Three times in the past month I have told someone that I am a recent convert to the Catholic Church. Each time I received the same response: “Wow, most people are going the other way!” Meaning, of course, “People are leaving the Church in droves. What do you think you’re doing?!”
I usually offer a non-confrontational answer like, “Not necessarily,” and leave it at that. But I find myself wishing that these good people, who surely mean well, could visit our parish north of Boston and see what’s going on here. They might realize that there’s a large movement going His way. Facts speak louder than words.
Our parish is growing. Attendance at daily mass often tops 60–70 people, and that’s at 7:00 a.m., not a convenient hour for most. The annual parish census continues to increase, and every year there are more young families joining our ranks. As a result, our parish school continues to offer a Catholic education to many young children.
Most impressively, at a time when people might imagine that seminaries are emptying, vocations are alive and well in our parish as, indeed, they are in the Archdiocese of Boston. St. John’s Seminary in Brighton is reportedly filled to capacity, and several of these young men have been coming from or through our parish.
On Saturday, many in our parish will travel to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End to see Kwang Lee ordained to the priesthood. Kwang is a final-year seminarian who has served during vacations and weekends in our parish for the past two years or so. He has endeared himself to many of us, working tirelessly to make the church more beautiful, while visiting the homebound and the sick. When he began preaching after being ordained to the transitional diaconate in January, we all just looked at each other and said, “This guy’s going to make a great priest.” The parish that scores Kwang will be blessed indeed. I know our pastor is going to miss him.
Over the Christmas holidays and again for the Easter Triduum, we had a college seminarian, Craig, staying in the rectory and helping out. Craig still has two years of college left before beginning his studies for the priesthood, but he has already made a positive impression on many of us.
Now, this week, another seminarian has appeared—helping out at Mass and elsewhere, no doubt. David has just completed his first year at St. John’s, where he went straight from Boston College. I had the privilege of serving with him at Mass this morning. He has a long way to go (four more years in the seminary, I guess), but from the looks of him, Boston will be getting another smart, charismatic young priest in about 2015. I hope he will be with us often during the next four years.
Meanwhile, our parish is seeing a vocation boomlet of its own. Last fall, a parishioner named Tom entered the seminary with the same class as David. Tom, in his early 40s, plans to be a second-career priest, having spent a number of years in business before discerning a call to the priesthood. Now, the second man from our parish in two years is preparing to enter the seminary in September. I have called him “Bill” (and Craig “Chuck”) in previous posts, but by now most of my readers know their real names.
So Bill, or Brian, will be entering the seminary soon, as well. I was talking with Brian after Mass this morning, and I said with a note of wonder that our parish is becoming a “priest factory.” He thought that was funny. (He has a great sense of humor.) I just think it’s impressive, and the next time someone tells me I’m rowing against the current, I think I’ll give them some specifics, like Kwang, Craig, David, Tom, and Brian—five young priests-to-be that our parish has come to know and love.
What accounts for this boomlet? I think it’s pretty clear. Our parish is blessed with a young, bright, manly pastor, and I know he has been an inspiration to several of these young guys. Brian credits two other factors, as well. He said that his sense of vocation has been strengthened by daily Eucharistic Adoration, a regular feature in our parish for the past three years. And he has also been influenced by a daily ritual that Fr. Dan Hennessey, vocations director for the Archdiocese, began last summer, while filling in for our vacationing pastor. After daily Mass, most of us in attendance gather before the statue of the Blessed Mother and pray for vocations.
“Mother Mary, please send young men to the priesthood, especially from our parish,” a leader says. We follow this with three Hail Marys. Then we ask Mother Mary and St. John Vianney to pray for us. It takes all of 45 seconds every day. Brian says it has had a powerfully supportive influence on him.
And who else? Time will tell. Time seems to be on His side.