Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
February 12, 2001
Priority #1: More priests
Collins, Casavant put the emphasis on vocations
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Many parishes have been merged and closed in the Edmonton Archdiocese in the past few years because of the lack of priests.
At least seven priests over 70 years of age are still serving as pastors and some younger ones have from three to six parishes under their charge. The situation is critical but the archdiocese is not simply waiting for God to provide. In the last few years it has taken serious steps to encourage priestly vocations.
At the helm of the vocations crusade is Archbishop Thomas Collins, who has been challenging Catholics from the day he took office.
"There are plenty of people being called to serve as priests or as sisters or as brothers but we need to do what we can to encourage them," Collins says. "A lot is being done but it's important (to understand) that the encouragement of vocations is really a responsibility of all of us."
In an interview on the day of his September 1999 installation, Collins told the WCR, "My top priority is more vocations to the priesthood."
And that evening in his first homily at St. Joseph's Basilica, he put a number on it: "We also need a couple hundred more priests and sisters. . . . Three hundred will do for starters."
At that point, Father Sylvain Casavant had just become the archdiocese's first full-time vocations director after serving in the role part-time for several years.
The young, energetic priest took the bull by the horns and started frequenting the places where young people gather: youth groups, schools, clubs, youth rallies - always encouraging them to give the priesthood a serious look.
He also speaks regularly at parishes and is constantly communicating with pastors and youth groups. His office's newsletter reaches hundreds throughout the archdiocese.
Casavant has created a network of people who help him point out the right candidates and has written to and personally spoken with some of them.
He has also helped raise the consciousness of the laity on the need to pray for vocations. Several parishes have set up days when people pray explicitly for vocations. Some, like St. Joseph's Basilica, have a vocations director who sits on the parish council.
Last June Casavant re-started the Serra Club, a local group affiliated with an international lay organization that promotes religious vocations.
The club is currently working on a family vocation kit, a campaign that seeks to have families in every parish praying for vocations daily.
He recently launched the St. Therese Vocations Society, a loosely structured group whose members offer daily prayers for an increase in vocations and for those already ordained. Members also make a Holy Hour each week and attend Mass for vocations once a month. So far 160 people from across the archdiocese have signed up for membership in the society.
The vocations office also plans to organize a group of seniors who have expressed interest in praying for vocations.
"I think we want to be thinking more about vocations and praying more about vocations," Casavant says. "Vocations are everyone's business. We need committed families to help build up the faith which will in turn build up vocations to religious life and priesthood. When somebody says 'I want to become a priest' we must be willing to support him."
In his work as archbishop, Collins talks about vocations wherever he goes, challenging Catholics to pray for vocations and to support those who may have one.
He has gone even farther, writing to pastors and asking them to continue to submit the names of young people who may have a priestly or religious vocation.
Over the past year he has written more than 50 personal letters to those whom the pastors have suggested, encouraging them to "consider prayerfully whether they are being called."
When it comes to vocations, "I think we must be proactive," the archbishop said. "The key here is to reach out."
Have all these efforts borne any fruit? Casavant points out there are 37 seminarians at St. Joseph's Seminary, with 11 of them studying to become priests for the Edmonton Archdiocese.
That number has grown slowly, but steadily over the past few years. And there have been three ordinations over the past 18 months.
"It's been a while since we had double digits (in seminarians)," Casavant notes. "The important thing is that people are actually talking about vocations."
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