We hear from time to time about wise judges. Mostly it’s about court cases when a judge issues a particularly appropriate sentence.
But a judge wasn’t presiding over a case involving Henry Stephan. Instead, the devoutly Catholic federal judge was Stephan’s boss during an internship Stephan had with the court.
“I was planning on going into the law or politics instead of becoming a priest,” said now-Father Stephan of the Dominican Friars Province of St. Joseph, in a profile of the ordination class of 2018 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Toward the end of a summer internship, the federal judge I was working for asked me point-blank, ‘Why haven’t you considered becoming a priest?’ Why not, indeed? I wound up entering the Order of Preachers instead of going to law school.”
Growing up in a Catholic family in San Jose, Calif., the newly ordained priest’s parents sacrificed to send him and his younger sister to Catholic schools and encouraged him to study and discuss the faith from an early age. At Princeton University, he was a student leader at the Aquinas Institute, the Catholic chaplaincy. Looking back, he saw how many aspects of his life were a preparation to say “yes” to God’s call to become a Dominican friar. But someone had to ask him about that calling first.
Several parish bulletins in the archdiocese invite people who feel the call to holy orders or religious life to contact parish clergy or the archdiocesan Office of Vocations. But we must do more — issue the invitation in person, just as that federal judge did.
In April, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that the number of potential ordinands for the class of 2018, 430, is a decrease from 590 in 2017. The Archdiocese of St. Louis had two diocesan priests ordained this year and as of last year ranked ninth in the average number of ordinations per 100,000 Catholics over a five-year period. Twenty-five priests were ordained over that period.The need remains strong, however, with 33 priests eligible to retire at age 75 in the next five years.
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, found that the data gives reason for hope as well as provides areas for future growth.
“It is essential that we continue to make the conscious effort to encourage young men to be open to hearing God’s call in their life and assist them in the discernment process,” he said.
Father Ralph B. O’Donnell, executive director of the Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, cited the significance of encouraging vocations awareness: “One of the most encouraging statistics to see in this study is that 86 percent of those to be ordained to the priesthood this year were encouraged to do so by someone in their life,” most frequently a parish priest, friend or another parishioner, he said. This fact should enliven in the faithful a resolve to actively encourage the young people that they encounter to consider to what vocation God is calling them and to be generous in their response, Father O’Donnell said.
On average, responding ordinands first considered priesthood when they were 17 years old. Most entered the seminary several years later. On average, four individuals encouraged their vocation.
It’s not hard. Encourage a vocation wherever possible today.