Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 11, 2002
The priest who looks for future priests
Fr. Stephen Hero is dedicated to helping archdiocese beat vocation crisis
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
If you are thinking about the priesthood, go talk to Father Stephen Hero, the vocations director of the Edmonton Archdiocese. As vocations director he is the bridge between wanting to become a priest and actually becoming one. His job is to promote priestly vocations and to recruit new candidates.
"I'm an inviter, someone who invites," he says. "A vocation comes from God and we believe that God will provide but we have to be God's voice sometimes inviting and asking people to consider that."
Hero's approach is simple. He tries to be where young people are practising their faith. When the 32-year-old priest is not at his Catholic Pastoral Centre office planning strategies or interviewing priestly candidates, he is preaching about vocations at a parish, sometimes to children preparing for sacraments, doing a vocations workshop or a retreat at a Catholic school, or working with a youth group.
He also speaks to parents at Catholic schools. "I think even though parents may love the Church and are practising their faith, they are still not open to the idea of their son being a priest or their daughter being a religious," he told the WCR.
"Some parents don't think (their children) will be happy (as priests and nuns). They think they'll be lonely, that there is too much stress involved and they pass some of those fears on to their children."
Hero also speaks at many conferences. "I try to be around," he said. "I try to be in places where Catholic families are gathered or young people are praying and to try to get them thinking about vocations."
He asks young people to consider the priesthood as an option and encourages them to pray. "Prayer takes us closer to the Lord and helps us to discern his will." The idea, he once said, is to help young people realize "everyone has a vocation from God and is called to holiness."
Hero became full-time vocations director in the summer but had been part-time director for the previous year, when he replaced Father Sylvain Casavant.
Since he took over the position, Hero has worked in a number of areas in vocation ministry, including promoting awareness and prayer in the diocese. He also works with young people discerning their vocations. Finally, he works with Edmonton seminarians, as their representative with the bishop and a support.
"I'm trying to work in all three of those areas," he explains. "Now I have the time to put my full attention to it."
In the promotion-awareness area, Hero has tangible things to discuss. He will host an evening at St. Joseph's Seminary Nov. 13 for men 17 and older who want to learn more about the priesthood.
The event, called Priesthood Through the Eyes of the Saints, will feature some basic information about the requirements for the priesthood as well as some inspiring stories about how the saints lived their priesthood and how they understood the priesthood. Some seminarians will speak about their own vocations.
Hero is also planning a dinner with the archbishop for the near future. Dinner guests, likely priests and religious and perhaps some parents, will be asked to invite a young person that they know who is discerning their vocation. During the evening, Archbishop Thomas Collins and other guests will tell the stories of their own vocations.
Hero sees the dinner as serving two purposes - getting priests and religious to look more actively for vocations in their communities and nourishing the spirits of those who are thinking of religious life. "Young people have their own feelings and ideas about (priestly and religious) vocations but they need to hear someone else's story," Hero said.
Prayer is a major aspect of vocations work. Currently half of the parishes in the archdiocese hold regular Eucharistic Adoration for vocations. And over 300 members of the St. Th‚rŠse Society, a loosely organized society of adult men and women, pray daily for an increase in vocations in the archdiocese.
Does prayer work? "I think so," Hero said. "If we pray, the Lord will send workers into his harvest. If the Christian community doesn't see vocations as important enough to ask for, then I don't know if we deserve them."
At the recent Youth Mannafest prayer festival, 18 young people, six girls included, stood up and joined Hero on the stage when he asked the 300 youth in attendance whether anyone in the audience felt called to religious or priestly life.
"There is a generation of young people out there that are really searching for God."
- Fr. Stephen Hero
"It's been a wonderful year to meet with so many young people, young people who are discerning their vocation, mostly young men," Hero said.
"I find that so encouraging and hopeful for the future. You see a lot of negative things around all the time but there is a generation of young people out there that are really searching for God and want to give their lives to God somehow in whatever vocation he is calling them to."
But things are not always as they appear. "I'm always surprised," Hero said. "We do a lot of promotion, have different programs in the diocese, education, prayer, but often guys just come from nowhere," he said, laughing. "Someone that I haven't met before just comes out of the woodwork and says, 'I'd like to be a priest.' The priesthood is very much a gift from God. So I think all the things we are doing really help. But sometimes it's not the guys that are going on the retreats that end up coming to me."
Once a 29-year-old social worker at a group home with elderly people came knocking at Hero's office. The man had grown up in Catholic family and as a young person had always being involved in the parish. "Several parish priests had encouraged him to think about the priesthood while he was growing up" but he didn't pursue the vocation.
While he was working in the group home taking care of the elderly the call to priesthood became more clear to him. "He was in a caring profession taking care of people and yet the call to priesthood was always there," noted Hero. "And I think it was the invitation of these pastors over the years that made him think 'I'm really drawn to care for people, maybe I can do that as a priest.'"
After seeing Hero, the man decided to study for the priesthood. He is now one of six new seminarians for the Edmonton Archdiocese.
But not all those who visit Hero get to go to the seminary. They include men with mental disorders and those who don't attend Church.
Hero said the Church tries to be "very careful" about who it accepts into the seminary. "Of course we screen our candidates carefully today," he noted. "It doesn't mean a person has to be totally holy every moment of their life but we want to now what they have been doing."
All those who want to become priests have to submit an application which, among other things, must contain recommendations from a priest and other outstanding members of the community. Hero is usually the first one to meet the applicant and he may or may not recommend that he become a candidate.
"As well we have an admissions committee made up of priests and lay people who meet with that candidate and formally interview them so you get somebody else's opinion other than myself.
"At some point there will be a psychological assessment. We also do criminal checks." Men who have been involved in criminal activity are not considered.
How does one know one is being called to be a priest? "It's a mysterious thing and is different for different people but usually there is sense of desire for it," he said.
But priesthood is more than a service. "It is a particular relationship with Jesus Christ (that God calls some men to)," the priest said. "Everybody experiences it differently. While some are overwhelmed by grace, others gradually come to a deeper relationship with God."
Asked to rate his job, Hero said, "It's a very important ministry today because I think today it's very hard for young people to hear God's call. There are so many distractions, so many different things competing for their attention, that at a very young age the voice of God is drowned out through the media and other influences. So it is crucial that you have the whole community, not just me, praying for vocations."