Setting out to find vocations

Without question, the Catholic priesthood is indispensable. Without priests, there would be no Eucharist, no reconciliation. Without our shepherds, the Church would be comprised entirely of lost sheep.

It is essential, then, to spread the word about the priestly vocation and encourage young men to consider that they might be called to this sacred ministry. Dioceses all over the United States are finding unique ways to spread the word and engage young men in vocational discernment.

To the airwaves

Father Jeff Eirvin is the vocations director for the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon. He is the host of a weekly radio show called “Answering the Call,” which features vocations stories from priests, seminarians, permanent deacons, religious men and women, and conversations with parents as well as those who are still discerning.

The genesis of the program came from a discussion with the local Catholic radio station, Mater Dei Radio. Seeking ways to use the media as effectively as possible, and ways that Mater Dei could support the vocations office, the idea of a vocations show began to germinate. What started as one-minute snippets that would play throughout the day quickly developed into a half-hour weekly show hosted by Father Eirvin.

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Father Eirvin

“We wanted to be able to get the word out about vocational discernment,” Father Eirvin told Our Sunday Visitor. “Maybe we will reach men and women who will hear these stories and say, ‘Maybe I’m not alone. Maybe the Lord is calling me to this life.’”

“Answering the Call” has been on the air for nearly two years. Father Eirvin always is looking out for other unique ways to assist in vocational discernment. The first step often is simply starting the conversation.

Father Eirvin is not the only vocations voice on the airwaves. Jerry Usher has a unique vantage point for seeing the different ways dioceses are reaching out about priestly vocations. He was the host of the popular Catholic Answers Live radio program for many years, and in 2011 he premiered a program with the aim of getting the word out about vocational discernment. Called “Vocation Boom,” the program is the culmination of years of work and now has a companion television show on EWTN.

To the field

Over the years, in speaking with vocation directors, seminarians, priests, parents and those still discerning, Usher has encountered many interesting outreach programs from across the country. One recent example sticks out in his mind.

“Lately I’ve been hearing a lot more about dioceses having benefit baseball or basketball games,” Usher said. The Diocese of San Jose holds an annual “Revs vs. Sems” basketball game, pitting priests against seminarians. This year’s game was on Feb. 3, and Usher and his colleague, Nic Scott, even did the play-by-play commentary for the game, which was broadcast on Immaculate Heart Radio.

“They had about 2,500 to 3,000 people there,” Usher said. “They would have some guys come out to briefly talk about vocations, hand out info about the seminary.”

Father Noel Sanvicente, pastor of the Church of the Resurrection in Sunnyvale, California, played on the “Revs” team in this year’s game.

“There were two from our grade school who went to see our game with their families,” Father Sanvicente said. “They told me that they would like to become priests one day. They enjoyed watching the game, and they came to know that priests play basketball, too!”

Usher feels strongly that outreach needs to happen, and that one place it must be done is social media. “Using technology and media and so forth, that’s where young guys are today. I’ve heard social media described as the modern day Areopagus, where Paul went to preach. That’s where we need to go.”

“We have a responsibility to lead people to God and help them discern their vocation,” he said. 

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The Diocese of San Jose, Calif., hosts an annual “Revs vs. Sems” basketball game, which pits priests against seminarians to raise awareness for vocations. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of San Jose

To the streets

The Archdiocese of New York is large and thriving. The job of the vocations director in a diocese of well over 2 million Catholics spread over Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island and seven counties of New York state is daunting, and for Father Christopher Argano, it’s all about making himself present and available.

“In a place the size of New York, my job is pretty much in the car, traveling and being present,” Father Argano said. He meets “young people who are thinking about it or praying about it, at all different levels of discernment,” and makes it a point to accompany them on their journey.

In such a large and vibrant diocese, some kind of action geared toward vocations is always happening. Some of these initiatives are longstanding, and some are newer — and some of them are close to Father Argano’s own heart.

One unique way they are fostering vocations in the Archdiocese of New York is with a group called Catholic Underground. This group meets on the first Saturday of the month in New York City and the third Saturday upstate in Newburgh. The meetings feature a Holy Hour with music, adoration, confessions and “pretty much praying for God to lead us in the direction he wants us to go in,” Father Argano said. Twice a year there is a special vocations theme to the meetings, and professed religious, married couples and priests are brought in to talk about vocations.

Father Argano recognizes the importance of marketing when it comes to spreading the word about vocations. One particular initiative close to his heart concerns parents of those who may be discerning. “One of the biggest challenges I’ve found are parents who are reluctant to have their son pursue a vocation,” he said. So he’s taking this to the streets — literally. The archdiocese is having car magnets made that say “Proud Parent of a Catholic Priest,” for all the parents of priests to display on their vehicles, similar to the ubiquitous “My child is an honor student” bumper stickers.

“We should show that we’re proud of our sons being priests!” Father Argano said.

For Father Argano, being an effective vocations director is all about being present and available. “In a place of New York’s size, what I try to do is plug myself in to whatever I can.” Another unique way he does this is with what are called the “Holy Hikers” in Ulster County. Father Argano and a group of young men and women hike one of the mountains in upstate New York, and at the summit he says Mass.

His own vocation story goes back to one of these initiatives of a predecessor. Every year — May 1 this year — the Office of Vocations hosts a Night for Vocations at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie. Young men are invited, and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan comes to join in a Holy Hour. He also preaches at evening prayer.

“The cardinal is a wonderful presence to have, such great motivation for vocations himself,” Father Argano said. “When I was in the parish, before I became vocations director, I brought three or four guys down every year to the vocations night at the seminary.”

Father Argano notes that this particular initiative had a profound effect on his own discernment. “I went as a student, myself, under Cardinal O’Connor ... many years ago, and that was an important part of my own vocation story.”

“At the heart of so much of [vocations outreach] is bringing them to the Blessed Sacrament, bringing them to the Eucharist,” Father Argano said. “We find in study after study that when they go before the Blessed Sacrament, that’s where amazing things begin to happen, the Lord really works in their heart.”

“There are a lot of great things going on, and as long as I can be present at as many as possible, and make myself available, I feel like I’m doing my job here.”

Paul Senz writes from Oregon.

Vocation Special Section