Groups provide monetary, spiritual aid to men, women discerning a call

In the fraternal year ending June 30, 2011, the Supreme Knights of Columbus in New Haven, Conn., gave nearly $1.87 million in scholarships to seminarians, support to seminaries and other vocations-related programs. In that same period, 2,697 councils and assemblies in the United States provided $3 million in assistance to 4,995 seminarians. 

By the end of that year, the Knights’ Refund Supports Vocations Program (RSVP) had raised $52.9 million to benefit 85,903 seminarians in its 30 years of operation. 

“It’s not just cash gifts to seminarians,” communications manager Peter Sonski said. “The council establishes a bond with the seminarian and they invite him to council functions and help him with moral support throughout his studies.” 

The Knights encourage members and their families to pray for vocations and to better understand the need for and essential roles of vocations in the life of the Church. Councils raise money at the local level for their own projects and Supreme Knights generate income through investments and selling insurance. 

“Promoting vocations is an important part of the Knights’ programs,” Sonski said. “For those who receive moral support or financial gifts, it helps them to understand that there are individuals who value the sacrifices and commitments they are making.” 

Promoting awareness

Serra National Council for the United States, based in Chicago, supports the priesthood and religious life with programs that promote awareness, affirmation, support and prayer. They sponsor the Called By Name outreach that seeks to identify men who may have vocations at the parish level. They also promote National Vocations Awareness Week and the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life. Twelve years ago, at the request of the National Federation of Priests Council, Serra developed Priesthood Sunday in October. 

How effective is this support? 

“The empirical data is very difficult [to obtain],” membership coordinator Peter Cunningham said. “But I met a young man who was recognized in the eighth grade by a Serra club and 23 years later he introduced himself to a new Serra club as an incoming seminarian.” 

Men who are called, he added, are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and “the Eucharist is essential.” 

“Without the Eucharist there is no priesthood,” Cunningham said. “Without the priesthood, there is no Eucharist.” 

Fostering dialogue

The National Religious Vocations Conference in Chicago is a professional organization of 1,300 vocation ministers who promote religious life as a sister, brother or priest as a viable option in the Church. Goals include providing education, resources, networking and support to members and those involved in vocations work. They also foster dialogues with Church organizations, particularly those who serve young adults and parents. 

“Our young people are growing up today without the Catholic culture that many who are religious today grew up in,” said executive director Holy Cross Brother Paul Bednarczyk. “The focus was on the family and around the Catholic schools, and the social life of the family was around the parish. Now where are our young people going to encounter religious?” 

Many religious communities are investing in full time vocations directors, he added, but the Church and individuals need to be involved, too. 

“Families could encourage vocations within their own children, and I think that this vocation culture needs to be part of the parish,” said Brother Bednarczyk. “Everyone needs to share in the responsibility for the future. And I would hope that diocesan vocation directors should be not just for the diocesan priesthood, but also for the consecrated life.” 

Many vocations directors have found it productive to leave their offices and get out on the road. “They have to be present where young people are,” he said. “They really have to be out promoting their lives as well as their mission.” 

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.

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