by Gordon Nary
Gordon: To introduce you to some of our readers, here is a great article on your ordination by Stefani Manowski. You are now serving as the vocation director for the Paulists. Is there am advantage of being a vocation director when you have been recently ordained?
Father Tran: That’s an interesting thought, that there’s an advantage of being a vocation director and having been recently ordained. I’m not sure if there is or not, but I know that no matter who we are and the backgrounds we have, God will use our gifts properly to do whatever ministry we’re called to do. I see priests who have been ordained much longer than I have being great vocation directors. They have the skills to listen and relate well to whomever they’re speaking with, and thereby help them discern where God may be calling them. Perhaps being young and recently ordained helps me to relate more easily with someone young who’s discerning a religious vocation. We would be closer in age and therefore speak the same “language”, and the many things I had to discern and think through would be similar to theirs.
Gordon: The Paulist have exceptional skills as communicators with the Paulist Press. Busted Hale, and Paulist Productions. How have the Paulist media skills helped interest some in considering a vocation?
Father Tran: The mission of thePaulist Fathers is to evangelize America, and we do it by using the tools of the modern age – printing press, satellite radio, movies and television, internet, etc. Our media and communication ministries allows us to reach out to the millions of people we wouldn’t normally have physical contact with in our parish or campus ministry around the U.S. Through our ministry in media, I think the Paulist Fathers offer a modern image of priesthood that can surprise some people. There are some who just think of priesthood as staying around the parish, doing parish ministry and saying Mass. So when I talk about our media ministry, I sometimes get people telling me, “Oh, I didn’t know you guys do that!” As Paulist, we go out and engage in the culture through media to reach out to those we may never meet physically. So hopefully for those who have an interest in working with media and may feel they have a calling to the priesthood, they don’t feel they have to pick one or the other, but can see themselves using their gifts in the priesthood as a Paulist Father.
It’s the digital age and we recognize that young people will go online first to seek information regarding discernment and religious life so we do our best to provide resources for them. You can get a lot of books on our Paulist Press website on spirituality to help deepen your faith in order to discern well. There’s also a book we published that may help with discernment – “Discovering Your Personal Vocation: The Search for Meaning through the Spiritual Exercises”. The Paulist media ministry website – –Busted Hale has a podcast addressing whether God may be calling someone to a religious vocation -- along with many other articles throughout the years on its website about vocation. There are a lot of questions when you’re discerning so we do our best to provide good information on our community website –paulist.org – to help someone learn about us as a community but also about religious life. Talking to people, we recognize it’s not only the person who’s discerning that has a lot of questions, but parents, family and friends of someone discerning also want to learn more. So recently, we added a new section on our website to address some of their concerns
Gordon: What impact has the Paulist campus ministries had on vocations?
Father Tran: I think our campus ministries have had an impact on vocations, although I can’t give you concrete numbers on how many enter religious life from our campus ministries. But anecdotally, when I was a student at UC Berkeley and attending Newman Hall – Holy Spirit Parish, which is a Paulist campus ministry, I know at least two other guys who are now also priests. One is a Jesuit and the other is a diocesan priest. So vocations do come out of our campus ministries, although it’s hard to track because our students don’t always enter seminary right after graduate from college.
Any vocation, particularly a religious vocation, is a fruit of discipleship – someone who has a strong sense of their baptismal identity and wants to live it out in their daily lives. And I believe this is one of our overarching goals in any Paulist campus ministries: to form our students into disciples of Christ, equipping them to engage in the world and live out their faith in every aspect of their lives during their college years and beyond. When someone has a good sense of their faith, in prayer and in practice, it naturally leads to them to ask themselves the question of vocation: What is God calling me to do? This was definitely the case for me when I was a student at Berkeley; and for some of us, the answer to the question of vocation is to explore religious life and serving God in that way.
Gordon: How effective has Instagram been as a communications resource?
Father Tran: Each of the social media channels has a unique culture and a unique audience. And, those cultures and audiences are continually evolving. There are tons of eyeballs at Instagram every minute of every day. The photos and videos we post there (via @PaulistFathers and @PaulistVocation) get a very healthy numbers of views and likes. We've also loved using Instagram as a way to see what users are sharing during conferences like the SEEK conference organized by the Fellowship of College and University students.
Another great aspect of Instagram is that a photo posted to Instagram can be automatically cross-posted to Facebook and Twitter. This has been quite effective for us.
Gordon: What has been your experience with the use of Twitter as a vocation communications resource?
Father Tran: Twitter also has a unique culture and audience. Through Twitter, we have interacted with some vocations prospects for whom Twitter is their dominant social media channel. Twitter has also been a good channel for our content marketing of the Paulist Fathers' media ministries like Busted Halo and Paulist Press. We also are blessed to have a seminarian, Paulist Deacon Stuart Wilson-Smith, who is a superb Twitter user via @swilsonsmith. Stuart does a superb job modeling our Paulist charism using Twitter.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview, your vocations leadership, and insights into the use of social media as a religious communications resource.