If you were looking for a prototype for the newly created position of parish vocations promoter, you might have a hard time finding anyone better suited than Donna Sticco.
Her responsibilities as a choir director at Assumption parish in Peekskill mean she must be “in sync” with what is happening on the altar at Mass, she said. The retired public school teacher also served for many years as director of religious education at a parish in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
She said she found it quite natural to say yes when her pastor asked her back in June whether she would be willing to serve as vocations promoter on a pilot basis. A quick conversation during dinner at the first archdiocesan Vocation Summit held the evening of Oct. 9 at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, revealed she didn’t take the appointment lightly.
Ms. Sticco had only praise for the priests of the Peekskill parish, Father John Higgins, the pastor, and Father Vincent Druding, the parochial vicar. “I have never seen priests work as hard with such joy and devotion as in this parish. Their bride is the Church, and they are in love with their bride,” she said.
“They’re presenting a picture of the priesthood, when you look at them. Guys want to be involved with them.”
The biggest problem was carving out time in their busy schedules. It took a little doing, but the first “Pizza With the Padres” evening held last month brought the two priests together with a half dozen young men from the parish. Along with the slices, they shared conversation, viewed a movie and had a short lesson from a book on forming Catholic character.
The four F’s: fun, fellowship, film and formation are at the heart of what the evening seeks to accomplish, Ms. Sticco said.
The example of Assumption and Ms. Sticco was cited by Father Enrique Salvo, vocation director for the archdiocese, at the inaugural Vocation Summit, which the priest said he hopes will be the first of many. Some 180 people from more than 60 parishes across the archdiocese attended.
Noting that 17 men from the archdiocese entered St. Joseph’s Seminary this fall, Father Salvo expressed keen interest in “creating a culture of vocations” in the archdiocese. He said building such a culture would require vocation committees in parishes and clusters. He noted that the effort, which has the full support of Cardinal Dolan, could be considered an example of the good fruit coming forth from the archdiocese’s Making All Things New pastoral planning process.
Toward that end, Father Salvo, who was recently reappointed vocation director, outlined a four-point plan of his own to promote priestly vocations. The steps include prayer, invitation, teaching and celebration.
The parish vocation team members, some of whom were accompanied by their pastors and other priests, seemed enthusiastic about being at the summit. During dinner they discussed at their tables questions relevant to their vocation ministry.
Afterward, the group adjourned to the seminary’s Prayer Hall where they heard an engaging presentation from Rhonda Gruenewald from Houston, who has written a book titled “Hundredfold: A Guide to Parish Vocation Ministry.”
Mrs. Gruenewald, a married mother of two teens who is a convert to Catholicism, has the zeal you might expect from one who entered the Church as an adult. Admitting her relative inexperience at the time of her first foray into vocation ministry, she said she had no idea what the term meant and that her involvement came about only because of the invitation of a young parochial vicar in her parish four years ago.
She learned fast. Still, she admits that vocation ministry, especially focusing on priesthood or religious life, is not a quick fix and requires plenty of perseverance. It’s OK to start with a small activity, she said, especially if that’s what your parish can handle. No parish vocation committee wants to look disorganized or overextended, she explained. Fortunately her book offers a total of 57 activities from which to choose.
“I think people are hungry to do something to make a difference,” she said in an interview.
“They are waiting to be asked.”