Every parish priest is a farmer of sorts when it comes to nurturing vocations to the priesthood.
The most important ingredient in the growth of vocations to the priesthood is the example of happy, joyful parish priests, said Father Charles C. Dillingham, an associate director of the Office of Priestly and Religious Vocations, and pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Hockessin.
While priests who are happy in their ministry provide the required sunlight for growing priests, the planting of the seeds of a vocation is also a priority in the diocese.
That’s why priests of St. Mary of the Assumption and St. John the Beloved parish in Wilmington started “Come and Seek” sessions last October, get-togethers for men who may feel a calling to the priesthood.
Judging from the first few “Come and Seek” sessions with participants at St. John the Beloved, the evenings of prayer conversation, socializing and food have been successful in planting the idea of priesthood in men considering their futures.
The first vocations session drew eight men. At the second meeting at St. John’s in November there were 13 men interested in hearing from diocesan priests about their lives.
“Most everybody who has come has known a priest who has invited him to the meeting,” Father Dillingham said. “Some guys just see it (in a parish bulletin or in The Dialog) and they come.
“We’re happy no matter how they get there.”
Participants at “Come and Seek” meetings can expect physical and spiritual sustenance.
“We usually start off by eating something,” Father Dillingham said. “There’s a opening prayer. We always introduce ourselves because we always have new participants, which is very exciting.”
At the first meeting, Father Chris Coffiey from St. Mary of the Assumption read a Scripture passage related to vocations and then priests and participants took turns giving their reflections on the passage.
“Everyone who wants has a chance to speak,” Father Dillingham said. “Everyone has said something that’s many times very profound and impressive.”
Following the vocations conversation, there’s a “holy half-hour” or so, followed by exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, personal prayer and Benediction.
Father Dillingham said this week that out of the 13 men who have participated in “Come and Seek,” four — college-age and older — are meeting with him to inquire about the priesthood and the seminary application process.
“It’s very, very encouraging,” Father Dillingham said. “The great success is we’re having a lot of young guys who are getting together to know other guys with the same faith, same focus. All these guys, we hope and pray, will stay with the church. We hope they all will be priests but we know the Lord is not calling all of them, but we know he’s calling some of them.”
Most of the “Come and Seek” participants “are either in college or beyond,” Father Dillingham said. “We don’t put an age limit on this. We feel if someone has an interest in coming they have to be a pretty mature guy.
“The vocations are there; we need to encourage them,” said Father Dillingham.
“When guys see their own parish priest who is happy in his vocation with joy in his heart, he thinks, ‘maybe I can do that.’”
The next “Come and Seek” meeting for those interested in the priesthood is Jan. 23, 7 p.m., at St. John the Beloved. Other such meetings have been planned in the year through June.
All are welcomed at “Come and Seek,” both interested men and any priest.