(The following column appeared in the July 24-25 bulletin of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf. It is reprinted with permission from the author, Father Robert McAleer, the parish’s pastor.)
Everyone knows that the Catholic Church and particularly the Diocese of Davenport faces a tremendous challenge of supplying parishes with priests and other religious to serve the needs of the churches. This fall, our parish will be required to be involved in diocesan planning to see how the very limited number of priests will attempt to serve the various needs of parishes in our diocese.
The numbers may not be exact, but will be close. I say that only because I do not want anyone to lessen the seriousness of this problem. In the diocese we have approximately 80 parishes. We currently have 69 priests who are active and not retired but only 52 are available for parish ministry. Six retired priests, though some very limited, are available for some assistance but are not officially assigned. An additional 12 priests will meet retirement in five years … the year of my retirement is age 70. For all practical purposes we begin planning for the next five years expecting 40 priests to cover the 80 parishes that are parishes today. What will happen? Vocations must be the answer!
Last week I read an interesting article about ordination to the priesthood which has a clue to the solution. Let me take excerpts from the article, though I will be selective and I use quotes for the message that comes from a magazine, “Kansas Monks.”
“The Ordination Mass includes a tradition in which the families of the man to be ordained present them with the vestments of their ministry. This beautiful tradition makes clear symbolically that you present yourselves for ordination having been clothed in the Faith of your families — particularly your parents who have been your first and most influential teachers of the Faith. Family and friends have been the human instruments that God has used to form you and clothe you in the virtues and talents that you need to serve your communities and the people of God as ordained ministers.”
For families who are concerned that the Church will be there for you when you seek a priest to minister to you for reconciliation, Mass, anointing of the sick or marriage, I remind you that vocations do not just come from the skies. Vocations come from families. A vocation will come when families see that they must suggest and support their sons to choose the life of ministry in the Church. Studying to be ordained a priest is like preparation for any professional career. It takes many years of study. Following a college education that should include some study of philosophy, a candidate will study theology for four years, incorporating other training for ministry in a church today.
So … how many families suggest this to their sons? Would you consider being a priest? Often that is the most important beginning … vocations from your families. We cannot expect that they will continue to come from another’s family.