A bulletin insert went out to parishes in the Archdiocese of Atlanta earlier in the year that contained several stories promoting vocations to the priesthood. Several days later, Father Luke Ballman said he received a call from a young businessman, who, inspired by the insert, inquired about becoming a priest.
The insert was the brainchild of Vianney Vocations, an organization based in Valdosta, Ga., that helps dioceses increase their number of seminarians. They use a variety of marketing tools to help vocation offices reach out to men.
Building priestly vocations
Father Ballman, the archdiocesan vocation director, said Vianney Vocations has built a database of prospective young men, created brochures in English and Spanish and developed Facebook pages to promote the priesthood.
The founder and president of Vianney Vocations, Sam Alzheimer, a former seminarian from the Diocese of Savannah, Ga., had to convince Father Ballman to utilize Facebook because the priest said he was a little leery of using it at first.
“But Sam convinced me since our target age is college-age and young adult men,” Father Ballman said. “That’s where we are, and we need to meet them where they are, because that’s what Jesus did.”
Alzheimer saw the need for his organization because of the shortage of priests. Compared to 10 years ago, he said, there are 5 million more Catholics in the United States — and 5,000 fewer priests.
So his organization designs materials meant to educate and inspire. Bulletin inserts usually include a story of a happy, holy priest; an article on the parent of a seminarian; a note from the vocation director; interviews with seminarians; and other articles of interest, he said.
Another service is a specialized database in which information is gathered from an assortment of people — such as priests, deacons, educators and campus ministers — who submit names of young men who may have the call to the priesthood. Another database of single Catholic men between the ages of 18 and 35 is created from information provided by parishes. All of these men are sent, via email, brochures or invitations to discernment retreats.
“We target the message to them based on their likelihood to be a good candidate,” Alzheimer said. “For example, a man whose name is submitted by a trusted priest would be sent information more frequently than a fellow simply identified in a parish database. But all receive some level of information. … We really cast a very wide net to reach out to men who may have a vocation to the priesthood.”
Posters and prayers
But he realizes that he can only do so much.
“One thing I always keep in mind is [that] a vocation is the work of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “It is God who calls men, but we can help to create an environment so that guys can hear the call.”
Depending on the services selected by a diocese, prices range from $500 to $3,000 a month. In the case of the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., the diocese has used Vianney Vocations for posters, bulletin inserts, a diocesanwide prayer campaign for vocations and promotion of their discernment retreats. “They increased the number of people coming to discernment retreats by 50-60 percent,” said Deacon Joseph Cahill, director of the Diocese of Charleston’s vocation office.
Using different marketing tools is necessary in building a vocations culture, said Father Len Plazewski, the former president of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors.
“But no one is going to be a priest because of a poster,” he said. In addition to marketing, there also needs to be the basic works of vocations: personal invitations, one-on-one contact and experiential opportunities in prayer for men discerning for the priesthood.
Ultimately, nothing beats prayer, he said. “The people of God need to be praying for vocations.”
Carlos Briceno writes from Illinois.
On the Web
For more information on Vianney Vocations, check out their website at www.vianneyvocations.com.