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Host Rick Howick is delighted to welcome a new guest to today’s broadcast. Her name is Joan Patten.

Joan works for the Diocese of Orange in the vocations office as a delegate for consecrated life. She acts as a liaison between the bishop and the religious communities. Joan has a wonderful laugh and a great sense of humor. You are sure to be captivated by this dynamic conversation!

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Originally broadcast on 12/5/20


Students at St. John Vianney High School expected their recent pep rally to be fun, colorful and filled with good-natured competition. 

But they were completely taken by surprise during the pre-Christmas celebration when six priests ran out onto the basketball court for a friendly exhibition game — all with the intention to teach about vocations. 

The basketball game was a way “to reach out and let them know that priests are approachable and they, too, can enjoy hobbies,” said Father Michael Wallack, priest secretary to Bishop David M. O’Connell of Trenton and diocesan director of vocations. 

He said he hoped that through the game, the message was conveyed that priests “don’t always just stay in the church all week, waiting for Sunday.” 

“Most people don’t really know what a priest does during the week besides writing a homily,” said Father Wallack, who was joined on the court by Father John Michael Patilla, parochial vicar of St. Benedict Parish, in Holmdel and chaplain in St. John Vianney High School; Father Augusto Gamalo, parochial vicar of St. Gregory the Great Parish in Hamilton Square; Father Thomas Vala and Father Gregg Abadilla, pastor and parochial vicar, respectively, of St. Clement Parish in Matawan; and Father Dean Gaudio, pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Avon-by-the-Sea. 

It didn’t take long before the game between the St. John Vianney Lancers and the priests, who called themselves God Squad II, went from being a friendly game of hoops to a competitive match that resulted in a 4-2 win for high schoolers. The diocesan communications staff produced a video of the game. 

Also evident in the video and in comments following the game was the strong camaraderie between the priests as they reflected on how basketball could serve as an effective vocation recruitment tool. 

“Sports is a good avenue to promote vocations and meet kids where they are at,” Father Patilla said. 

Afteward, Father Vala, who smiled when he said he lasted longer than he thought he would in the game, thought the “kids got a kick out of it.” 

The priests enjoyed sharing a bit on how they prepared for the game with Father Gamalo saying “there’s some prayers involved,” especially because the priests did not have the opportunity to practice beforehand. Listening to upbeat music and watching games on television helped to motivate Father Gamalo and Father Abadilla give their all to the game. 

Father Gaudio smiled as he shared how he thought the goal of the game was to show students that priests “are not all 70 years old” and can be everyday men who like sports. 

“I would like to think there was a young man in today’s crowd who might be thinking of a vocation to the priesthood, and our appearance at the game got him thinking about it even more,” said Father Gaudio, who used to play basketball for Bound Brook High School and on an intramural team in St. Bonaventure University. 

Father Vala said he hoped that through activities such as sports or music, the students can get to know a priest and share a friendship with him. And through that friendship, he hoped students would feel comfortable approaching a priest when thinking about the priesthood as a vocation. 

“The priesthood is a vocation to serve God, and in doing so, you touch the lives of others when you reach out to them and make a positive difference in their lives,” he said. 

“When I embraced my Catholic faith in a serious and responsible way, I found meaning and purpose,” he added, saying that being a priest has “brought me the joy and happiness that I sought in my life.” 

After the game, James Guilbert, a senior and varsity basketball player at the high school, said he thought the game allowed the St. John Vianney community to “see a different aspect of priests lives and that they live normal lives, too.” 



VATICAN CITY (CNS) — While there is a need to evangelize a culture that tells young people money equals success and commitments aren’t forever, stopping the “hemorrhage” of people leaving religious orders also requires changes from the orders themselves, Pope Francis said.

“Alongside much holiness — there is much holiness in consecrated life — there also are situations of counter-witness that make fidelity difficult,” the pope said Jan. 28 during a meeting with members of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and representatives of religious orders.

The congregation was holding a plenary meeting focused on “fidelity and abandonment,” examining the factors that contribute to a lifelong commitment to religious vows or to leaving consecrated life.

