By Gordon Nary
Gordon: What are your primary responsibilities as Vocation Director for the Archdiocese of Chicago?
Father Francis: As the Vocation Director, I am responsible for helping men discern their vocation to priesthood and religious life. I meet with men individually and I organize and lead discernment groups and other events that bring men together to discuss their interest in the priesthood. I also work with a team of Assistant Vocation Directors who help me promote our programs and events at parishes, schools and universities throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago. And I visit colleges and universities throughout the Midwest that have large student populations from the Chicago-land area.
Gordon: Approximately mow many men from the Archdiocese enroll in seminary each year?
Father Francis: The numbers vary year by year but, on average, we normally have 6-7 men enter St. Joseph College Seminary each year. And we usually have 10-14 men enter Mundelein Seminary each year. And this year we have 65 men in our Quigely Scholars High School Discernment Program. That program has tripled in the last three years! And we opened a House of Discernment this year for men who want to discern a vocation to the priesthood while they continue to work or go to school. The House opened with 5 men in August and we are still accepting men into the program.
Gordon: Could you provide an overview if the discernment proves to help those interested the priesthood determine if God is truly callings them to be a priest?
Father Francis: When men contact me for the first time, I will meet with them to learn more about their life history: who they are, where they are from, etc. And then we will talk about why they are interested in the priesthood. Based upon their level of interest and where they are at in their life, I will help them draw up a plan of action. I’ll give them practical advice about how to keep taking their discernment to prayer and how to build a better prayer life. I will also help them find a Spiritual Director, someone they can meet with on a regular basis to discuss what’s coming up in prayer and who will help them grow in their relationship with God. I’ll also invite them to join one of our discernment programs or attend one of our events, if I feel the timing is right. And I will continue to meet with them periodically to see how their discernment is going and to see what else I can do to help them in their discernment. When the candidate is ready, I will extend him an application to Mundelein Seminary and I will help him through the application process.
Gordon: After several years of decline in ordinations, it appears that ordinations are increasing. Based on your experience, what are some of the reasons thatmore people realize that they have been called by God to be a priest?
Father Francis: There is no simple answer to that question. The renewed interest in the priesthood is coming from a lot of different factors. One, ironically, has been the clergy abuse scandals. A lot of the men I entered seminary with entered at a time when the scandals were at their height. We entered because we saw a Church that was hurting and we wanted to make a difference. We all knew wonderful priests growing up and their model and their witness spoke to us. So in a strange way, the scandals spurred us to step forward and help the Church at a time when we saw it desperately needed good men.
Another reason that men are stepping forward today in large numbers is because of the quality of our Newman Centers on college campuses and because of the fine work being done by FOCUS Missionaries on secular college campuses. Many people might be surprised by this but, public colleges and universities are producing very high numbers of seminarians and religious sisters. Newman Centers are found on secular college campuses throughout the country. They are the Catholic buildings on campus that provide students with a place to pray, worship and build community. Many Newman Centers also serve as dormitories on campus as well, which helps to build a very strong Catholic culture and identity for the students. And many of these Newman Centers have FOCUS Missionaries at their facilities.
The FOCUS Missionaries are recent college graduates who spend months in training before being sent to college campuses to work as missionaries. Their mission is to help the Newman Centers build a strong Catholic culture on campus. They befriend students and invite them to Bible studies and other events at the Newman Centers. The missionaries help the students to rediscover their Catholic faith and form the students to become leaders of their own Bible studies or faith sharing groups. The result, is that large numbers of college students are becoming more engaged with their Catholic faith than at any point in their lives, which has provided an enormous number of men and women the opportunity to discern a vocation to priesthood and religious life.
Gordon: Chicago Priest is an exceptional website. You have a great series of videos. How has your use of video helped increase interest in the priesthood?
Father Francis: The videos have been enormously helpful to men who are discerning. Before calling me, men want to learn as much as they can on their own. They want to know what they might be getting themselves into. So the videos help them to see what the diocesan priesthood is all about in the Archdiocese of Chicago. They get to see what priests do, beyond celebrating the Sacraments, and they begin to identify with different priests who stories interest them. And because each of the videos is only about 4 minutes in length, they are very easy to use in classroom discussions or with youth groups. So the videos have been widely used in the Archdiocese of Chicago and around the country.
Gordon: What other social media tools do you used to discuss vocations?
Father Francis: We also use Facebook, Vimeo and YouTube.
Gordon: In closing, I thought it would be appropriate to feature this video