There is an oft quoted proverb of unknown origin that states “it takes a village to raise a child.” So too, the work of vocations is the business of the entire Diocese.
The Second Vatican Council stated emphatically that “the duty of fostering vocations belongs to the entire Christian community, which should discharge this task principally by living full Christian lives.”
The Diocesan Pastoral Council has wisely identified the recruiting and preparing of future priests as one of the main priorities for the Diocese in the years ahead. Vocations to priesthood and religious life are usually born in the heart of the family. Parents have the special obligation to pray for and encourage vocations to priesthood and religious life, and attend to God’s calling in the lives of their children.
Pastors, too, are among the first to identify the call of Christ in the youth and young adults of their parish. Many modern-day candidates first become aware of an interest in priesthood through volunteer and staff involvement in their parishes. Most priests will identify a priest who inspired and encouraged their vocation, and had the courage to invite them to consider a vocation to priestly ministry. The wise pastor invites the entire parish to pray regularly for vocations in the particular community he is ordained to serve.
Indeed the entire Diocese, under the leadership of the bishop, has the duty and obligation to create an atmosphere that encourages and fosters priestly ministry and creates, fosters and celebrates specific strategies to assist those who are discerning the call to priesthood.
In the Diocese of Helena, I have asked specific priests to work closely with me so that we will have a Diocese that actively identifies, recruits and supports individuals who are considering this life-giving call.
I have asked Father Tom O’Donnell, pastor of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Parish in East Helena, to continue to serve as our diocesan director of vocations. Father O’Donnell will have the responsibility to oversee our vocations effort, convene regularly those who assist on the vocations team, and coordinate all the individual vocation initiatives.
Father Eric Gilbaugh, parochial vicar at the Cathedral, will serve as recruitment director, assisted by Bart Tolleson, soon to be ordained to the transitional diaconate. These men will have the responsibility to develop multiple approaches for vocations awareness, along with communication tools to assist a computer-savvy generation in their discernment process. I have asked Father Eric to work with each pastor who has identified individuals in his parish community who may have a priestly vocation, and assure that these men are connected to the appropriate diocesan personnel.
I have appointed a priest in each deanery assuring that vocations awareness is an active agenda item in every deanery and parish. These include: Father Jeff Fleming (Missoula Deanery), Father Vic Langhans (Kalispell Deanery), Father Ed Kohler (Conrad Deanery), Father Bob Hall (Butte Deanery), and Father Val Zdilla (Bozeman area).
Monsignor Kevin O’Neill, pastor and rector of the Cathedral, is the priest who will work with those individuals already admitted to major seminary. He will be responsible for onsite visits and will participate in the evaluation process conducted by the seminary. Monsignor O’Neill will make sure that the needs of major seminarians are brought to my attention.
Father John Robertson, diocesan chancellor and vicar for Canonical Services, is responsible to assist those who are engaged in the seminary application process. Father Robertson convenes the Vocation Review Committee and provides that academic transcripts, psychological evaluations, and autobiographical materials are in order for consideration by the review committee.
Father Marc Lenneman, soon to return to the Diocese from graduate studies in Rome to serve as director of campus ministry and chaplain at Carroll College, will be responsible for the Borromeo Program on the campus at Carroll College. This pre-seminary program supports students actively considering a vocation and provides opportunities for daily prayer and spiritual formation during the academic year.
As Bishop of Helena, I consider the fostering of vocations as one of the most important aspects of my ministry. I have the special responsibility to assure that the men we are considering for seminary life are wholesome and balanced, and able to commit themselves to the rigors of seminary life and the demands of priestly ministry.
In considering candidates for seminary, I look for men who desire deep communion with Jesus Christ, who love the Eucharist and want to give themselves unreservedly to Him and a life of discipleship and service.
The late Pope John Paul II wisely stated that: “The truest secret of authentic pastoral success does not lie in material means, much less in sophisticated programs. The lasting results of pastoral endeavors are born of the holiness of the priest.”
Both priest and seminarian must find, in the words of St. John Marie Vianney, “the source of his identity in Christ the Priest,” a goal attainable only through an active life of prayer.
The seminarian must have the intellectual capacity to engage actively and successfully in the academic formation offered by college and seminary. He must be able to both grasp and embrace the rich intellectual traditions of the Church and faithfully re-present the Church’s teaching to those he is ordained to serve.
The candidate for priesthood must also have strong relational abilities, and be at home with all persons who are placed in his care. His pastoral life must be marked by selflessness and joy and founded on the theology of the Good Shepherd, who actively seeks out those who are marginalized or separated from Christ.
Candidates for priesthood must also be characterized by their psychological health and stability. They must have a demonstrable capacity for and commitment to the chaste celibate life.
In the Diocese of Helena we are blessed by the presence of 11 candidates who are formally sponsored by or affiliated with the Diocese in our seminary programs. I am convinced that quality begets quality. I therefore ask those who are presently enrolled in seminary life to also do their part to inspire and invite others to consider a calling to this indispensable ministry in the Church, the holy priesthood.
Indeed, it takes a whole Diocese to form and fashion a vocation to priesthood. Are you doing your part?
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 23, No. 5, May 18, 2007.