By Barb Arland-Fye
Someone who saw me snapping photographs at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport this past spring asked afterward if I was the mother of the newly ordained priest concelebrating Mass.
The young priest was visiting then-Msgr. Robert Gruss and had been invited to concelebrate Sunday Mass with him. But my camera lens was focused on the monsignor for a story I was doing about him being appointed bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City, S.D.
This memory of mistaken identity resurfaced following the ordination of Deacon Anastacio Ponce Vidaña at St. Mary of the Visitation Church in Ottumwa on Aug. 20. In my position as editor of The Catholic Messenger, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Deacon Ponce and some of the other seminarians as they study for the priesthood.
Deacon Ponce and seminarian Corey Close, who will be ordained a deacon Oct. 6 in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican State, and Guillermo Trevino, beginning his second year at Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Ill., have or are writing columns for The Catholic Messenger. What a privilege to work with them in publishing their reflections as they discern their call to the priesthood!
Even though each of them already has a mother, my role in collaborating with them in their writing has a nurturing feel to it. I care about these men and pray for them collectively, along with the bishops, priests, other deacons, deacon candidates and seminarians in our diocese.
Nine priests have been ordained for the Diocese of Davenport in the nine years since I arrived at The Catholic Messenger as managing editor, although that doesn’t mean one ordination per year. Some years more than one priest was ordained; in four non-consecutive years no ordinations occurred.
Bishop Martin Amos said that our diocese is above average in the number of Catholics per newly ordained priest, based on a method of calculation used by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), Georgetown University.
The number of ordinations in each diocese over a three-year period is totaled and then divided by the total number of Catholics in each diocese in the last of those three years. The three-year period is used because some dioceses do not have ordinations in any one- or two-year period, the CARA report explained. (See the Official Catholic Directory 2011.)
Using this method, the Davenport Diocese had three ordinations over a three-year period, compared with the national average of two ordinations, Bishop Amos said. “Next year we’ll have two more ordinations to the priesthood — so we’ll still be above the national average, which I think is really pretty good.”
The bishop thinks our diocese’s experience says a lot about people’s willingness – from the vocations director and other priests to parishioners and Serra Club members — to ask someone about considering a vocation to the priesthood. “When I go to parishes, frequently the priest will say to me, ‘This is one of our future candidates for the priesthood,’ and the kids will roll their eyes,” the bishop said with a laugh. But the encouragement is important because it can plant a seed of discernment, he believes.
Even with encouragement, it’s not a cake walk to the priesthood. Years of study and discernment are required; sometimes discernment leads to another vocation for which the individual is better suited.
My younger son Patrick has been asked whether he’d consider a vocation to the priesthood, and I think he was surprised to be asked. Right now he’s consumed with high school studies and getting his first part-time job.
No, I’m not the mother of a priest, but I appreciate being able in some small way to accompany seminarians on their journey of discernment.