“Called by Name: A Future Full of Hope.” That was the title of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s early November campaign for priestly vocations conducted in all the parishes. It’s a catchy title, adapted from a national campaign recommended by the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Vocations.
It’s not a moment too soon. Just 15 years ago (certainly not a high water mark) the Archdiocese reported 577 diocesan priests in active assignment. The most recent published figure is 354.
The heart of the Called by Name campaign was having church-going parishioners receive cards to suggest young men they knew who could make worthy candidates for the priesthood. It’s a nice concept, but what were the results?
Final results won’t be known probably for another month, according to Father Stephen DeLacy, director of the Vocation Office for Diocesan Priesthood, but initial reports are well beyond expectation.
So far Father DeLacy has received about 150 names and expects there will be 250 to 300 by the end of the campaign. If even a small fraction of these young men decide to answer the call, it will be quite a boost.
Actually this year 20 men began studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, a dramatically higher figure than in recent years, and early indications are at least that number or more will decide to enter next year, even without the Called by Name campaign. “So far we have 10 in application and a strong indication from another 15,” Father DeLacy said.
Of the names received through Called by Name so far, according to Father DeLacy, about half came from one parish, St. Andrew’s in Newtown, which is easily the largest parish in the Archdiocese.
“We followed the program as directed by the Vocations Office,” said Msgr. Michael Picard, pastor of St. Andrew’s. “We have been talking about it for quite a while. We preached about it at all of our Masses on the two weeks of the campaign, and we had it in our bulletin and on our website.”
It was clearly exciting that parishioners recognized the special qualities in many of the younger men and recommended them, Msgr. Picard noted.
“We think we have found a road that will have great results,” he said. “I sent a letter a few days ago to the parents of each of those who were recommended, asking them to speak positively about vocations and telling them we would be open to answering any questions they might have.”
Msgr. Picard has already heard from a couple of the teens and young men who were recommended. “They were surprised that people had mentioned them and took it very positively,” he said.
A fertile field for possible religious vocations in the parish is a new small group program for young people called Disciples. So far the parish has 10 groups of six to 10 members each with parents and adult ministers working with them, and Msgr. Picard hopes to add more groups drawn from the names received through Called by Name.
St. Andrew’s currently has a recent Penn State graduate Andrew Aulett at St. Charles Seminary, and a young woman from the parish recently entered a religious congregation in New Jersey.
“We just have to keep the steam going and hope to reap the benefits later,” Msgr. Picard said.
Another parish that has had excellent results for Called by Name is St. Mary’s in Schwenksville with names of 15 young men submitted. The parish followed Father DeLacy’s format and put cards in the pews, said Father Louis Bellopede, pastor of St. Mary’s.
The parish had members of its Called by Name committee speak at all the Masses, the following week the priests gave their witness at the Masses and the third weekend a seminarian spoke on vocations.
“We had it in our bulletin and an e-mail blast was sent out; we were constantly talking about it,” Father Bellopede said. “Our kids are very good here. They are servers, help as lectors, help in the sacristy, and many of them who go to college go on missionary trips as lay missionaries. There is something in the water here; the young people are so dynamic and involved in the life of the Church.”
One man asked his son if he was considering the priesthood, and he replied he was thinking about it; another received the same answer.
“People here are talking to their boys who are 16, 17, 18, 19,” Father Bellopede said. “We are trying our best, and we are blessed.”
Given the positive results thus far, Father DeLacy will likely have his hands full following up on all these leads for potential future seminarians and ultimately priests.