Serra Clubs expand vocation awareness in Slidell

When people confuse the Serra Club, the international Catholic vocations awareness group, with the Sierra Club, an environmentalist organization, Joe Dicharry has a ready response.

“We’re not the tree-huggers; we’re the vocations huggers,” Dicharry says.

Dicharry, the District 11 governor of Region 5 with Serra International, said the Serra Club, the lay vocation arm of the Catholic Church, was designed from its beginning in 1935 in Oregon to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life. It now has international councils in the United States, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and Thailand.

Dicharry is proud to announce growth in religious vocations locally and worldwide. In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, enrollments at both Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and St. Joseph Seminary College are at their highest level in years, he said.

The Serra Club, through its activities, champions seminarians through crawfish boils, Altar Server of the Year ceremonies, priest luncheons and more.

Expansion to St. Tammany

A new East St. Tammany Parish Serra was chartered Feb. 5 at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Slidell, making it the third club in the area. Archbishop Gregory Aymond gave the opening address, encouraging members to continue promoting Catholic vocations.

“It was a beautiful ceremony in our parish chapel and life center,” said Father Wayne Paysse, chaplain of the new East St. Tammany Serra. “It brought memories.”

Father Paysse’s first affiliation with Serra was as a seminarian at St. Ben’s and Notre Dame Seminary.

“They would send us notes and invite us out to their homes,” Father Paysse recalled. “As a seminarian, I remember saying I would, God willing, like to start a Serra Club (as a priest).”

Understands Serra’s mission

He familiarized himself with Serrans even more at St. Edward the Confessor in Metairie and Our Lady of Prompt Succor in Chalmette, where he initiated the first Serra club in St. Bernard Parish. This club was unique because it had female members and spawned the first female regional governor – Sally Wolf. He also worked with Serrans while assigned in Washington, D.C., as national director of Black and Indian Missions.

When Dicharry heard of Father Paysse’s interest in Serra, he called to invite him to form a club in Slidell. Father Paysse ambitiously responded that not only would he form a new club but also try to reinvigorate the St. Bernard club (destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005) and start a new one in West St. Tammany after Easter.

“I met with priests in St. Bernard and West St. Tammany, and they are on board, willing to be a chaplain,” he said.

Serra is exploring an additional location in the River Parishes, Dicharry said. Other chapters in Louisiana are in New Orleans, East Jefferson, Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Lake Charles.

Deacon Warren Berault is the new East St. Tammany chapter president.

“When my pastor (Father Wayne Paysse) asked me to be chapter president, I accepted,” Deacon Berault said. “I was happy to do it because it’s so important to foster and promote vocations. … We are all called by our baptism to evangelize. This is an opportunity to do it on a regular basis.”

Plans being set

He has set a first-year goal of 50 active members. Initially, club members will support the East Jefferson chapter activities, including an upcoming crawfish boil at the Come and See weekend at St. Ben’s, a second crawfish boil at Notre Dame Seminary and the outstanding altar server award Mass and dinner.

The East St. Tammany chapter also is considering getting involved with the Melchizedek Project since members learned that several seminarians from Lafayette studying at St. Ben’s were encouraged to join the priesthood due to the project.

Missionary beginnings

Father Paysse sees Serra and himself as channeling the missionary spirit of its namesake, Spanish Franciscan St. Junipero Serra, who founded early Catholic missions in California from 1769-82.

“When you think about what our patron, St. Junipero Serra, accomplished, he put California on the map,” Father Paysse said. “(As national director of all Black and Indian Missions), I made many trips to California to visit the native missions, founded by Junipero Serra. I find that whole missionary spirit in my life has been a continuation.”

Father Paysse also headed Propagation of the Faith Office for the archdiocese before going to Washington, D.C., as national director of the Black and Indian Mission Office.

Serra clubs generally have two meetings a month, Dicharry said, a business meeting and a luncheon meeting with a speaker.

Dicharry said he joined Serra because he knows there are fewer religious (nuns and priests) in schools teaching children about vocations. He said promoting vocations is up to families.

“Serra has determined that a strong vocation has to be family-rooted,” he said. “I felt I needed to do this to promote vocations for others.”

“We try to encourage members in their own individual parishes start vocation ministries with the help of Father Kurt Young, who is vocations director (for the Archdiocese of New Orleans),” Dicharry said. “We want to get people to start thinking about developing vocations in their parishes.”

The World Day of Prayer for Vocations is April 22.

To join a Serra club, call Dicharry at 888-3958.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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