The Archdiocese of Louisville Vocation Office is hoping to encourage dozens of young men and women — ages 17 to 30 — to consider a religious vocation this fall. And the office plans to invite these young people to attend retreats where they’ll learn how to discern God’s calling.
But before this work can begin, the Vocation Office needs help identifying young men and women who may be called to the priesthood and religious life. It launched an email campaign Oct. 7 asking church workers, catechists, clergy and lay ministers one question:
“Do you know a future priest or nun?”
So far, people have submitted the names of 19 young people to the Vocation Office through the campaign known as Called by Name, which is conducted on behalf of the archdiocese by a third party called Vianney Vocations.
The Vocation Office — one of the archdiocesan ministries supported by the annual Catholic Services Appeal — will have sent three emails by the end of October urging people to submit names of candidates. And recipients are encouraged to forward that email to their friends and co-workers.
The first email said to recipients, “Please prayerfully consider Catholic men and women whom you recognize have good qualities for a priestly or religious vocation.”
It continued, “By always inviting and never imposing, we will respect their freedom and never pressure them to choose against their will. But if we don’t invite, who will?”
Father Jeffrey Shooner, the director of the Vocation Office and the author of the emails, said the office has no expectations of candidates, and those named in the campaign simply will be invited to discern God’s call, something all young people should do.
“The main focus will be an invitation to a retreat or a day of reflection where they will learn to discern about their calling,” Father Shooner said during an interview by phone last week.
This is the second year the Archdiocese of Louisville has conducted Called by Name. The first was done last year and sought only the names of young men believed to be candidates for the priesthood.
“We’re excited to be able to expand the program to include women this year,” said Father Shooner, noting that local communities of women religious will help to lead programs for women.
Last year, the Vocation Office sent emails to 605 people and received 67 names in return. This year, a few more recipients were added to the mailing list.
The 2010 campaign was a success, but it started as “a complete unknown,” noted Father Shooner. “We had about 70 names or so submitted. We provided them with information and invited them to a retreat.”
Nineteen young men ultimately attended the office’s annual discernment retreat — a dramatic increase, Father Shooner said.
“We had not had anywhere near that participation in years and years,” he said. “Often times, there is so little participation that the retreats — with one or two (participants) — were cancelled.”
Father Shooner noted that the campaign aims not only to identify potential priests and religious, it also aims to foster in the archdiocese a culture of vocations — a culture in which it’s natural for Catholics to encourage and recommend young people for a religious vocation.
“We’re hoping it becomes an expectation of (people in) the archdiocese to think during the year, ‘Who might I call to look into the priesthood?’ ” said Father Shooner. “We’re trying to create mechanisms … so all types of people can be aware of and responsible for vocations.”
The young people who are recommended during this year’s campaign will be invited to take part in one of several programs.
Men age 18 and older will be invited to the archdiocese’s Men for Christ discernment retreat set for Dec. 16-18 at St. Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Ind.
Women age 18 and older will be invited to an Advent Day of Reflection this fall, co-sponsored by religious communities and the archdiocese.
And there will be a “Nun Run” set for April. Women will spend two days (a Friday and Saturday) visiting communities of women religious around the Archdiocese of Louisville.
High school boys and girls will have discernment programs in May sponsored by the Archdiocese of Louisville. Girls will attend a retreat at the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand, Ind., and boys will attend a retreat at St. Meinrad.
By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor