Did you know that studies consistently show that 70% of the newly ordained first heard the call to the priesthood between birth and 18 years of age? (1)
At the risk of stating the obvious, these are the prime educational years for faith formation. Children should encounter inspiration and instruction within the family; however, by and large, Catholic schools, catechism classes, and youth ministry are “home base” for their faith.
Generally, students do not learn much about the universal call to holiness or how God is particularly calling them to the priesthood, consecrated life, or sacramental marriage, except maybe once a year when the class is learning about the sacraments.
This must change as we want students to find the path God has planned for them, and our Church needs vocations!
Did you know that:
1) By 2025, it is estimated that religious sisters, brothers, and religious order priests over 70 years of age will outnumber those under age 70 by nearly 4 to 1? (2)
2) Over the last 50 years, the number of Catholic marriages across the U.S. has dropped 68% — from 426,309 in 1970 to 137,885 in 2019? (3)
3) 45,000 parishes globally are currently without a resident priest/pastor?(4)
These statistics should shock us into action to create a vocation-friendly environment so that students can easily hear and answer God’s call.
But what can Catholic educators do to promote vocation awareness?
Imagine a family visiting their Catholic School during National Vocation Awareness Week, a week set aside for us to promote vocations. They would witness students:
- Listening to a morning announcement promoting the week’s activities
- Praying an age-appropriate prayer for their own vocation
- Reading materials in the classrooms that explain paths discerning priesthood or religious life
- Hearing the vocation story of an alumnus who answered God’s call
- Writing cards of affirmation to a married couple they admire
- Praying for vocations in the school Mass intentions
- Listening to priests, sisters, and seminarians as they speak at an assembly and visit classrooms to share the joy of their vocation
- Working with one of the free vocation curricula
What if educators sustain these types of activities year-round, year after year? The results could be tremendous!
Resources To Help Guide Vocation Ministry
But what activities should be done? When? How? Vocation Ministry’s newest resource, The Harvest: A Guide to Vocation Ministry in Education, written by its founder Rhonda Gruenewald, offers proven inspiration and 75 practical activities to help bring about a culture of vocations. We need prayerful action for the Holy Spirit to have plenty of opportunities to plant seeds.
Some schools and college campuses already have such robust vocation promotion and prayer. The annual seminarian poster, for example, is not placed on a bulletin board in a dark corner but is displayed prominently throughout the building. Children pass by a life-size cutout of a priest daily. In the hall, inspiring banners consistently remind everyone to “Pray for Vocations.”
These schools see young men and women answering the call each year at graduation. Some Catholic high schools even hold a Seminarian Signing Day for young men entering seminary, like athletes who sign to play for college.
Parents and teachers not only understand the general concept of vocation— the reality that God calls everyone—but they also grasp how the Church understands the sacraments of Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders and can genuinely communicate them to others.
Parents and grandparents will learn more about the joy of living the life God has asked of each person. Eventually, this will help them become vocation promoters in their own homes and be more open to having religious vocations come from their families.
Schools that pray for vocations and actively promote vocation-related activities are also different on a spiritual level. The students regularly pray for vocations, in general, and their own vocation. Educators are praying for their students’ discernment. Families are encouraged
by the vocation ministry and priests to have a family altar, to pray the Holy Rosary together, and attend Family Holy Hour. These prayers will bear much fruit.
Thanks to close collaboration with Catholic teachers, catechists, and Youth Ministers, discernment is normalized. After years of good instruction and inspiration, a second-grader, who thinks she may be called to be a religious sister, will eventually be ready to participate in a discernment group at her Catholic high school. The goal is to help her realize her pathway to heaven—her vocation.
When this fertile soil is tended and watered with prayer, over time, adults and children in these schools find that the concept of “vocation” becomes second nature.
The hope is that educators do not see the ideas and suggestions as “extras” but instead as part of the fabric of the classroom and the school’s Catholic culture. By doing so, it will strengthen its Catholic identity and become incubators for our future saints. Then, vocations will erupt to the priesthood, religious/consecrated life, and strong and committed marriages.
More Resources On Catholic Education
The Harvest: A Guide to Vocation Ministry in Education and other books written by Rhonda Gruenewald are published and sold by Vocation Ministry. Order your copy at www.vocationministry.com.
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Religious Retirement Office, 2015.