Preface: This post concerns a current issue in the Church with the Diocese of Rockville Centre. It is separate from my ongoing I Am narrative, which will return next week.
For the past eight months the topic of vocation in the context of Catholicism has been on my heart; it is a matter that I cannot keep quiet about. I have been fervently engaged with this topic because of the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s sudden push for the priesthood and Bishop John Barres’s call for “dramatic missionary growth.” This initiative has brought major changes to the Young Adult Ministry at Stony Brook University, and many members believe these changes do not support the growth and health of the community.
In Bishop Barres’s homily during his installation mass on January 31, 2017, Bishop Barres said, “I appeal […] to every inactive Catholic in the Diocese to come back to the power of the Word of God, the power of the Sacrament of Penance, and the power of the Catholic Mass. I am so very sorry if you have been hurt or disappointed by the Church in any way and we stand here today to support you, to love you and to listen to you” (Bishop Barres Lent Letter 2017). Therefore, Bishop Barres said, “In turn, I am asking every active Catholic of every age in the Diocese of Rockville Centre […] to invite one inactive Catholic friend or family to come with you to Mass and to gently, humbly, compassionately, non-judgmentally witness to the beauty of your intimacy with Christ and your love for the mission of the Catholic Church and how it has enriched and inspired your life.” From this introduction, it would seem that the Bishop’s movement for “dramatic missionary growth” concerns bringing lapsed Catholics back to the church. However, the actual implementation has been something quite different.
On May 2, 2017, Good Shepherd Sunday, the Diocese posted a video on Instagram with Bishop Barres inviting people of God on Long Island to join him to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. He continued, “We know we’re called to dramatic missionary growth. Completely connected to this dramatic missionary growth is dramatic growth of the vocation to the priesthood and religious life.” I have found there has been a shift from inviting and bringing back those who left the Church to a focus on vocation of religious life, especially for Young Adult Ministry.
On October 13, 2017, at the first Holy Hour for Vocations of the academic year, the only vocation discussed was the priesthood. The new administrator of Youth and Young Adult ministry, Father Joe Fitzgerald—also the director of vocations for the Diocese—announced a retreat for boys who may be interested entering the seminary, and he then asked one of the priests to speak about why he felt called to serve God. It was clear that Fr. Joe was soliciting and advertising the priesthood. As a young woman, I felt I was left out. There was no retreat offered for women. There was nothing! I was turned off and have not gone back to a Holy Hour for Vocations.
However, the push for the priesthood wasn’t limited to this one event. On the bulletin board outside our Newman office, there is a fairly large poster about joining the priesthood. Again, advertising. In another change for the club, a seminarian began attending campus masses and events. While I understand that the Newman club would be an opportunity for him to gain experience with different responsibilities of the priesthood, I feel the underlying reason for his presence is to encourage to young college men to think, “I could see myself being a priest.” There are many of us in Newman who disagree with this approach of “dramatic missionary growth.”
The Merriam Webster definition of vocation is listed as “A summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action; especially a divine call to the religious life.” A strong inclination, a DIVINE CALL. That’s what it is! God calls you if you are meant to live in the religious life. Only that person knows if that life is for them. A vocation comes to them on their own by living life in and by the Faith. The Bible even speaks of this, such as in Ephesians 4:1, “Lead a life worth of your calling, for you have been called by God.” It is something very personal, just like anyone’s relationship with God is personal. Vocation should not be pushed, shoved, or solicited. It should be nurtured and guided respectfully.
Also: WHAT ABOUT WOMEN? What about me, a young woman? The Diocese is not taking consideration of and addressing our needs. There is no poster of a young women entering the consecrated life next to the poster for the priesthood. Father Joe did not follow up with a retreat for women after the one for men. He did not ask one of the sisters at the Holy Hour for Vocation,“Why did you become a sister?” Instead, he instructed the young women in the congregation to do the work for themselves: “Go ask a sister how she knew she wanted to be a nun.” Again, the consecrated life should not be pushed or solicited, but attention should be given equally to vocations for both men and women. If anything, women deserve more attention because of the constant bombardment of societal expectations, pressures and troubles we face—self-esteem, body image, marriage, childbearing—on a daily basis.
The push for “dramatic missionary growth” of the priesthood also led to the firing of Marianne Sheridan as director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries in August 2017. I saw and felt the effects of losing her leadership on the Newman Club. For each of the past two years, Newman Club members across Long Island took a winter break service mission trip to the Dominican Republic building houses and bringing the love of Christ to the villagers. This year, Newman Club members and their campus ministers did not go to the Dominican Republic. There was nothing offered to us as students over the winter break. For the spring mission trip, losing Marianne as a driver meant we could only send six students instead of twelve. Many students were worried if they wouldn’t be able to attend, and we were forced to scramble to find a second driver. In addition, there were no Intercampus Events with the Newman Clubs on Long Island. When Marianne was director, at least once a month a different Newman Club hosted an event for all of us to come together in fellowship.
The vague and abstract changes that Father Joe is initiating (with Bishop Barres’s support and approval) for next year at Stony Brook Newman Club, such as having a full time priest on campus as well as several other representatives from the Diocese, is unsettling for many of us. We do not need to have a priest to work along with our campus minister. Even with the loss of Marianne, we are doing just fine, thanks to our campus minister’s dedication and love. We are happy. There isn’t anything we want to change, except have Marianne back. Catholic Campus Ministry is our safe haven. We are comfortable being ourselves, our true selves that God created us to be. In this special community at Stony Brook University, God’s light shines through each one of us because of our shared intimacy with Christ as a group and individually. Because of the Joy and Love we feel, we automatically want invite those of our age group to Newman Club, club events, Small Group (a Bible study ran by Newman Club members), and Mass because of how Newman Club has touched and shaped our lives. We want others to know God and join us because of how God has enriched our lives. We do not force or push anyone. We invite and let God do the rest of the work.
Now, we are deeply concerned that the essence of Newman Club will disappear. We are concerned if our campus minister will be fired or be pushed out of her position. Newman Club would not be what it is today if was not for our campus minister’s hard-work, dedication, and love. We are concerned about this sudden push of the priesthood reinforcing the Church’s stigma of sexual assault and abuse by encouraging the wrong people—those who are not called—to become priests.
Bishop Barres tried to address those who left the Church in his installment homily, but, of course, those people of course were not at his installment mass. Instead, he should listen to those active in the Church—the young Church. We, the young church who are active in the Faith and on fire for Jesus Christ, have been hurt and extremely disappointed by this new approach of “dramatic missionary growth.” We have been hurt by not able to come together as one unified group to bask in His love and glory. As a young woman, I feel hurt because I am a woman. With this emphasis and focus from priests—men—toward younger men for the vocation of the priesthood, I am being pushed aside and made invisible. My needs do not matter? Losing Marianne’s leadership in Young Adult Ministry has not only personally hurt us (Newman Club members), but it has hurt the poor we serve by the restrictive limit of students who can go on midnight runs or mission trips.
This tactic is unappealing and discriminating. “Dramatic missionary growth” is being driven by an urgent force that is not from God. It’s driven by ego. The mission is not being humbly, compassionately, gently, non-judgmentally done, through the actions I have seen and heard since August. I strongly believe the emphasis should switch to that one vocation is not less than important to the other. I suggest programs and retreats for young adults—both men and women—that help us how to navigate in today’s secular world and strengthen us to self-assuringly live a Faithful life in the way that’s right for us. The church should support and guide us to discover our calling from God. In addition, if the Diocese are making changes for Young Adult Ministry, they should be asking us for our opinions and coming to us. We are the age to vote and we have a say as those active in the ministry. Talk to us.