Vocation directors gather in Louisville

Seven of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s 17 seminarians served at the Mass of Ordination of Deacons Shayne Duvall and Peter Bucalo March 15. The seminarians, pictured with Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, are (from left) Tony Cecil, Brandon DeToma, Steven Reeves, David Farrell, Sean McKinley, Daniel Ross and Jason Harris. (Record File Photo by Jessica Able)

Seven of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s 17 seminarians served at the Mass of Ordination of Deacons Shayne Duvall and Peter Bucalo March 15. The seminarians, pictured with Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, are (from left) Tony Cecil, Brandon DeToma, Steven Reeves, David Farrell, Sean McKinley, Daniel Ross and Jason Harris. (Record File Photo by Jessica Able)

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

Vocations to the priesthood are holding steady or rising in some places in Kentucky, Tennessee and Louisiana, according to representatives of six dioceses who gathered in Louisville last week.

The Archdiocese of Louisville hosted the region 5 meeting of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors April 30 to May 2 at the Flaget Center.

The small group of seven priests and lay people gathered to discuss vocation awareness, formation and challenges facing seminarians and candidates for priesthood. They also spent part of the day May 1 doing what most Louisville visitors did at some point last week — they watched the horses at Churchill Downs.

On the first day of the gathering, Dr. Emily Cash, a psychologist from Louisville’s St. Luke Center, spoke to the group about how she and other psychologists assess candidates for priesthood and religious life.

During a two-day evaluation period — conducted by two psychologists and a spiritual director — St. Luke’s screens candidates in areas of psychological, emotional and spiritual health.

“We want to make sure everybody (the candidate and vocation director) has as much information as possible so everyone can make a fully informed decision,” she said.

In particular, she said, “We screen for mental health issues that would impede ministry,” including an extensive psychosexual evaluation. “You don’t want to set someone up for disaster.”

Louisville’s St. Luke’s Center is a ministry of the St. Luke Institute based in Silver Spring, Md. The St. Luke Institute is an international Catholic organization that addresses psychological and spiritual healing of clergy and men and women religious.

Dr. Cash also shared some recent trends among seminary candidates that have emerged in regions around Louisville and Maryland.

“There is a lot less shame in talking about mental health issues,” she noted. “Ten years ago, that was not the case.”

The numbers of seminary candidates who were home schooled has increased significantly, she said. St. Luke psychologists also have noticed an increase in exposure to internet pornography among candidates and exposure tends to begin at a younger age  — 11-years-old on average — she said.

Dr. Cash added that the center very rarely recommends a candidate delay or withdraw their candidacy for the priesthood or religious life. But about half of the applicants are encouraged to seek short-term therapy to help them work through various issues or vulnerabilities identified in the evaluation.

Dr. Fred Litke, the associate vocation director for the Diocese of Owensboro, Ky., sends seminary candidates exclusively to St. Luke Center for evaluation, as does the Archdiocese of Louisville.

“It is so much better than it ever was before,” said Dr. Litke of the candidate assessments. He noted that these evaluations have improved dramatically since the problem of clergy sexual abuse became widely known about a dozen years ago.

He and several other representatives of dioceses agreed that, in general, interest in priesthood is on the rise.

“The numbers are up, definitely on the college level,” said Dr. Litke.

Father Jeffrey Shooner, director of the Vocation Office for the Archdiocese of Louisville, said that holds true here, too.

“We have a lot more (interest) in the high school age,” he said.

Currently, the Archdiocese of Louisville has 17 men in formation for the priesthood. Some are still in college seminary and others have completed college and are in their final years of formation. Deacon David Cockson will be ordained to the priesthood on May 31.

Father Joshua Rodrigue, vocation director for the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux in Louisiana, said his latest applicants see the priesthood as a way to “change the world.”

“We have guys coming in who would succeed at whatever they would do,” he noted. “They want to make an impact.”

Often, he said, these are young people who have gone on mission trips and return ready to do something important to help other people.

“They come back with a purpose,” he said. “They want to do something meaningful with their lives.”

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