Father George Sears, the director of vocations for the archdiocese, said the new regional approach to priestly vocations ministry is off to an encouraging start at the local level.
He’s working with 15 archdiocesan priests serving as vocations promoters near their home parishes in six geographic regions of the archdiocese.
One of the approach’s hallmarks is to reach out to high school, college and other young adult males who attend Mass each week and are active and engaged in their Catholic faith.
The priests, as well as other priests in the archdiocese, personally invite the young men to become part of one of the regional groups of like-minded guys who gather for Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament and then eat dinner together and share conversation and listen to a discussion related to their Catholic faith.
Father Sears said he has been inspired to see “the type of faith alive” in the young men who attend the group he runs at Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory the Great parish in Manhattan, where he is administrator. Father Sean Connolly, administrator of Most Holy Redeemer and Nativity parish in Manhattan, is the other coordinator.
While not all the young men will be moved to pursue the priesthood, Father Sears said many already demonstrate a desire to serve the Lord in their communities. That is a good starting point for an organic ministry like this one, said Father Sears, who served as rector of Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in Douglaston, Queens, 2017-2021.
“One sure sign of a vocation is that it’s tied to a community…like the one they grew up in,” he said in a phone interview last week.
Father Sears, who was ordained to the priesthood in 2005, has served in varied parishes, including his first pastorate at St. Mary’s in Poughkeepsie, which had many young families, and now at Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory the Great, where he’s become “very heartened by the young adult community in New York City and throughout the archdiocese.”
The young men coming to Holy Name of Jesus each week are mostly young professionals. There is a Holy Hour followed by dinner and often a Bible study. A common denominator among the men in the group “is a seriousness to grow in their relationship with Christ, and a desire to serve.”
Another key component is the fraternity and support they derive from being together with like-minded men, Father Sears said. Discussions about how to evangelize and bring people to Christ are topics best nurtured in a supportive environment with ordained priests available to give advice and answer questions, he explained.
Five other regional vocations groups of young men now meet regularly in the Bronx, Staten Island, Hudson Valley West, Hudson Valley South and Dutchess/Putnam.
They are led by priests serving in those regions, who range from recently ordained to others with more than 20 years of pastoral experience, Father Sears said. A number are Hispanic given the Spanish language is part of the “prayer and faith expression” of a large percentage of the archdiocese’s Catholic community, he said.
On Friday evenings, nine to 12 young men of high school and college age have met with three priests since December at St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in LaGrangeville. The priests are Father John Wilson, a parochial vicar there; Father Michael Connolly, a parochial vicar at St. Martin de Porres parish in Poughkeepsie; and Father Jon Tveit, parochial vicar of St. James the Apostle, Carmel.
“We want to help them grow in their faith and relationship with the Lord,” Father Connolly told CNY. “Mostly, it’s a ministry of presence.”
Father Connolly said the group’s main goal is not to gain “a bunch of priests,” although that would certainly be a great outcome.
“We want to provide a venue for them to encounter the Lord and pray, and to find communion with other guys their age…Here is a place where they’re finding they have brothers in each other,” he said.
From his own perspective, Father Connolly said the evenings are “deepening” his sense of spiritual fatherhood. “I feel like another father to them,” he said. “I care about them.”
He’s cooked several meals for the group and, as the weather has gotten warmer, members have been able to sit around an outside fire pit.
Father Wilson said the priests try to talk “about things we wish we knew when we were their age.” He and Father Connolly said that could involve catechetical pointers, seminary life or how to live with virtue as a man of God.
While the group is offered under the auspices of the vocations office, it is a discipleship group, where members treat each other as “brothers in faith,” Father Wilson said.
Participation is by personal invitation, either from one of the priests, their priest associates and now friends recommended by group members. “It’s beautiful to see how it’s grown,” Father Wilson said. “Personal invitations work so much better than anything else.”
Another interesting project is the “Casting the Net” podcast, featuring real-life priest vocations stories, hosted by Father Michael Connolly. A new 30-minute episode premieres every two weeks on Spotify.
The Cathedral Prep program at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie is a weekend retreat for high school age boys who are looking to learn more about the priesthood and grow in their relationship with Christ. Highlights include Mass, Confession and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, fellowship with other young men, sports and recreation, and a chance to talk with priests and seminarians about their lives. The next weekend is June 24-26.
There are also retreats held at St. Joseph’s Seminary for older men discerning priesthood who are post-college, college graduates or about to graduate. Information: frsears@NYPRIEST.com