In 1964, Pope Paul VI launched the World Day of Prayer for Vocations with this prayer: “O Jesus, divine Shepherd of the spirit, you have called the Apostles in order to make them fishermen of men, you still attract to you burning spirits and generous young people, in order to render them your followers and ministers to us." Since then, Catholic parishes around the world have been praying for vocations every fourth Sunday of Easter. Despite the prayers of faithful Catholics, the number of religious priests, brothers and sisters has relentlessly declined in the United States. But lately: signs of hope.
On Sunday at St. Peter's Parish in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Father Tom Odorizzi, C.O., spoke forcefully during his homily to about 100 Rutgers University students gathered at the 8 p.m. Rutgers Catholic Center Mass. He shared his own story of graduating from college with an electrical engineering degree and every intention of launching a successful career as an engineer. "So it's possible," said the pastor, who was ordained in 1992. "You need to have a heart that is open, a heart that is open to the call of the Lord."
Less than a decade ago, Rutgers student Jeffrey Calia sat in those pews. Baptized in the Lutheran faith, but not raised in a church-going family, he converted to Catholicism during his college years. Now Brother Jeff in the Metuchen Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, he will be ordained over Memorial Day Weekend at St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral in Metuchen. After Brother Jeff's conversion, his mother converted to Catholicism after marrying a Catholic man; and Brother Jeff's father, a lapsed cradle Catholic, has begun to attend Mass regularly as well.
Faith is blossoming at colleges across the country, and that is encouraging vocations. At Walsh University, a small Catholic institution in North Canton, Ohio, five students are entering religious life: one young man will be ordained a priest and four women will become Dominican nuns. All of them credit campus chaplain Rev. Christopher M. Saliga, for helping them to follow God's plan. (I would love to collect more of these success stories. Readers: what are yours? )
While charismatic college chaplains are nurturing vocations, parents play a key role in whether young adults can hear the call to religious life. To ensure the vitality of our Catholic Church in the future, we Catholic parents must embrace the possibility that one of our sons or daughters might have a religious vocation. Without priests, there would be no sacraments and no Church. Pope Benedict XIV, pictured here when he was a child, grew up in a family where pursuing a religious life was not unusual. His brother, Georg, is also a priest, as was a great uncle. In childhood, the Pontiff desired to be a priest. How would we react if one of our sons told us this? Or if a daughter said she wanted to become a nun? As Maria and Joseph Ratzinger Sr. did, we need to embrace those possibilities.