Upcoming ordinations are a blessing to the church
Over the next three weeks, you will ordain five men as transitional deacons and six men as priests for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. How exciting is that for you?
It’s very exciting. In fact, in the last six years, we’ve ordained 17 priests. The six new priests this year will make the number 23 in the last seven years. That’s truly a sign that just as the Lord Jesus called the apostles 2,000 years ago, he is still calling men today to serve in priestly ministry. I’m thankful that these men are saying yes. This year we have 39 seminarians studying for the archdiocese at both Note Dame Seminary and St. Joseph Seminary College, and although a few may discern not to continue their formation, it will be a small number. We also are expecting at least seven new seminarians next year.
Is the environment for vocations growing more positive?
I think in general, both those who are young and those who have had experience in a career realize at a certain point that their lives are not as fulfilled as they would wish them to be, and they begin to think about the priesthood or revisit those thoughts from years ago. The world in which we live is a world that has very little quiet. We’re always rushed, sometimes so rushed that I’m not sure we know where we’re going. I think these men see that the priest is called to walk with people in their complex and busy lives and help them meaningfully reflect on their relationship with God, to see that God has made a dwelling in their hearts.
Have you seen signs of the “Francis Effect”?
Actually, I think both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have been models for young men thinking about the priesthood. Pope Benedict was such a great teacher who helped us understand more deeply our great Catholic tradition. Pope Francis has been a shepherd calling us as a church – and, especially, our priests – to be merciful and to seek the poor and the lost. I also believe more people are talking about vocations. I appreciate the very good work of Father Kurt Young, who is our vocation director, and of others who by their encouragement help awaken God’s call. Frequently, priests send me names of men they think may be open to the priesthood. The media would like for us to think that the number of seminarians and priests keeps dwindling, but that’s false. Usually, positive stories don’t make the news. The national statistics show there is an uptick in vocations to the priesthood throughout the United States. It varies from diocese to diocese. We must continue to be a voice for God, who has never stopped calling people. It’s important on the parish level that parishioners not only pray for vocations but also help us identify people who would make good priests, sisters and brothers. That is one of the goals of the synod – inviting parishioners to suggest the names of possible candidates. I also want to thank Sister Beth Fitzpatrick, our executive director of the Department of Religious, as well as Father John Arnone and Father Gil Martin, who serve as directors of seminarians, and all those in parishes, schools and parish schools of religion who join us in fostering vocations today.
What about vocations to the religious life as sisters and brothers?
We are truly indebted to the women and men in consecrated life in our local church who daily give of themselves to serve God’s people and lead them in the ways of faith. We’re blessed to have the Magnificat House, which is a residence for women who are thinking about religious life. By living in the house, the women experience regular prayer, community and discussion on religious life. They also can meet with women of various religious communities to find out more about the communities and the possibility of joining one of them.
You’ve also been very consistent in hosting archdiocesan-wide events such as “Calling All Fifth Graders,” which was held last week.
Many years of research have shown, somewhat surprisingly, that at the early age of fifth grade, children do consciously think about the future and begin to wonder what they might do and what they might be called to do as a profession or vocation. Calling All Fifth Graders is our attempt to give them more knowledge about religious life and the priesthood. If God is calling them, we believe Calling All Fifth Graders may nourish the seed so that it may come to fruition.
How important is the family in encouraging vocations?
It is very important. Once in awhile I still run into someone considering the priesthood or religious life whose parents have discouraged him or her from considering that path. We have to pray for the parents of those who are being called that they will never be an obstacle keeping their child from answering God’s call. It’s such a joy to meet parents, family members and close friends who are proud to journey with and support a seminarian or a candidate for religious life as a sister or brother. Together, we can help awaken God’s call for many.