By Fr. Thom Hennen
Before sitting down to write this I decided to look back to see when I had last written a column on vocations for The Catholic Messenger. I figured it had been a few months at most. To my surprise it had been 10 months. How time flies! I have been so busy that I haven’t had time to sit down and write something, which, in fact, is good news for vocations in the Diocese of Davenport
Given my long absence from the pages of the Messenger, I thought an update on the state of vocations in the diocese might be in order. I am happy to report that we currently have 14 men studying for the priesthood at various levels of formation, from the first year of college seminary to the threshold of priestly ordination this summer. To have this number of seminarians is encouraging, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. As I am reminded each year at my vocation directors’ conference, “It’s not about numbers.” I can honestly say I feel very good about each of our seminarians. That is not to say that they are perfect or that their formation is just a formality. They have things to work on, as we all do, but I feel that all of them, in time, could make very capable, holy and beloved ministers of the Gospel in southeast Iowa.
In addition to those currently in formation, I can happily report that we have several good candidates shaping up for next year. Some are already in the application process and others will hopefully be applying in the coming months. Depending on how many apply and are accepted, for the first time in a long time we might be closer to 20 seminarians for the fall. Given the increased numbers and the expense of educating our seminarians, the diocese will be holding a special seminarian education appeal this April. Again, numbers aren’t everything and I don’t want to “count my chickens before they’re hatched,” but there is cause for hope.
While a good portion of my work is with our seminarians and with those who are discerning a call to diocesan priesthood, this isn’t all that I do. I continue to visit parishes throughout the diocese for faith formation nights, youth events, retreats, etc., to promote all vocations within the church: priesthood, diaconate, consecrated life, marriage, committed single life and lay ministry. This is all part of our effort to create that “culture of vocations” within the diocese, in which all people will prayerfully discern God’s call and generously respond with their lives.
Additionally, our office is trying to reach out more to the various religious communities represented in the diocese.
We would like to coordinate more with them in the future and get the word out on our vocations website (www.davenportvocations.org) about who they are and any upcoming discernment events they may be hosting.
I also continue to work with the Deacon Formation Program as spiritual director and had the privilege of teaching them the section on moral theology this past October and November.
As I did last year, I continue my part-time teaching at Assumption High School in Davenport. While time and energy are consuming at times, I have truly enjoyed this work and found it to be an important anchor for my own priestly ministry. It doesn’t hurt that my class second semester is on vocations. While this apostolate may or may not bear fruit in the short term, I am convinced that it is worthwhile and that it will bear fruit in the future.
With all of this good news I don’t want to give you the impression that we are “set” or that there isn’t still much work to be done by all of us to foster vocations. For example, the fact remains that we will have more priestly retirements than ordinations in the next 10 years. Even if we had 50 new seminarians, it would take five to eight years for them to complete their formation. Still, we should not despair or give up our efforts.
As we have just begun this time of Lent, I ask for your prayers for the seminarians, for those discerning, and for our diocese. Perhaps, you would take up as one of your Lenten resolutions to pray more intentionally for vocations or to regularly encourage those in your community to use their gifts for the service of God and the church.
(Fr. Hennen is vocations director for the Davenport Diocese. Contact him at (563) 888-4255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)