Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
From the Director of Vocations: To be an effective, happy priest, become a mature,
healthy human being
by Father Darrin Connall, for the Inland Register
(From the May 1, 2003 edition of the Inland Register>
(Editorís note: Father Darrin Connall is the
Vocation Director and Director of
Seminarians for the Diocese of Spokane, and rector of Bishop White Seminary. In preparation for
the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Father Connall provided the Inland Register with
answers to some of the most common questions he has received regarding vocations to the
Q. The diocese seems to have a shortage of priests right now. How many seminarians are studying for the Diocese of Spokane and do we have enough to meet our needs?
A. Yes, it is pretty clear that the priest personnel situation is pretty tight at the present time. The good news, however, is that the number of seminarians studying for the Diocese of Spokane has doubled over the past three years. We now have 20 men at various stages in the priestly formation process. If we can maintain this number, the diocese can expect to ordain an average of two priests a year. Ordaining two priests a year would meet our current needs and actually help us to increase our total number of active priests.
Q. Are other dioceses experiencing growth in their numbers?
A. The most recent statistics indicate that the total number of graduate level seminarians studying for American dioceses has actually increased by 412 men. While this is a relatively modest increase, it does represent a reversal of the downward trend in priestly vocations that had characterized the Church in the United States for so many years. It is definitely a hopeful sign.
Q. Shouldnít we be more concerned with the quality of candidates and less concerned about numbers?
A. I would agree that our primary focus should be on quality candidates for priesthood. That is of paramount importance. The choice, however, should not have to be between high numbers or high quality. I believe we can have both. I firmly believe that God continues to call good quality men in adequate numbers to serve the Church as a priest. It is important to note that seminary formation today places a great deal of emphasis on human formation. One cannot be an effective and happy priest without first becoming a mature and healthy human being.
Q. Where do our semi-narians come from? How many are from other countries?
A. A large part of the ministry and focus of the Vocation Office has been to promote vocations among young people living right here in the Diocese of Spokane. The majority of our current seminarians have their roots in and around Eastern Washington. They are local men from ordinary families. We also have five seminarians who were born in Mexico, as well as one from Nigeria and one from Ecuador. As the cultural makeup of the Catholic population of Eastern Washington continues to become more and more diverse, these young men play a very important role in meeting the needs of such a diverse population.
Q. How long does it take to become a priest?
A. It really depends on a personís age, background, and level of education. For someone with a college degree, it could take four to five years. For a young man right out of high school, he would be looking at taking advantage of roughly eight years of seminary education and formation.
Q. Where does a man go to seminary?
A. All college-age seminarians studying for the Diocese of Spokane begin their formation at Bishop White Seminary. Bishop White is located near the main entrance to the campus of Gonzaga University. Students take classes and earn their degree at Gonzaga while living at Bishop White. While living in the seminary they have a priest spiritual director and a priest formation advisor who meet regularly with them to help them discern their vocation, chart their progress, and assist them to grow into healthy and mature young men.
After successful completion of the formation program at Bishop White Seminary, seminarians then go on to complete their final four years of preparation for the priesthood. This is done at any one of a number of major seminaries in the United States and Europe.
Q. Why are priests called to be celibate and how difficult is this way of life?
A. There are many reasons given for priestly celibacy. The reason that is most meaningful to me is the example of Jesus Christ. In his own life Jesus witnessed to the value of living a single and chaste life. A priest is called to imitate Jesusí life of loving others equally and unconditionally. I also believe that celibacy is a powerful sign that challenges and confronts the misuse of human sexuality so prevalent in our contemporary culture.
Any priest will tell you that there are times when living a celibate life is indeed sacrificial. Some priests even struggle at times with loneliness. As with any vocation from God, there are times when we will be called to sacrifice. Priests, single people, and even married couples struggle with issues of sacrifice and loneliness. Faithfully living oneís vocation to married life, priesthood, Religious life or the single life requires hard work and a reliance on Godís grace. For me, the joys of the priesthood have outweighed the struggles. Priests maintain their commitment through the power of prayer, an intimate relationship with Jesus, and by drawing strength from profound moments of service to Godís people.
Q. How do I know if God is calling me to the priesthood?
A. It seems to me that Godís call most often comes in the midst of community. I would suggest, therefore, talking with other people such as a trusted friend, your parish priest, or a close member of your family. The second suggestion I would have is to watch for signs from God. Look at the gifts he has given to you, listen to his voice through other people, and search the depths of your heart for your deepest desires in life. I definitely believe God will give you the signs you need.
God most often calls us in very subtle ways. I am convinced that he will speak to you and that he will give you the signs you need. Your role is to watch closely, open your heart, and listen carefully for his gentle and loving invitation.
Q. If I think God might be calling me to be a priest, what should I do?
A. I would suggest two things. First, continue to attend to your soul. It will be helpful to talk with God in prayer everyday and to stay close to the sacramental life of the Church (particularly regular reception of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance).
Second, I would invite you to talk with a priest. Speak with your parish priest and also make an appointment with me. It is an important part of my ministry to help you and support you as you seek Godís will for your life. I can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (509) 326-3761.
If you have been looking for a sign, maybe this is it.
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