National Vocation Awareness Week is coming up in early November, but Father Mark Searles, as the Diocese’s Director of Vocations, promotes vocations to the priesthood and religious life year-round. We asked Father Searles about his work.
Q. How’s it going with encouraging new priests and religious these days?
A. We’re finally getting back to our normal work in creating a culture of vocations following the pandemic, when some of our activities had to be curtailed. We had the Quo Vadis discernment event this summer at DeSales University, after it had to be cancelled the year before. Our Come and See Retreat is coming up Nov. 12-14 at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. Our First Friday Holy Hours at Holy Ghost Church in Bethlehem began in October and will continue through May.
Q. How many men are there right now who are thinking about whether to become a priest?
There are a good number of men who have reached out to me, who are very open to it. I get a fairly steady stream of calls from pastors with the name of someone from their parish who might be interested. And, we get good attendance at our regular weekends Come and See Retreats. So there definitely are people in the pipeline.
Q. Tell us about the men who are considering becoming a priest.
It ranges from high school students to young adults in their 30s, and from lifelong Catholics to those who recently converted to the faith. And they are of very varied backgrounds.
I’ve driven all over the Diocese to meet with people considering vocations. My door is always open.
There also are opportunities for young men and women to visit with religious communities to see what their daily life and their prayer life are like.
Q. What advice do you give to someone who thinks they may want to become a priest?
Attend Mass regularly – daily, if you can. Spend time with the Holy Eucharist, both in the Liturgy and in Adoration. Read Holy Scripture. Pray the Rosary. These things provide a good spiritual foundation.
Attend the programs we offer at the Seminary, or elsewhere, to meet other like-minded men, and to learn more about what it means to be a priest.
Also, consider spiritual direction with another priest, to learn about his vocation story, and to examine how God is moving your heart.
Q. What do you say to parents whose children might be thinking about a vocation?
Family members are the first formators of children considering vocations. It can be a problem when parents push a child too hard to become a priest, or push too hard against the idea. I always encourage families to regularly practice our faith, and to have deep reverence for the Holy Eucharist and the Sacraments. The family is a little domestic Church where any vocation can blossom.
Q. We have a priest shortage now. What do you see for the future?
Right now, there are more retirements than there are ordinations, and this is a troubling trend, of course. But among college and high school students, you can find a desire to do something extraordinary, something heroic. This generation is ripe to produce heroic saints who pursue vocations. There are signs of an eventual reversal of the trend. We need to be patient, and continue to ask the Holy Spirit to inspire young men and women to respond generously to their call in life.
Q. What can the average person do?
It’s every Catholic’s duty to offer prayers and sacrifices, especially in this time of need, for an increase in the number of holy vocations to the Priesthood and religious life.
At left, Father Searles shares a moment with the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary inlcuding Sister Christina Marie Roberts, third from left, who recently took her final vows. She is from St. Columbkill Parish, Boyertown.
The photo above is from a recent Quo Vadis discernment retreat.