Diocese’s priests gather, discuss how to create vocation-friendly parishes
Fostering a culture of vocations isn’t a new concept in the Diocese of Peoria, although a fresh approach was unveiled Oct. 25 when clergy gathered at the Spalding Pastoral Center for a Priest Assembly Day.
The annual meeting also gave the priests an opportunity to pray together, catch up and hear from Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, who thanked them for what they do.
“It really boosts my morale and my faith to see a room full of men I happen to think are the greatest priests in the world,” he told them.
He led the applause for two priests who had returned after facing serious medical issues: Msgr. Greg Ketcham, pastor of St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington and St. Mary in Downs, who is being treated for a brain tumor, and Father Robert Spilman, pastor of Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Spring Valley, who was in a traffic accident in March.
Touching on the upcoming elections, Bishop Jenky said the priests must help parishioners form their consciences and “preach Jesus Christ first, second and always.”
“WATERED WITH PRAYERS”
The speaker for the day was Rhonda Gruenewald, author of “Hundredfold: A Guide to Parish Vocation Ministry.” Published in June 2015, the book grew out of her search for resources, activities and advice after getting involved in reviving the vocation ministry at her home parish, St. Cecilia in Houston, Texas.
The model described in the book is currently being used in 50 dioceses. Father Timothy Hepner, director of vocations for recruitment for the Diocese of Peoria, said he has found “Hundredfold” helpful in his work with parishes that have formed vocations apostolates in central Illinois.
As the starting point for her presentation on how to create vocation-friendly parishes, Gruenewald said that while the support, spiritual leadership and joyful witness of the priests are needed for success, she wasn’t asking them to take on any additional work.
“This is not something you’re supposed to be running,” she told them. “You need to find that ‘just right’ person who is going to take it and run with it.”
The goal is to create an environment where young people can hear and answer God’s call, Gruenewald said. “The Holy Spirit’s going to do the rest and over time we will have more vocations to the priesthood, religious life and sacramental marriage.”
In addition to creating that vocation-friendly environment and “keeping the Holy Spirit involved,” this ministry must be “watered with prayers,” she said.
“Hundredfold” has chapters devoted to laying the groundwork for a vocations apostolate, establishing a presence, spreading the word and then expanding it.
“You’ve got to start small,” Gruenewald advised, saying it can take one to three years to develop. “That doesn’t mean you don’t dream big and plan to do more.”
The book includes 57 activities a parish team can use to create a vocation-friendly environment, along with a pull-out chart that suggests the best time of year for each activity, the lead time required, and the funds that will be needed, if any. The activities are divided into four categories: prayer, awareness and education, youth and affirmation.
A successful prayer activity in her Houston parish was eucharistic adoration for children in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade and their parents. They kept it short to accommodate the young attention spans, scheduled it when faith formation classes were already taking place to make it easier for families to participate, and included a May Crowning.
“I just don’t want to hear, ‘Kids are too young’ anymore. I hear it a lot,” Gruenewald said.
“No. You can do it in age-appropriately, but if we wait until they’re in college we will be lost,” she explained. “We know that 80 percent of them lose their faith or stop practicing their faith in college. Se we need to grab them when they’re in parish life and involved in parish life.”
She encouraged them to find “vocation partners” when establishing their ministries, starting with the Office of Priestly Vocations. Others are Serra Clubs and the Knights of Columbus, which support vocations, and “anyone who works with youth.”
“Encounter is huge. I don’t want you to think I’m sending you back to be in the recruiting business. For your youth, if you can get them to encounter Jesus, that’s huge — in the Blessed Sacrament, discipleship, evangelization,” Gruenewald said.
The model put forth in the book is adaptable to any size parish and she will provide the “nuts and bolts” of how to do that at the Hundredfold Workshop planned for Saturday, Jan. 21. It will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Hettinger Hall at St. Jude Church, 10811 N. Knoxville, in Peoria.
The pastors have already started submitting the names of their “just right” people, and Father Hepner has invited the women religious. Teachers, religious educators, youth ministers and anyone interested in promoting vocations is also welcome to attend.
The event is free and includes lunch. To register, visit comeandfollowme.org/workshop or contact the diocesan Office of Priestly Vocations at (309) 671-1550 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Gruenewald and “Hundredfold,” visit vocationministry.com.