Time was, young people could contemplate their future by thinking about a single job — blue collar, white collar or professional — and know they could depend on keeping it when they found it. Not anymore.
“I think young people today are so aware, they know that our society is not giving that option,” said Father Norman Carroll, director of the diocesan Office of Priestly and Religious Vocations. “They know, these days, that they will have multiple professions. They think about ‘what I want to do with the rest of my life,’ but our culture is not offering that.”
That new societal expectation of varied careers throughout life has one exception, vocations; people are still called to marriage, called to religious life and called to priesthood, said Father Carroll, who is also pastor of St. Elizabeth Church in Wilmington.
The call to a Roman collar job isn’t the same as the decision to have a career, Father Carroll noted. The church can encourage priesthood and religious vocations among young people, but the calling is the work of the Holy Spirit.
“We don’t create the call; God gives it to them,” the Vocations director said.
The Diocese of Wilmington currently has five men in the seminary. Rich Jasper, already a transitional deacon, will be ordained later this year. There won’t be any priests ordained for the diocese in 2018 or ’19.
“Out of our five seminarians, three are relatively young; two are in college (at Seton Hall seminary in Orange, N.J.) and one is in his first year at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore,” Father Carroll said.
The Vocations director’s “recruiting work” is aided by his associate directors in the Vocations office: Father Charles A. Dillingham, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption in Hockessin; Father Glenn Evers, at Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Easton, Md.; and Father Jay McKee, pastor of Good Shepherd Church in Perryville, Md.
Beyond that Vocations staff, every priest and every parishioner is called to help nurture future religious and priestly vocations.
That emphasis on church vocations is one of Bishop Malooly’s main priorities for the diocese — “Reinforcing our baptismal call to holiness in all vocations with a special effort to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life.”
- Vocations events
That effort is going well in the revamped Vocations office, Father Carroll said last week.
Men interested in learning about the priesthood can attend Come and Seek sessions with a group of diocesan priests in both the northern and southern parts of the diocese.
At least a couple of the current seminarians started their road to ordination by attending the Come and Seek sessions first, Father Carroll said.
But because the diocesan population is smaller in the southern counties and Eastern Shore of Maryland, Come and Seek sessions in those counties draw fewer people.
“We’re looking to nuance those meetings,” said Father Carroll. “How can we respond to one person who has questions and is willing to meet with a priest to do that.”
In addition to Come and Seek, there’s an annual “Pass the Word” trip to St. Mary’s Seminary that’s been for 11th graders.
Beginning this year, Father Carroll said, “we’re asking high school administrators, principals and teachers to ‘look at your population for those you think might have the gifts and qualities’ for priesthood. Boys in any high school class, not just juniors, will be welcomed at Pass the Word.
An annual Vocations Day for sixth graders in November, where students from the diocese gather at one school site for vocations talks by diocesan priests and seminarians, religious order sisters and religious order brothers, has also helped raise awareness of the call to serve God in the church.
- Happy priests
At a recent national conference on vocations, Father Carroll said a truism of the field was again emphasized: Vocations thrive where there are happy priests. They thrive when priests are engaged and happy.
Also, Father Carroll said, “nationally, most people think about priesthood if somebody, in most cases a priest, suggested that they think about it.”
Noting the priests of Wilmington are generally happy with their lives, the vocations director added, “Our focus is doing the best we can to get out there to be visible and approachable.”
The vocations office now has cards that priests can present to men they think might have a vocation. The little business cards say, “Pray about it.”
“You think most priests are extroverts, but they’re not,” said Father Carroll. So the card asking someone to pray about a vocation becomes an ice breaker, a way to bring up the topic.
Once young men “begin investigating priesthood, they’re very serious about it,” he added.
- Already in ministry
Among the best signs that someone has a vocation of working in the church, said Father Carroll, is when they volunteer in their parish.
“Be active in your parish,” he recommends. “It’s hard to say you have a call to ministry, if you don’t do it. Teach CCD, be a lector, volunteer at Emmanuel Dining Room.”
Father Carroll entered the seminary when he was 23.
“I wasn’t one of those kids who grew up thinking about it [priesthood],” he said. And after attending Holy Spirit School in New Castle and vocational school, he worked at Speakman, a commercial plumbing company, then in New Castle.
A vocations director today would be encouraged to hear that young Norm Carroll was often approached by his elders at work for his advice and that he “was talked into” teaching CCD at Holy Spirit back then.
“There was positive peer pressure when people saw what I was doing [at the parish] and that’s when I was happiest,” he said. There was no priest-mentor in his life at the time, however.
- Creating a culture
“One of the things that was a challenge for me when I was discerning was could I see myself as a priest?” Father Carroll said. He learned to accept the fact that his call to the priesthood was his; he didn’t have to be exactly like any other priest.
“Heroes should inspire us, we don’t need to become them,” he noted.
Now in addition to running the Vocations Office, Father Carroll oversees St. Elizabeth Parish’s vocations committee.
“St Elizabeth’s has a good history of producing priests and sisters,” he said. “We’re finding out what we did to make that happen. We create a culture in our community and focus on our families’ needs, the need for sacraments and the need for future priests.”