According to the Vatican’s Central Statistics Office, from the end of 2004 to the end of 2014, the number of religious-order priests in the world declined by more than 2,500 to just under 135,000; the number of religious brothers dropped by 471 to just over 54,500; and the number of women religious fell by almost 85,000 — 11 percent — to about 683,000 religious.

Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit, said that in some cases it becomes clear over time that a person never truly had a vocation to religious life and it is right for that person to follow God’s call elsewhere. But many other factors can influence a decision to leave, he said, including situations within an order or community.

“Such situations are, among others: routine, tiredness, the burden of running institutions, internal divisions, the search for power — ‘climbers’ — a worldly way of governing the institute, a service of authority that sometimes becomes either authoritarianism or a ‘live and let live’” attitude.

Pope Francis told the group that obviously it is more difficult for young people to make a lifelong commitment to a vocation when they are living in a culture where everything is provisional or temporary, where people are encouraged to pursue their dreams but leave a “door open” in case it does not work out and where “self-realization” is measured by money and power, not by fidelity to the Gospel and Gospel values.

Still, he said, the world of young people is “rich and challenging — not negative, but complex.”

“We are not lacking young people who are very generous, who act in solidarity and are involved on a religious and social level, young people who seek a real spiritual life, young people who hunger for something different than what the world offers,” he said. “There are marvelous young people and there are many.”

But the young also include “many victims of the logic of worldliness, which can be summarized this way: searching for success at any cost, for easy money and easy pleasure,” Pope Francis said.

The response of the church must be to reach out and “to infect them with the joy of the Gospel and of belonging to Christ.”

The only way to attract young people to religious life and to help members stay, he said, is to “show the beauty of following Christ and radiate hope and joy.”

“When hope diminishes and there is no joy,” he said, “it’s an ugly thing.”

The community life of religious orders is essential, he said, and it must be nourished with community prayer, celebration of the Mass, reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, sincere dialogue among members, “fraternal correction, mercy toward the brother or sister who sins,” and shared responsibility.

Perseverance in religious life, as with any vocation, requires the encouragement and support of others, the pope said, “because when a brother or sister does not find support within the community, he or she will seek it elsewhere.”

“Many times great infidelities begin with little deviations or distractions,” he said. “In this case, it is important to make St. Paul’s exhortation our own: ‘Awake, o sleeper!’”

If a vocation is a “treasure,” Pope Francis said, then it must be handled with care, cultivated with prayer and strengthened with “a good theological and spiritual formation that defends it from the culture of the ephemeral and allows it to progress solid in the faith.”

Religious orders must make a commitment to training at least some of their members in the art of “accompaniment” and spiritual direction, he said.

“We can never insist enough on this need,” he said. “It is difficult to remain faithful walking alone or walking with the guidance of brothers and sisters who are not capable of attentive and patient listening or who have not had adequate experience in religious life.”

“All of us who are consecrated, whether young or not so young, need help appropriate to the human, spiritual and vocational moment we are living,” he said.

A spiritual director or guide “must not create dependency,” control or treat the other as a child, he said, but must help the person “discover the will of God and seek in everything to do that which is most pleasing to the Lord.”

Discernment, he said, “does not only mean choosing between good and evil, but between good and better, between what is good and what leads to identification with Christ.”



WASHINGTON (CNS) – When young people feel called to the priesthood or religious life, they can’t keep it a secret. Eventually, they need to break the news to their parents.

And whether their parents expected the news or are pleasantly surprised or shocked by it, their response carries a lot of weight.

Father Mark Ivany, director of spiritual formation at a minor seminary in the Archdiocese of Washington, said it makes a big difference when seminarians feel their parents’ support.

But he also says “the Lord is never outdone though,” meaning the vocational call can still be followed without a parent’s enthusiasm, but it might be more of a challenge.

Sister Mary Angela Woelkers, a 27-year-old Sister of the Servants of the Pierced Heart of Jesus and Mary, said it was a “great blessing” to have her parents support her decision to become a sister, but she also clarified that it didn’t mean they “joyfully carried me to the convent.”

