With all eyes on the Blessed Sacrament, more than 30 members of St. John Bosco Parish knelt in prayer on a Thursday evening at St. Mary Church in Branford, where they participated in a Holy Hour for vocations.
Led by Father Jeffrey Gubbiotti, vocation director for the Archdiocese of Hartford, they prayed the Litany for Vocations, took part in Benediction and meditated on what additional actions they personally might take to support the archdiocese’s vocation ministry.
The Holy Hour for vocations was just one of four last fall at which parishioners throughout the archdiocese did their part to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. It was also just one action among many to address the shortage of vocations.
The archdiocese is taking many steps to meet this challenge. They have been laid out in writing in the Office of Vocations’ Vocation Plan, a 12-page document published last spring. It enumerates the activities of the vocations office and includes many new initiatives intended to create a culture of vocations throughout the archdiocese.
“It’s really meant to be a strategy,” said Father Gubbiotti. He says that although we can’t plan our way out of the vocation shortage because religious vocations are up to God, we can at least take practical steps toward fostering God’s plan for people, “opening the doorway to encourage young people to consider their vocation.”
The plan’s initiatives are being phased in over three years. The plan is the result of consultations with offices of the archdiocese and with recently ordained priests.
The Office of Vocations will do its part to inspire priests, engage youth, reach out to parishes and host vocation-related events. However, the plan will also involve Catholics at all levels in laying the groundwork for young people to consider the priesthood, the religious life and marriage.
“It involves everybody from the archbishop all the way on to the parish level,” Father Gubbiotti said. Parents, pastors, teachers, youth ministers, college campus ministers and parishioners will be called on to encourage and nurture vocations in numerous ways.
In his column in the September 2017 issue of Catholic Transcript magazine, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair wrote, “Prayer is essential, but so is a communal effort to encourage and invite our young people to hear and heed God’s call.”
Here are just a few highlights from the comprehensive plan:
Bishops’ emphasis. Archbishop Blair and the other bishops in the archdiocese will preach about vocations at confirmations, asking young men and women to consider the priesthood and the religious life.
Archbishop Blair will continue to attend “Andrew Dinners,” named for St. Andrew, the first apostle called to serve. During these dinners, young men who have been invited by their parish or ministry priest, because they have an interest in the priesthood or the makings of a good priest, learn about the life of a priest. Priests in attendance also share their own vocation stories.
In addition, the archbishop will be invited to “Discernment Nights” for college students twice a year, during Christmas and summer breaks.
Vocation curriculum pilot program. In 2018, the Office of Vocations plans to join the Office of Education, Evangelization and Catechesis (OEEC) to test a vocations-themed curriculum in 10 Catholic schools and 10 religious education programs throughout the archdiocese.
“Most of the curricula we’re looking at have maybe five classes and they cover marriage, religious life, the priesthood. It’s all-inclusive for all of the vocations in the Church,” Father Gubbiotti explained. “We are just trying to find the best means to be able to bring the message to young people in the most effective way possible.”
The vocation director will look for feedback from catechists and teachers to see if changes are needed before it is launched throughout the archdiocese.
Parish vocation ministries. Parishes in other parts of the country have developed committees that work specifically on the issue of vocations. They help in many ways, by reciting the rosary, stocking vocation pamphlets in their church, sponsoring events, inspiring altar servers and supporting seminarians.
According to Father Gubbiotti, the concept is explained more fully in the book Hundredfold: A Guide to Parish Vocation Ministry by Rhonda Gruenewald. “It’s an interesting idea, something that we’d love to support if there were groups that were interested in being mobilized,” he said.
“My hope is that a year or a year and a half down the road, if we were able to identify particular parish leaders who wanted to be involved in this ministry, we could actually bring them in for a one-day Saturday training,” he said. “We’ll bring Rhonda in who wrote the book on it, and some of our other
local people, and just give them some tools to begin forming a vocations ministry in their parish.”
The Office of Vocations will also focus on increasing vocation awareness through a variety of communications, including its new HartfordPriest.com website, social media, bulletin inserts, an e-newsletter for promoters, a seminarian poster and email campaign.
Now that parishes have been reorganized into seven deaneries, Father Gubbiotti said, he hopes to visit each deanery to help parish priests understand how they might be the primary inspiration for new priests. He also hopes to partner with newly named chaplains at high schools and colleges, and plans to offer discernment retreats for college students. He already has collaborated with the OEEC on a vocation-themed youth rally.
“It’s not just about priestly vocations,” he said, “but how do we know in general what God wants for our life?
“I think so many young people don’t know that God loves them and that he has a plan for their life and that’s how they’re going to be happy and do the most good in the world,” Father Gubbiotti said. “I don’t think most people have an experiential sense that ‘God has a plan for my life and that the most important task I have in this first stage of life is to discover it.’”
Father Gubbiotti believes everyone — young and old — needs to focus on his or her vocation.
“One of the things I’d love to see happen in our parishes is a whole turn toward the fact that all we do with our young people has to be about helping them to discern their vocation, and all that we do with our adults has to be helping them to live their vocation because that’s primary, that’s foundational,” he stressed. “As important as all these little particular groups and programs are, what our state in life is, what our vocation is, that’s the foundation to our discipleship.”
Each fall, the Vocation Plan will be reviewed and adjusted to make the most of what’s working and to tweak those areas that need improvement. Father Gubbiotti said he welcomes input and assistance from individuals.
“If you have other ideas, I’d love to hear them,” he said. “And if you want to be involved in some way, that would be awesome.”
What you can do right now:
Join the St. John Vianney Vocation Prayer Society to pray for vocations
Sponsor or attend a Holy Hour for vocations
Post the “Seminarian Poster” in your school or parish
Learn about the different vocations and share them with young people
Pray for your children and grandchildren to discover God’s plan for their lives
Allow young people to respond freely to God’s vocational call; avoid putting pressure on anyone