Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Vocations in the Spokane Diocese: Q&A with the Vocation Director
the Inland Register
(From the Sept. 30, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
(Editorís note: Father Darrin Connall is the Vocation Director for the Diocese of Spokane and the rector of Bishop White Seminary at Gonzaga University. For the Inland Registerís annual Vocation Issue, Father Connall answers some of the most common questions he receives about vocations.)
Q. How many seminarians are studying for the diocese?
A. The Diocese of Spokane begins this academic year with 17 men in priestly formation. We have seven men at Bishop White Seminary and 10 men studying theology in seminaries throughout the United States and in Rome.
Q. Do we have an adequate number of seminarians?
A. Over the past decade the bishop has been able to ordain an average of two priests per year, which has helped us to actually increase our total number of active priests. In order for this to happen our goal has been to have around 20 men in formation at any one time. This number allows for attrition ó seminarians who leave on their own or who are dismissed from the program Ė while providing us with an average of two new priests each year. At 17 men this year we are a little below our goal of 20, but certainly within the range of where we want to be.
Q. Can you say something about the quality of our candidates?
A. I would argue that our primary focus should be on quality candidates for priesthood, rather than numbers. However, I believe we can have both. I firmly believe that God continues to call men of good quality in adequate numbers to serve our local Church as priests. Our seminarians come from ordinary families like yours. They are not perfect, but, I can say that to a man, they are committed to ongoing growth and formation. If they do not reflect that openness to growth, they cannot be in the seminary. One cannot be an effective and happy priest without first becoming a mature and healthy human being.
My experience has been that when people get to know our seminarians, either through a pastoral assignment or interaction with the seminary, they find young men who are edifying. Their love of the Church, commitment to service, and desire for holiness is inspiring and gives us all hope in the future.
Q. With the appointment of our new bishop, are there any changes coming to the vocation program?
A. Over the next several months, Bishop Cupich will be taking time to meet with each of the seminarians studying for the diocese. He has made it clear that he wants to know our candidates well. To this end he wants to personally interact with them and become familiar with their gifts, talents and strengths, as well as their areas for growth. In terms of changes, Bishop Cupich will soon appoint a Vocation Admissions Committee to assist with the process of accepting new seminarians for the diocese. The mixed committee of clergy, laity and Religious will review the application materials of a candidate and make a recommendation to the bishop regarding acceptance. This committee will strengthen our program by involving even more people in the application process.
Q. What is the application process for a seminarian?
A. The process of accepting a young man as a seminarian is actually quite rigorous. It begins with interviews with myself as the Vocation Director. The applicant also completes a 20-page application form which covers everything from family background to work experience to his financial background. Confidential reference letters are obtained from those who know the candidate very well, including people like his pastor, relatives, and employers. In addition, the candidate undergoes a complete medical examination as well as a comprehensive psychological evaluation and clinical interview. The process is rounded out with a Washington State Patrol background check, autobiography, two short essays, and copies of sacramental documents.
This material is reviewed by the Vocation Admissions Committee, who then personally interviews the candidate and makes a recommendation to the bishop. The bishop reviews the material, the recommendation of the Committee, and then interviews the candidate himself. All of this results in the bishop making his decision regarding acceptance.
Q. What is most effective in terms of encouraging vocations to the priesthood?
A. I think that there are times when we as Vocation Directors rely too heavily on advertisements, web sites and posters to encourage vocations. We certainly have all of that in the diocese, but I believe that the most effective tool for promotion and encouragement is a personal invitation. When we think about it for a moment, this is exactly what Jesus did when he called the Twelve Apostles to join him. Our Lord went to where the apostles lived and worked and personally invited them to follow him. He called Matthew, working at his customs post (Mt. 9:9). He personally invited Andrew and Simon to follow him while they were fishing on the Sea of Galilee (Mk. 1:16-18). He personally called James and John while they were repairing their nets (Mk. 1:19-20).
The example of Jesus challenges all of us to personally invite young men to consider service to the Church as a priest. These young men are your sons and grandsons, fellow parishioners, altar servers, youth group members, and volunteers. You see them around the parish and you know them to be solid young men. Our task is to imitate the Lord in personally approaching them to ask if they might consider following Jesus as a priest. The vocation posters and websites may plant the seeds, but it is our personal invitation which can make the crucial difference.
Q. If I think God might be calling me to be a priest, what should I do?
A. I would suggest two things. First, bring the question to God in prayer. Ask God what you are to do with your life and be attentive to the signs he reveals to you. In particular, tend to your soul by staying close to the sacramental life of the Church through 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, talk with the bishop when he visits your parish, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 509-313-7102.
If you have been looking for a sign, maybe this is it.