ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Allentown Bishop John O. Barres has taken a new approach to fostering vocations to the priesthood: making sure young men personally receive a call.
One morning in late December, many college-age men received phone calls or voice mail messages from Bishop Barres or two other diocesan priests asking them to consider a vocation to the priesthood.
“In this phase of the vocation initiative – ‘Hearing His Call’ – the focus has been on helping young men consider that the Lord might be calling them to this wonderful vocation,” said Father Andrew Gehringer, diocesan director of vocations.
The priest, who also made the phone calls, told The A.D. Times, Allentown’s diocesan newspaper, that the bishop’s idea was inspired by New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, whom he heard made a personal call to a young man who was discerning a vocation to the priesthood.
In response to the idea, Father Gehringer and Father Scott Ardinger, at the time a diocesan official who is currently pursuing doctoral studies at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, Mundelein, Ill., composed a list of names and cell phone numbers of more than 35 young men.
The priests listed those “who have either thought about the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood or who just have the good qualities and natural goodness that we are looking for in possible candidates for the priesthood,” Father Gehringer said.
These young men were some of those presented to the diocesan Office of Vocations by various priests throughout the diocese or those whom Father Ardinger had known from his contacts with high school and youth ministry.
Father Gehringer said the men were surprised when either he or Father Ardinger made the initial contact with them telling them that Bishop Barres would like to speak to them.
“A few of the men, naturally as college students, were actually sleeping at the time of the initial contact made by Father Ardinger or myself. However, some of the men actually expected the call,” he said.
“But to get that one-on-one time with the bishop, who spoke to them about how their semester was going and how they were doing in their prayer life and discernment of their vocation, was the biggest surprise,” he continued.
“Men attending universities like Scranton, Drexel, Fordham and Penn State, as well as other universities, heard Bishop Barres’ sincere desire to encourage them to think about the possibility of being a priest,” Father Gehringer said.
Such personal contact “is crucial” in the bishop’s mind, he added.
“To form a culture of vocations, we need to cultivate the soil of the minds and hearts of our young people with the knowledge that God has wonderful plans for them,” Father Gehringer said. “Once they hear and believe this truth, their hearts can expand around God’s desire for them.”
The priest said prayer was the focus of many of the conversations with the bishop. By the very question “how is your prayer life going?” these young men heard how important it was for them to make prayer a crucial part of their life so that they can seriously be open to what God has in store for them, he emphasized.
The phone call effort led up to a vocation awareness week in the diocese at the beginning of the year. Bishop Barres also used this year’s Catholic School Week, which ended Feb. 4, to challenge all Catholics to continue to promote vocations, especially to the priesthood, in the lives of young people.