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Vocations expert sees hope for priestly vocations even amid secularism

A decrease in religious belief remains a “significant challenge” in cultivating vocations to the priesthood, a vocations expert said at a recent conference.

Diocesan vocations directors continue “to work against a culture of secularism in which the purpose and meaning of one’s life for so many of our young people … is defined by themselves,” said Father Chuck Dornquast, director of vocations for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Father Dornquast shared his thoughts during the Aug. 28-Sept. 1 convention of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors, or NCDVD, of which the priest is vice president.

Founded in 1962, the nonprofit works closely with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to promote and support priestly vocations. Membership is open to all Catholic dioceses and eparchies in the U.S., with associate memberships available to Catholic dioceses outside of the U.S.

The convention, now in its 60th year, drew more than 218 priests, some 20 men and women religious, and laypeople from six countries to the Immaculate Conception Retreat Center in Huntington, New York, NCDVD executive director Rose Sullivan said.

“Prayer, fraternity and conversations about the sacred ministry of vocations” were at the heart of the gathering, Sullivan said.

The solidarity experienced at the convention bolstered participants for the work of inviting young adults to consider vocations — their living out the particular call to discipleship that Jesus Christ calls them to — that are diametrically at odds with the prevailing culture, said Father Dornquast.

Youth and young adults have “become the determiner of the meaning of their lives,” he said. “Seeking their own happiness is their primary goal, and (it’s) what they’re formed to seek after.”

Vocations directors are “working against that culture of secularism,” he said.

At the same time, those labors are not in vain, he added.

“Thankfully, we’re also witnessing great fruit,” said Father Dornquast. “There is a spirit of holiness which is coming about in many young people across our country, and (we’re) finding the ways to work with them.”

With the Catholic Church in the U.S. celebrating the National Eucharistic Revival, nurturing devotion to the Eucharist is one of the ways in which vocation directors can encourage young men to discern whether Jesus has called them to the priesthood.

According to the 2023 “Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood” by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, regular eucharistic adoration figured heavily in the pre-seminary prayer practices of the class of 2023, cited by 73% of the survey participants.

Following adoration was the Rosary (66%), prayer group or Bible study (45%), high school retreats (37%) and “lectio divina” (35%).

Parish youth groups, as well as participating in liturgical ministries such as altar server and lector, were also significant factors in vocational development.

A majority of the survey respondents (63%) cited parish priests as those who most encouraged their priestly vocations.

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