All Catholics can encourage an increase in vocations to the priesthood in two ways, said Father Anthony Chandler, director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Vocation Office.
First, by prayer. It sounds simple, he said, but prayer is the first and most powerful resource to aid in priestly vocations.
Secondly, a personal invitation remains one of the most effective ways to encourage a person you think may have a religious vocation, he said.
“If you know someone, don’t be afraid to ask the question, ‘Have you thought about the priesthood?’ ” said Father Chandler. “Tell them you will pray for them and their decision.”
This year, the Archdiocese of Louisville has 17 men in formation for the priesthood. Fourteen of those are returning to college or beginning graduate studies at seminaries. An additional three men, whose visas were delayed due to COVID-19, are expected to arrive in the United States in 2021.
The men, age 20 to 56, range widely in their formation journey — from a second-year college student to a man who
is already an ordained permanent deacon of the archdiocese.
Two seminarians each attend St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Mount St. Mary’s of the West in Cincinnati and Bishop Simon Brute College in Indianapolis. One attends Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corner, Wisc., and five are studying at St. Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad, Ind.
“They are all spiritually, socially and academically strong,” Father Chandler said. “They are discerning, working on their prayer life. They are growing in their knowledge of God — in their knowledge of theology and philosophy.”
Seminary, he said, is about discerning — looking inward to see if God is really calling them to priesthood.
“Just because you go to seminary doesn’t mean you will become a priest,” he noted.
As with every aspect of life in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the upcoming academic year for the seminarians, said Benedictine Sister Sarah Yungwirth, associate director for vocations.
Seminarians must quarantine for two weeks before they return to school. They will be encouraged to remain on campus, except for essential travel, such as trips to the grocery or doctor.
Pastoral assignments during the school year will likely be mostly virtual.
“Pastoral ministry will look different this year. It could be phone calls to parishioners or connecting with parish meetings via Zoom,” Sister Yungwirth said.
The semester will conclude following the Thanksgiving holiday.
“If the semester is interrupted again (by the pandemic), we will have some type of formation here,” Father Chandler said.
Upcoming vocation events, such as the annual Vanney Gatherings for young men interested in learning more about the priesthood, will either be held on a virtual platform or in small groups of three to four, said Father Chandler.
There are about 40 to 45 men who are discerning a vocation to the priesthood and in regular contact with the Vocation Office, Father Chandler said.
With all that is going on in the world right now, people have begun to reevaluate their lives and to shift their priorities, Sister Yungwrith noted.
“People are asking what matters in life. People are asking what is the meaning of life. What is important? What is God calling me to do?” she said.
These types of questions, she said, can bear fruit for vocations going forward.
Quan Nguyen and Loi Pham, both from the Diocese of Vinh, Vietnam, are expected to be ordained transitional deacons Nov. 28 at the Cathedral of the Assumption. They were originally to be ordained last spring, but it was delayed by the pandemic lockdown.
Guidelines and restrictions for the ordination will be announced at a later date. The ordination will be livestreamed.
Ordinations for 2021 — for the diaconate and priesthood — are tentatively planned for April and May.