She felt called to religious life when she was 18 but didn’t tell her parents about it until a year later.

“Now looking back, I think of it like dating,” she said, adding, “If I were dating, maybe I’d tell my parents, but I wouldn’t bring him home to meet Mom and Dad until I knew for sure.”

Sister Mary Angela, who grew up in Great Falls, Montana, and is now on a mission assignment in Rome, thinks she would’ve been able to pursue her vocation even if her parents hadn’t supported her.

“The call of the Lord was very strong and I think that I would’ve been able to follow it even in the midst of great adversity, but it’s been an immense gift from the Lord for me and for my parents that they were open to receive the vocation,” she told Catholic News Service in an Oct. 27 Skype interview.

When she broke the news to her parents, her father’s response was: “This is something very serious, like getting married,” which she was glad to hear because she wasn’t sure how he would react. And now, two years after Sister Mary Angela professed her final vows, she said her parents continue to be open to her vocation, or as she put it: “They want to know more and to walk with me.”

That’s also the attitude of Barb and Tom Niezer of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Fort Wayne, Indiana, whose son Daniel is studying for the priesthood for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Barb Niezer said she and her husband “continue to pray that God’s will be done.”

“We’ve learned a lot through Daniel. As much as we want (his priesthood), it’s not our decision or his, it’s the Lord’s,” she said.

She also said she and her husband didn’t do anything particularly unique to set the foundation for their son’s calling, instead she attributes it to the Holy Spirit, to going to church every Sunday as a family and being involved in parish life.

She also said she and her husband encouraged their four children to have an open mind about a religious vocation.

Beth and Brendan Glasgow, parishioners at St. Peter’s Church in Olney, Maryland, and the parents of two seminarians, similarly stressed they didn’t do “anything extraordinary” in their home lives to lead their sons on their current path.

What they did, Beth Glasgow told CNS, was “allow the Holy Spirit to do extraordinary things.”

She founded a group called Joyful Mothers of the Cross, which includes other mothers of seminarians who get together once a month to pray for their sons and other seminarians and just to connect with each other.

She said she never had misgivings about her sons’ decisions because she personally knows many happy priests.

She said it is harder for some parents to let their children follow this call or trust that they will be OK and not be lonely.

It’s important your children know “you support them and are praying for them to discern God’s will for them,” she said, adding that the more this prayer is said, the easier it becomes to embrace their calling.

Father Ivany, who is based at the St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington and also is the director of priest vocations in the Washington Archdiocese, said it breaks his heart when seminarians don’t have their parents’ support, a trend he says has been on the rise.

“The reality is these parents love their sons, but they might have had a bad experience with the church” or a distrust that comes from society or the modern culture, he told CNS.

To counter that, the minor seminary has events during the school year to include seminarians’ parents and families.

It’s not like the old days, he noted, when a pastor would drop off a young man at the seminary and he might not see his parents for a year.

As Sister Mary Angela pointed out, joining a religious order doesn’t have to mean being cut off from one’s family. Instead, she described it as a “definite reordering,” noting that she doesn’t call her parents every minute of the day, but she keeps in regular contact with them, especially through social media.

Her parents are also able to say they didn’t lose a daughter when she became a sister.

“Instead, they joke that they gained 30 more,” she said, by calling the other sisters in her order the in-laws.


PAPILLION, Neb. (CNS) — About 7,000 people spent part of their Father’s Day with their spiritual fathers — their priests — at a Nebraska softball matchup between priests of the Archdiocese of Omaha and the Diocese of Lincoln.

The two teams met at Werner Park near Papillion, home field for the Omaha priests, on a warm, humid evening June 21 to raise money for vocations.

The 31-17 score indicated a high-scoring rout by the Lincoln priests, but the higher-than-expected turnout made both sides winners.

Proceeds hadn’t been tallied completely but were expected to exceed $35,000, according to Jim Carroll, executive director of Spirit Catholic Radio, which organized the event with the two dioceses.

