Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 11, 2002
Collins continues to encourage
Archbishop has written 70 letters to potential priests
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Archbishop Thomas Collins has made it one of his top priorities to get more men into the priesthood. Since he took office nearly three years ago, he has been encouraging Catholics to promote priestly vocations.
He himself has been talking to young people about the importance of the priesthood and has written letters to those who seem called to serve as priests.
It has been a full-time campaign for the archbishop, who would like to have enough priests to serve every corner of the diocese.
In the recent past the archdiocese has been forced to close some parishes and merge others in order to use more effectively the few priests available. Some priests well beyond retirement age are still working and some younger ones are running up to six parishes.
But as the archbishop puts it, the vocations campaign is coming along fine and he is hopeful about the future. "We do have already several (men) who are preparing for the coming year for entry (at St. Joseph's Seminary)," he noted in a Feb. 2 interview.
"And, of course, we had one ordination last year and we'll be ordaining in the course of this year three deacons. They'll be ordained to the priesthood probably by the summer time."
The seminary itself has in the last few years grown from 25 seminarians to 42. "That's a good sign. And we have 10-15 applications already for this coming September which is fairly good this early in the year."
But as the archbishop sees it, vocation work is long-term work. "It's not a one-shot thing," he says. "The seeds need to be planted and it takes some time for them to grow.
"But I'm noticing, as I'm going around, a lot of interest in those who are being called. I often say give me a call at 469-1010 and I've had some calls."
He also has had situations where young people have come to the chancery office to talk to him about the priesthood.
"I've written letters to people but I'm not expecting, in doing that, that within three or four months there is going to be 20 new seminarians or something.
"I think it's a matter more of a long-term reality. But I'm certainly very hopeful and very impressed by the response so far. But we are only just beginning."
Vocation work is a matter of families praying and people being invited, Collins said. "One of the main issues we face is that people are not invited to consider (the priesthood). And we need to do it and that's why I'm doing it all the time."
Vocations to the priesthood or religious life are not as "obvious" as other vocations and therefore people might not think as much about them, he noted. "And so that's why I think we need perhaps a little extra encouragement to ask people to consider it."
How can people help? "One thing people can do is to pray for (priestly) vocations in the family and in the Church," Collins said.
"The second thing people can do is to become involved in the work of the Church. This is a way of encouraging vocations. I think, as well, that if our parish families are healthy there would be an environment where vocations to the priesthood are encouraged along with all the others."
Added Collins: "People should also look around and if they notice someone who they think may have a call to be a spiritual leader for the community, whether it is a sister or brother or a priest, they should not pester them or put pressure on them but rather ask them if they would consider it.
"One thing people can do is give me a call. Write to me, tell me a little bit about people they think have the qualities they see in a priest or a sister or a brother."
In the interview, Collins recalled the story of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago who as a young medical student wasn't thinking of the priesthood at all. Yet a couple of priests "saw the priesthood in him" and they took him aside and asked him to think about it.
"He began to think about it and he realized that it was in fact his vocation."
In the last couple of years Collins has written about 70 letters to people who have been referred to him as good priesthood candidates.
"When I write the letters to the people I don't say 'You must become a priest.' I don't pressure them. I simply say, 'It's been suggested that you may have a vocation to the priesthood. I just ask you to think and pray about it. And if you want more information get in touch with me.' I just leave it at that. It's an invitation."
When Collins served as seminary rector he asked seminarians what influenced them. Most of the 60 seminarians surveyed simply said they were asked. About 50 also said they were influenced by the example of a priest. Nobody said he was influenced by vocation materials such as pamphlets, posters or brochures.
Collins himself was asked to be a priest by Father John Newstead, one of the priests at his parish in Guelph. "I was in Grade 11 and one day in the early afternoon he came up to me and said, 'Tom, you should think about becoming a priest. He was a wonderful, joyful priest, somebody I very much admired.
"So in my own life I have appreciated being asked. I'm so grateful he did that because I didn't know what I was going to be in life. I thought of being a lawyer, I thought of being a teacher and I ended up being a teacher as well as a priest.
"Just being asked by Father Newstead is what got me thinking about the priesthood. If he hadn't asked, I don't know what would have happened."
Collins believes the international vocation directors conference in Montreal in April will be "helpful" in raising awareness about priestly vocations.
"There is an abundance of vocations out there," he said. "For the priesthood, I don't think it is extravagant to think there are a couple of hundred new vocations."
What's the key to getting those new vocations? "I think it's always personal contact and personal example and personal invitation that is the heart of vocations," he said.
"I don't want to have anyone who is called by the Lord to serve as a priest not be invited. I want to always invite everyone who is called."