formation with financial and spiritual supporters. The seminarians are termed “apostles,” because part of the Salvatorian charism says that all those baptized are to be called apostles.
As the idea for the fundraising effort continued to develop, Father Rodrigues knew he wanted an easy, appealing and personal avenue.
“People like more of a concrete focus when it comes to contributing,” he said. “It’s about relationship. It’s not this theoretical thing they are contributing to.”
Through the Adopt an Apostle initiative, Father Rodrigues said supporters are able to contribute completely to the lives of men in formation. They can pay for them. They can pray for them. They can visit them.
It’s Father Rodrigues’ hope that there is a demographic of faithful Catholics looking for a way to help support the Church as it continues to provide sacraments and ministry within a Catholic context. He sees each measure of support as an investment in the future of the Church and as a way for people to express their faith.
“Each of these men will touch thousands of people throughout their lives,” he said. “By investing in these men and helping sponsor them, they can be a part of that.”
Filling a need
In order to develop the relationship between those in formation and their adopted “parents,” Father Rodrigues encourages the seminarians to write to their sponsors. The Salvatorians update social media so the sponsors will be able to “see the faces” of the men and “be familiar with them and how they are doing.”
Anne Ramsey met Father Rodrigues in 2007 at Most Holy Trinity Parish in Tucson, Ariz., where she was “blown away” by his homilies and his ability to bring the Gospel to life. She began receiving the Salvatorian newsletter, reading the vocations stories and was impressed with the commitment of the men who were considering priesthood and religious life.
“After the passing of my beloved husband I felt alone and lost,” Ramsey said. “Daily I kept praying and asking, ‘What do you want me to do now, Lord? Use me as your instrument. Where can I help?’”
When another issue of the newsletter arrived, Ramsey read about the Adopt an Apostle program and knew she had found her answer. She began to contribute financially every month, while continuing her prayers for the men in formation.
“They will be sent out to continue the Church’s mission to spread truth,” she said. “It will be an uphill battle.”
As a lay Salvatorian, JoAnn Kuphaldt, from Fair Oaks, Calif., also recently started supporting the community through the Adopt an Apostle program. She feels a connection with the community, she said, and attends conferences and visits the men in Milwaukee when she can.
“It just seemed to me that they were in need, so when Father Joe got up and said we’re starting this program, I thought, ‘that’s a really good thing to do,’” Kuphaldt said.
Laying claim to future
Johnson, who grew up in Woodbury, Minn., knows that without the support of those like Ramsey and Kuphaldt, he wouldn’t be able to make it through this year of discernment on his own.
“We’re just indebted to the people who are supporting us,” he said. “It’s something we don’t have to worry about. It’s something that’s not hanging over our heads. We can focus all of our attention on our volunteering and our studies.”
And prayers, he said, are even more important than any financial assistance.
“[The discernment process] is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “I could never have done this without the spiritual support of friends and family.”
As the Adopt an Apostle campaign continues to take form, Father Rodrigues hopes it will be a model that will pay dividends.
It’s an opportunity, he said, for people to “lay claim on the future of the Church” — and to continue to pray for those in formation as they “give witness in this way to serve the people of God.”
Gretchen R. Crowe is editor of OSV Newsweekly.