“The turnout and support for the I-80 Collar Series has exceeded our expectations,” Carroll said. “Our hope is that through this event, we foster a greater awareness of the importance of vocations, and by seeing these great priests in a ‘regular guy’ setting playing softball, we hope that young people might be inspired to pursue a vocation themselves.”

Attendance was double of what the Omaha archdiocese had expected and the biggest fundraiser ever for its vocations office, said Kathie Weinfurtner, the office’s administrative assistant.

“People just love their priests and want to support them,” she told the Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Omaha Archdiocese.

Fans wore red for the Lincoln “Capitol City Clergy” team and blue for the Omaha archdiocese “Padres.” Some people held signs supporting their favorite priests.

“Ultimately, it’s a day for families,” said Father Paul Hoesing, the Omaha Archdiocese’s vocation director. “Families that pray and play together stay together,” he said. “What a better way to celebrate family life than at a ballpark.”

A Family Fun Zone, with a carousel and bounce house, was free with admission during the 5 p.m. game.

Tailgating began at 3:30 p.m. with several parishes and Catholic organizations serving food. Mary Our Queen Parish in Omaha gave away 1,000 hot dogs and supplied ice and water for both dugouts. The parish turned over freewill donations for the food to the vocations offices, Weinfurtner said. Parishes in the Lincoln Diocese gave away bratwurst and pulled-pork sandwiches to fans from both sides.

The game started late because people were having such a good time tailgating and had to be coaxed inside the ballpark, said Father Andrew Roza, who will become the archdiocese’s next vocations director beginning July 1.

“The value of the event was largely just to celebrate who we are as Catholics — and enjoying that,” he said.

The game began with a prayer for vocations led by retired Lincoln Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz and ended with the crowd joining both priests from both dioceses in a “Hail Mary.” Then the priests closed the game by singing the “Salve Regina” together.

Bishop Bruskewitz and Father Hoesing threw the ceremonial first pitches. Each team had 20 players. And the 10 on the field batted each of the six innings, leading to the high score.

The priests spiced up the game with a little humor now and then. Father Damien Cook, pastor of Christ the King Parish in Omaha and catcher for his team, feigned a dispute with the home umpire, kicking dirt at him.

The umpire played along, ejecting Father Cook from the game. But on his way to the dugout, Father Cook knelt down at the feet of another priest, who made the sign of the cross over him and “absolved” him of his sin, which allowed the catcher back into the game.

The event was a unique chance for priests of neighboring dioceses to just have fun together.

“We do have periodic encounters, such as retreats, funerals, ordinations or other ministerial occasions,” Father Hoesing said. “However, a broad, intentional moment of recreation is new territory in my estimation. It’s an exciting new moment in our history across the Platte (River),” the boundary line between the dioceses.

“A new and fun encounter between brother priests always serves God’s people,” he said.

“The psalmist is clear on this: ‘How good it is when brothers live in unity!’ When people see priests together and genuinely enjoying one another, our witness to Jesus’ desire: ‘That they all may be one’ becomes credible. Unity begets unity. Priestly fraternity can bring families together in new and joyful ways.”

Father Roza and a few other priests were sore the following day, but the scrapes from a fall or any pulled muscles from sprinting around the bases were worth it, he said.

“It was a blast, a wonderful night,” Father Roza said. “It was a beautiful celebration of the whole Catholic community.”

The crowd’s cheers and the money raised to help educate seminarians and encourage religious vocations were encouraging, Father Roza said.

“I’m grateful for people’s support for the priests serving now and for those who will serve in the future,” he said.

The event will be held again next year, but the date and site hadn’t been determined yet. Father Hoesing said he would like to see the game become an annual tradition.

“The joy of priesthood is meant to be seen,” he said. “I’d love to see more opportunities to take this lantern of priestly joy out from under the bushel basket and onto the lampstand.”

Szalewski is a staff writer at the Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Omaha.


A look at the great need for more vocations in the United States and efforts underway to inspire more to answer the call.


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