By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond
You’ve often said that quality in vocations is more important than quantity, but the archdiocese seems to be experiencing a healthy increase in the number of men coming forward to discern a vocation to the priesthood. What’s going on?
I just finished spending three days in prayer and fellowship with our seminarians. This is an annual gathering in August that gives them a wonderful opportunity to reflect as a group and as individuals on their life as a seminarian and continuing that discernment. These are men of faith who are committed to Christ and committed to the Church. Hearing them talk about their discernment has been really inspiring to me. Their question is not, “What do I want to do?” but “What does God want me to do?” You often hear people say that vocations are not increasing. Well, that’s not the case in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. There are many men, both young and older, who are being called by God to discern, and the vast majority of those who are responding will be ordained.
What do the numbers look like?
At the present time, we have 45 seminarians, and that’s a very healthy number for an archdiocese of our size. We certainly want more. We want anybody whom God is calling. It’s important that we continue to work for vocations. I’m also very grateful to Father Jim Wehner, who is the rector at Notre Dame Seminary, and to Benedictine Father Gregory Boquet, who is the rector of St. Joseph Seminary College, who are very strong leaders. They both have built very good faculties and staffs. I’m very proud of our two seminaries. Notre Dame has close to 140 seminarians and St. Joseph Seminary has close to 150 seminarians. Both seminaries serve many dioceses in the South. So, I’m really grateful to Father Wehner and Father Boquet and the seminary faculties because it is a special vocation to work in preparing men for the priesthood. God gives those skills only to certain people. Both seminaries have very strong formation programs. I can assure everyone that the seminarians’ academic studies are excellent, and the formation for priesthood is very, very strong.
How do the 45 seminarians break down between Notre Dame and St. Joseph Seminary College (St. Ben’s)?
We have eight men studying at St. Ben’s and 37 at Notre Dame.
What’s the age range?
We have some who are right out of high school and some who are right out of college. We have some who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and we have some in their 60s. One of them is Dominic Arcuri, who was ordained a permanent deacon in 2001 and who had served for many years at St. Joan of Arc Parish in LaPlace. After his wife died, he discerned that he might be called to the priesthood, and he has begun his seminary training. He’s going to be a “transitional deacon” and will be ordained as a priest. It’s a great story of how God continues to call people at any age.
You also have to be pleased with the quality and the size of the permanent diaconate.
I am. Just last week I installed 22 men who are studying to become permanent deacons in 2018 into the ministry of acolyte. Deacon Ray Duplechain, who heads our permanent diaconate office, has done a great job. People are really hearing the call, and I attribute that to many things. For the priesthood, I attribute it to the good work of Father Kurt Young, who is our director of vocations, and Father Billy O’Riordan and Father Gil Martin, who serve as our directors of seminarians. I also attribute it to our priests. A lot of our priests are now recommending people and asking me to talk to someone who they think might have an interest in the priesthood. I think we’re really developing a culture of vocations. There are still some parents who strongly discourage their sons from entering the seminary, which saddens me, but there are more parents today who are supportive of their sons. I think we’re developing a culture of vocations. When I talk to young people, from the college and the high school levels, I hear that there’s more of an openness to thinking about vocations now than there was just a few years ago. For the permanent deacons, the priests and deacons encourage vocations and seek out men of faith.
So do you meet personally with a person who might be thinking of the priesthood?
Some men will talk to their priest, and I’ll tell the priest to tell them to call me. Some men come directly to me, and some go directly to Father Kurt. Either one of us is available. Before we accept a candidate for the seminary, I do have a meeting with them to discuss their discernment.
The archdiocesan synod has placed a priority on parish vocation efforts. How is that going?
I think it’s going well. We’re training people in the various parishes to do what they can on the parish level to encourage vocations. In every parish there is someone being called to leadership in the church. We must find them, invite them and pray for them.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.