By KATIE BORKOWSKI
Through the Ministry 2025 plan, the state of the priesthood in the Diocese of Sioux City was examined and the reality is the number of priests is decreasing.
This may be the case for this diocese, but it is not the case in all dioceses. There are places where the priesthood is thriving.
“The declining number of priests in our diocese is unfortunate, but it’s where we’re at,” said Father Shane Deman, director of the Office of Vocations. “In his providential plan, God has allowed us to have this number of priests at this time. Nevertheless, we can’t lose hope and I am confident that the Lord will provide for his flock and raise up generous and holy priests.”
Diocese of Bismarck, N.D.
Father Josh Waltz, vocations director for the Diocese of Bismarck, N.D., attributes having 27 seminarians going into the next academic year to Catholic education and having the presence of priests at all of the Catholic high schools in the diocese.
“We have a whole model that works really well,” said Father Waltz, who was the chaplain at St. Mary’s in Bismarck when he was ordained. “I took what was (already) running and added to it. My brother was ordained a year after and he saw how well things were working at St. Mary’s so he adapted our model and put it into Bishop Ryan.”
Each of the three Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Bismarck, Trinity in Dickinson, Bishop Ryan in Minot and St. Mary’s in Bismarck, has a chaplain and one other priest, who teaches or serves as a principal or president.
“The chaplain is full-time at the school and teaches three classes,” said Father Waltz. “We always have him teach the juniors and seniors. Juniors are getting ready to run the school and the seniors are getting ready for college. Vocations isn’t rocket science. The most important thing is to get young, vibrant priests into the high schools and let them run wild with the energy and excitement they have.”
Father Waltz made sure to explain this “didn’t happen overnight. The reason we are where we are is because 10 years ago our bishop went out on a limb. He took two priests and put them in a high school.”
“Their first years were extremely difficult,” he said. “It is a process a bishop has to commit to. The pay-offs will be big, but it will take a while.”
Father Waltz pointed out 90 percent of the diocese’s vocations have Catholic education in one form or another and 50 percent are out of the Catholic high schools.
“Every person is different, but the last three seminarians to come out of St. Mary’s were either homecoming kings, star basketball players or track stars. On top of that they are really smart guys,” said Father Waltz.
One other formative aspect is the summer after junior year students from all three high schools take a pilgrimage to Rome and after the students graduate, they go on a mission trip to Peru.
“The idea is junior year they have been studying the Catholic faith for many years and then they get to see the glories of the church in Rome and how Christianity formed the Western world,” said Father Waltz. “Senior year they have their education and they know the faith and now they are going to live it by serving the poor.”
Diocese of St. Louis
The Diocese of St. Louis, Mo., has almost double the number of seminarians as the Diocese of Bismarck with 53 young men studying for the priesthood.
Father Chris Martin, the vocation director for the Diocese of St. Louis and vice rector of Cardinal Glennon College Seminary, attributes this success to “striving to build up a ‘culture of vocations’ that makes vocations and vocation awareness an ongoing topic of discussion at parishes, schools and hopefully at home.”
He added the diocese also equips priests with “the tools and confidence to share their own story and ask other young men to consider the call.”
“We have events beginning in middle school and continuing through young adulthood that provide opportunities to come on retreat and interact and build relationships with our current seminarians and priests of the diocese,” said Father Martin. “If you are called to it, there is no better life. So be not afraid! The fear of what we think we have to give up in order to become a priest is quickly replaced with awe around how much God gives to us.”
Diocese of Sioux City
For the 2016-2017 school year, Father Deman said he is expecting 12 seminarians. One of them is being ordained this summer and three new men are entering formation.
“I am greatly impressed by the caliber of men to whom I’m talking about a potential vocation,” said Father Deman. “The Lord is planting seeds in the hearts of new candidates and they clearly have a desire to serve the Lord and his church. Let’s pray that these prospective candidates will persevere.”
Since Father Deman is in his first year in the Vocations Office, he has been “grateful to those priests and laity who call me with the names of potential candidates, and are themselves encouraging young men in their parishes to think about the priesthood.”
“Personal invitations are critical in helping men consider the priesthood,” said the director of vocations. “We’ve also started a diocesan discernment group called the ‘Frassati Squad.’ This group meets every six weeks and is named after Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who is a good patron of the youth. Hopefully through their participation in this group, young men will deepen their prayer life and support each other in discerning their future vocations together.”