This week, I have been on Long Island in New York for the annual convention of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors (NCDVD). Around 260 Vocation Directors and other vocations personnel, along with leaders of ministries that support vocations promotion and seminary formation, came together for a week of hospitality, fellowship, and fraternity. Over the course of the week, we were joined by two Cardinals (Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Cardinal Edwin O’Brien), over a dozen other bishops, and our most welcome and gracious guest, Archbishop Jorge Carlos Patron Wong, the Secretary for Seminaries for the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy. It has been a week of renewal and growth for all of us and a source of solidarity in our shared work of vocations promotion and formation.
Last year was my first time at this annual convention, which also offers a three-day institute for new vocations personnel. I remember coming back from last year’s convention and institute in Dallas with an overwhelming amount of information and new ideas gleaned from hearing about other people’s work and experience in vocations – and several of those ideas were implemented in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis over the past year or influenced our thinking and planning for our vocations ministries. For a new vocation director, the NCDVD convention is an invaluable source of best practices learned from those who have been in this ministry before us.
This year, as I prepare to leave Long Island, I don’t have a long list of new ideas and innovate programs that I am bringing back with me. I’m sure a big part of this is that I am no longer a new vocation director, and I feel more confident and comfortable in this ministry than I did a year ago. But what I do bring back with me to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is a renewal in fellowship with other Vocation Directors and encouragement in this important ministry for the Church. Much of the time at the convention is spent with other vocation directors from your region – which for me includes the dioceses of Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin – a local support and resource network of those who work in neighboring dioceses. Time with the other vocation directors from our region has been some of the most treasured time of these conventions for me personally.
But I return to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis also with renewed encouragement and energy for the work of promoting vocations to the priesthood and assisting in the formation of those preparing for priestly ministry. In his keynote talk, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien said that most vocation directors are happy despite the unreasonable expectations placed on them by their bishops, other priests, and the Church at large. They are happy because they are in love with the priesthood. Archbishop Patron Wong from the Vatican’s Office for Seminaries said in his remarks that God calls some priests to be vocation directors so that they will become better priests. Our work in vocations ministry is simply an outgrowth of our identity as priests and our love for the priesthood. All else is secondary. And that is encouraging for us to remember – to be the best vocation director I can be, I simply need to be the best priest I can be.
Last night, after the closing banquet, four vocation directors from our region sat down around a table in the hospitality room – myself and the vocation directors from Lafayette-in-Indiana, Green Bay and Milwaukee. We were soon joined by vocation directors from San Francisco and Orange in California, and an associate vocation director from Superior, Wisconsin. We laughed, we shared stories, we looked at drafts of our respective diocese’s annual seminarian posters, and we enjoyed one another’s company. For Rose Sullivan, the Executive Director of NCDVD, the hallmarks of our annual convention are hospitality, formation, and fraternity. Sitting around that table last night, that’s what we had, in sharing the joy of the priesthood with brother priests. I love being a priest. And I love being a vocation director. And those two things go together.