Although the director of priestly vocations for the diocese is technically a one-man job, Father David Kelley emphasizes that it takes many, many people to lead men from one station in life through seminary studies to the priesthood.
“It’s an impossible job for just one person,” said Father Kelley, who assumed the position last July, along with the pastorate of St. Joseph’s Parish in Middletown.
“When they stand there at ordination, it’s this huge community that’s brought them there,” he added. “We tend to forget that.”
Since his appointment, Father Kelley has been focusing mainly on the fourth of Bishop Malooly’s priorities for the future of the Diocese of Wilmington. That priority has to do with vocations, primarily to the priesthood, and Father Kelley is the chairman of the committee that will handle this priority. Until the committee figures out where it is headed, it makes little sense to institute any changes, he said.
In a general sense, however, the priest knows what his job is and how he will approach it. A principal facet is supporting those who have expressed an interest in the priesthood.
“When someone first calls the office and says that he has some kind of calling, may believe he has a vocation and would like to talk about it, where do we go from there?” he asked.
Drumming up interest, or asking young men to consider whether their future might lie in ordained ministry, is another part of the job.
“In a sense it’s recruiting. It’s not quite like military recruiting, but a lot of people will use that term, and that’s a fair term,” he said. “There’s a lot of studies that have been done over the last few years that have tried to target when’s a good time to raise some of these issues with young people.”
Approaching young people does not necessarily mean that they will head to the seminary; it is more to ask them if they have considered the possibility of a vocation. It is similar to having parents come into school on career day and talking about what they do for a living, Father Kelley said.
“You can go in and talk to a group of sixth-graders and you’re not expecting them to be going into the seminary in the next couple years, but down the road you’ve planted a seed,” he said.
The diocese currently has seven seminarians. Two are juniors in the college seminary at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. The other five are in major seminary, which Father Kelley described as a graduate school of sorts. Of those five, one is at Immaculate Conception Seminary, also located at Seton Hall, while the other four are at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore.
Three of the men are transitional deacons and hope to be ordained this June.
Before being assigned to St. Joseph’s and the vocations position, Father Kelley was the pastor at St. Ann’s in Bethany Beach for 12 years and was in Ridgely, Md., before that, so he did not know the seminarians until last summer, when he met with them.
“I’ve been pretty impressed with the guys that we have. They’re working to be holy, and they’ve got a lot to offer the church at the diocesan and parish level,” he said.
Attracting men to the priesthood is challenging, Father Kelley said.
“As they say, nothing is impossible with God, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. I understand it’s not an easy position to be in. You’d like to have lots of folks showing up and wanting to do it. It takes an awful lot of patience.”
This kind of work is not what Father Kelley was used to in his prior life. He was an engineer before entering the priesthood, and he was used to having projects that followed schedules until completed. As a vocations director, he will encourage and plant seeds and listen, but there is no guarantee that it will result in a vocation.
Work of the church
His vision is that this is more than a one-man job. Parish priests, he said, know their parishioners and would have a better inkling of whether someone might have a vocation. The priests do not need to actively recruit.
“Keep an eye out and offer encouragement to anyone, or even just ask the question, ‘Have you ever thought about it?’ That’s usually an important thing,” Father Kelley said.
Priests should be open to talking about their own ministry and be ready to answer questions about why they entered the priesthood, what they like, if they find it fulfilling, if they are happy, he said.
He also would like to form a group of people to work on programs for various age groups.
“You don’t appeal to a sixth-grader as you do to a 24- or 25-year-old. How do you make them think about a possible vocation?” he asked.
Once a person makes that decision, he needs the support of family and friends, co-workers (if he is coming from the working world), the vocations director and staff, the seminary system and more.
“It’s the work of the whole church,” he said.