Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 26, 2010
Youth need help in discerning vocations
But the lack of priests, sisters in high schools makes religious vocations a hard sell to teens today
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Keep it out there. That's the vocation battle cry of high school chaplain Sandra Talarico.
"You know you might have a vocation," she tells certain Archbishop MacDonald students when she sees specific qualities needed to be a good priest.
"Keep it (the priesthood) in the front of their mind," she emphasizes in an interview. "I talk about it all the time in my classes."
But too often, being a priest or taking any form of a religious path in life, is the last thing that occurs to young people as they ponder their future.
"When the priests left the schools, the idea of that possibility left as well because it is not in front of their minds," explains Talarico. The same with the nuns.
Talarico works in an academic school, where "a lot of our kids are gifted and they could do almost anything - doctors, lawyers, engineers. Most of our kids attend university. All the doors are open to them and I just make sure that that vocation door is open to them as well."
The chaplain applauds the university route, saying, "I think the days of entering the seminary when they are 18 is unrealistic. I think it is important for them to study and look at other possibilities to be sure."
Silence in the schools is not the only lapse that concerns Talaricio.
"I don't hear (vocations) very often being mentioned in the parishes." She recalls when Edmonton's former archbishop, Thomas Collins, would end talks with the entreaty for anyone interested in the priesthood to call the Catholic Pastoral Centre and give the phone number, to the point parishioners would laugh and say the number along with him.
"But it kept it in everyone's thoughts," says Talarico.
Taking a look closer to home, the chaplain says, "I am not sure the family is as supportive as it used to be. I think parents are maybe leery of even encouraging (the priesthood) themselves."
Given our secular society and rapidly evolving culture, Father Patrick Baska knows his vocations message is too often not heard.
CAREER OR VOCATION?
The vocations director for the Edmonton Archdiocese, Baska says, "Rarely do you hear of someone's becoming a teacher because they feel called to that. They are geared towards a career, being successful monetarily."
He, like Talarico, bemoans the departure of the priests and sisters as teachers in the schools.
"Fellows like Father Michael Troy - his presence in the schools as a coach, teacher, counsellor made such a difference," says Baska. "We unfortunately lost a certain amount of influence in terms of priestly presence and religious within the school community."
He acknowledges the teachers, counsellors, youth ministers in today's school system "who can relate to young people on a closer sort of way. But we still need the presence of priests and religious in our schools. That needs to take priority among priests and religious."
Baska turns towards the community at large as he says he encourages fellow "priests out there as well as the parishioners, parents, that in one form or another, we are all vocation directors."
Pray, mentor, witness with the youth, he says.
He also appeals for a cultural shift that leads to cultivating a sense of purpose for one's life, "especially within the family. Strong marriages foster vocations."
Margot Bilodeau endorses Baska's comment, saying, Reginald Bibby, a renowned Alberta sociologist, recently told youth ministers from across the West that today's youth are seriously looking up to their parents and other significant adults who have sound and lasting values.
A formation counsellor, Bilodeau says in her experience, "Young people that I have assisted in their vocation discernment are serious and solid enough not to allow the negative comments they hear about chastity, priesthood and consecrated life disturb and influence them on their journey. They focus on God's call to them, on the gifts received from God and how best to use them."
Archbishop MacDonald student Adrian Warchola agrees with supporting fellow students on their vocation path.
"It is important to not persuade them not to do it. You let the person make their choice."
LACK OF PRESENCE
He reiterates Talarico's and Baska's comment about the lack of presence of the vocation choice in the schools.
"It's really hard for someone to think of becoming a priest. In schools there is not much knowledge of it. In university (we think) 'Where can this take me? How much money can I make?' It (the priesthood) is not out there. If it was presented as other career choices are, students would at least put a bit more thought into it."
Carla Cuglietta, chaplain at Austin O'Brien, solved that problem when she asked Miguel Irizar, a seminarian at St. Joseph Seminary, to speak to religion classes.
"He shared his story on becoming a priest," says Cuglietta. "Kids really connected with him. He was so relaxed. He was just like them."
She then asked if anyone wanted a one-on-one answer time with him and two students answered yes.
For Irizar, now in his internship at Holy Trinity Parish, it was a natural fit because he first thought of the priesthood in his last two years at McNally High School.
"My family is very religious. I come from a family of 16 - 11 boys and five girls.
"Growing up in such a family taught me many values that many people don't experience in today's society. And one of those values was one of giving, of helping your little brothers and sisters, being generous, giving of yourself without expecting anything in return."
THE FIRST TIME
When he spoke to the students, he "realized it was the first time they saw a young seminarian. Many think priests tend to be older people. That was a huge eye opener for them."
Their questions centred on the steps needed to become a priest and how a priest lives his life.
The queries were many and Irizar met privately with the two youths and is keeping in touch with them, answering any concerns they might have.
"If they did not have that conversation with him, they might have abandoned the path," says Cuglietta.
Baska sees the result of such endeavours, saying "It's encouraging and surprising people do take an interest in priesthood especially in light of the cultural environment and the experiences in the recent weeks. These small numbers still take a keen interest in discerning God's plan."
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.