Sunday, May 24, 2009

Vocations in the Bay State media.

This morning I came across a couple of impressively positive stories on priestly vocations in the Bay State media. The Boston Globe has a brief item on Cardinal Seán O'Malley's ordination of six new priests for the Archdiocese of Boston, highlighting the diversity of the group as well as the fact that ordinand Shawn Carey is one of only a handful of deaf priests in the United States. My hometown newspaper, the New Bedford Standard-Times, has a much longer story on vocations in the local Diocese of Fall River. The Standard-Times article is well worth reading, as it is probably the first piece that I've ever come across in my hometown paper that speaks about vocations to the priesthood in concrete and serious terms.

While the Standard-Times acknowledges the challenges facing the local church - the Fall River Diocese currently has eight seminarians compared with 112 active priests, many close to retirement - the newspaper deserves credit for focusing on some of the youngest priests in the diocese and giving them a chance to speak about their own calling as well as the factors that prevent many young men from considering a priestly vocation. Here is some of what the Standard-Times article has to say:
The morning bell rang and students walked to their next class at Bishop Stang High School [in Dartmouth, Mass.]. The Rev. Jay Mello stood outside the campus ministry office, nodding hello to students passing by in the hall.

"The greatest job in the world is to be a high school chaplain," said Mello, 29, who was ordained a priest in July 2007.

. . .

Mello was ordained a priest after years of study and formation at the North American College in Rome. He remembers being 7 or 8 years old when he first heard the call.

"After high school, I came to terms with the fact that this was something God was calling me to," Mello said. "It's a question every young man needs to ask: Is Jesus Christ calling me to become a priest?"

That is a question that dioceses across the country — particularly the Fall River Diocese — hope and pray that more men consider, given the fact that the ranks of ordained priests have been falling for the past 40 years.

. . .

The Revs. Karl Bissinger and Kevin Cook run the Vocations Office for the diocese. Bissinger, 39, helps men apply for the seminary. Cook, 37, speaks about vocations and organizes events at schools in the diocese. They attribute the shortage of vocations mainly to cultural factors, saying the culture today is more materialistic, individualistic and concerned with secular goals than seeking God's will.

"So many young men and women today are afraid of commitment," Cook said. "That goes not only [for] the priesthood, but [for] marriage."

"There is not as strong an emphasis on regular Mass attendance and religion being at the center of people's lives," Bissinger said. "The family has also gone through some profound changes. I think all of that has had an effect on vocations."
To read the rest of the article, click here. Though the Standard-Times piece is far from perfect, I found it refreshing in two ways. For one thing, this is the first time that I've seen the option of becoming a priest presented so forthrightly in the local media. Beyond that, it's good to see the Standard-Times draw attention to the work of young priests who seem to be happy, level-headed and sociable. (It makes a difference that today's article was not written by the newspaper's regular religion reporter, who often describes priests as "otherworldly" and writes about them as if they were exotic animals in a zoo.)

As I've written before, I never thought of becoming a priest while I was growing up in part because the priesthood was never really presented as a viable option. I hope that today's Standard-Times article leads a few young men in Southeastern Massachusetts who would not otherwise have considered a vocation to priestly life to at least consider the possibility. AMDG.


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