The Church celebrates National Vocation Awareness Week November 5-11. This annual celebration is dedicated to the promotion of vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and consecrated life through prayer and education.
This year’s celebration gives me an opportunity to reflect on my visits last week to St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and Theological College in Washington, where some of our seminarians are studying for the priesthood.
My visit to St. Mary’s was occasioned by one of the three regular meetings during the school year of the Board of Trustees. A number of other bishops who send students to the seminary are also on the board, as are dedicated and committed Catholic women and men whose dedication and interest in priestly formation is evident.
More than the board meeting, however, I enjoy being with the young men of our diocese who are thinking about the priesthood and discerning God’s plan for them. Their sincerity, enthusiasm, and fraternal concern for each other is a wonderful sign of God’s goodness. Visiting with them brings me back several decades to my own seminary formation: friendships formed, lessons learned, and an eagerness to be about the Lord’s work. While seminary formation has changed dramatically since my days in the seminary, some things remain the same and I take great happiness in witnessing it.
Our seminarians bring the joy of the Gospel to life today. I wonder sometimes what changes and challenges will face them in the years ahead. Certainly none of us can predict the future, but we know that the Lord will always be with His Church as He promised. I take great pride in knowing our students and realizing that they will be responsible for keeping the faith alive in our diocese long after God calls me home.
St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore is America’s oldest seminary, founded in 1791 by the Sulpician Fathers, a society of priests whose primary function is the education of students for the priesthood. Generations of our priests have studied at St. Mary’s. This year we have five students there as well as one on a parish assignment for his pastoral year.
Following my visit to St. Mary’s, I traveled to Theological College, the seminary at Catholic University of America, in Washington D.C. Theological College is also under the direction of the Sulpician Fathers and is celebrating its centennial this year. We have two students at the seminary, as well as Father Christopher Seibt, who lives there while pursuing a graduate degree in Canon Law at Catholic University. I had the joy of celebrating Mass with the seminarians on Tuesday prior to my departure for home.
In addition, we have one seminarian studying at Pope John XXIII Seminary in Boston and a college-age seminarian studying at Cathedral Residence in Douglaston and attending classes at St. John’s University.
I am grateful to Father John Manno, who as director of seminarians works with them directly, and Father Joseph O’Connor, who directs the diocesan office of Vocation Promotion. Our younger priests have formed a team — working with college students and in our high schools to make our young people aware of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
I take this opportunity to repeat a request I made in my pastoral letter at the conclusion of the Year of Faith. Please join me “in daily prayer that the Lord of the harvest will bless our diocese and the universal Church with men who will respond to the call of priesthood and women who will accept the invitation to follow Christ . . . and to fasting for vocations on the First Friday of every month” (Pastoral Letter, Faith – a Gift Received, a Treasure to Be Shared, November 24, 2013).
All vocations — marriage, consecrated life, priesthood, and the single state — can lead us to heaven. I hope we are all on that road. In discerning one’s vocation, prayer is so important. Remember especially our young people, that they will be open to God’s plan for them and willing to follow it. In His will for them, they will find their peace and happiness.
In addition to daily prayer for vocations, pray too for our seminarians — your future priests — that they be formed according to the heart of Christ so that they might bring the joy of the Gospel and the grace of the sacraments to you in years ahead.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.