By Anne Marie Amacher
More than 50 young men from throughout Iowa, discerning a call to the priesthood, gathered in Bettendorf Aug. 13-15 to talk, listen and attend Mass together. The Diocese of Davenport hosted this year’s annual state convocation of seminarians at the Lodge and St. John Vianney Parish.
Kate Wiskus, associate dean of formation at the University of St. Mary of the Lake at Mundelein Seminary outside Chicago, spoke on pastoring multiple parishes. She also is co-author of the book “Pastoring Multiple Parishes” with Mark Mogilka. He spoke at the Davenport Diocese’s Clergy Institute in June.
During the first night of the seminarians’ convocation, Wiskus talked about ministry to multiple faith communities as it relates to national trends and Iowa’s situation. Using statistics from “The Official Catholic Directory,” published by P.J. Kenedy & Sons, Wiskus noted that since 1950 the number of U.S. Catholics has increased 147 percent and the number of U.S. parishes has increased 20 percent. But the number of diocesan priests has decreased. Iowa’s population has increased at a rate one-third of national growth, the number of Iowa parishes has decreased 17 percent and the number of priests has decreased 43 percent (versus 6 percent nationally).
“When you count all the priests that are available (active and retired) the ratio of priests (to parishioners) is 1:948 in Iowa,” she said. But when you count the ratio of priests who are active and in the parishes (not retired) that ratio jumps to 1:1,640.
Her next talk focused on discipleship, stewardship, community, worship, Word and service relating to pastoral leadership.
Saturday morning she talked about collaboration in growing the Church. Wiskus encouraged the seminarians to begin collaborating now — in college and major seminary. It doesn’t have to be Church related. “We are called by our baptism to collaborate.”
As future pastors, “your voice is very important. You need to build consensus and be effective collaborators.” Aspects of collaboration that are essential include:
• Developing and articulating a “shared vision and mission.” She told the seminarians to “get everyone on the same page and have the same vision. Start practicing now as you will not have a lot of preparation time.”
• Building up of the community — The Body of Christ. “You must be a reconciler and bring everyone to the table. Bring the different views together. Help mend the broken body.”
• Stressing the shared values in, with and through Christ. Do not be an instrument of division. “Your focus should be the sacraments.”
• Consulting with parish members and lay leaders, with area leadership and with diocesan leadership.
• Communication within and between communities and staff.
Seminarian Rob Sloma of the Diocese of Des Moines, a freshman at Loras College’s St. Pius X Seminary in Dubuque, said, “It was a blessing to come together in this fraternity with my seminarian brothers.”
Corey Close, a third-year major seminarian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome for the Diocese of Davenport, agreed. It was “an awesome opportunity to meet my fellow seminarians in my diocese and within Iowa — to get to know one another.”
Aaron Junge of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, a junior at St. Pius X Seminary, said the speaker and topic were necessary. “It gave life and dignity to a future that we look at with trepidation. It helped us give life to serving multiple parishes and serving people in those multiple parishes.”
Chris Ciaffa of the Diocese of Sioux City, a senior at Conception Seminary in Conception, Mo., appreciated getting together with fellow seminarians from his own diocese he rarely gets to see. He also enjoyed meeting other seminarians from across the state. “We have time to catch up with one another and show our Iowa pride.”
Sunday the seminarians met by diocese for meetings. Then they attended Mass at St. John Vianney with Bishop Martin Amos presiding. Father Marty Goetz, director of vocations for the Diocese of Davenport, gave closing remarks at the Mass. He said four people approached him before Mass and asked “how can we promote vocations?”
He responded, “One: pray for these young men gathered here, that the Lord continues to bless them as they discern their call to vocations. Two: pray for your children and your grandchildren that they will be open to the call to vocations. Live your faith, encourage your children and grandchildren and ask them about the call to priesthood, the diaconate and religious life.”
He said Jesus asked the seminarians, and they answered. “That is your challenge, to ask your child or grandchild to open their hearts to God’s call.”