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Posted February 13, 2008

Happy priests equal more priests

By Father Eugene Hemrick
Catholic News Service

"Gene, what is the latest in your studies on promoting vocations? Do you have recent research that would be beneficial to a priests' convocation we are about to hold?"

The request came from a fellow diocesan priest who was about to attend such a convocation and needed background information in order to contribute to the meeting.

My first response was that programs such as "Called by Name" and "Andrew" are very effective. One caveat, however, is needed. To succeed, these programs require a full-time vocation director blessed with exceptional organizational skills and energy. Detailed planning and constant follow up are absolutely required.

Once a person indicates interest in the priesthood, a vocation director must pursue the reasons and motives behind it. Background checks are required due to a more cautionary atmosphere. One candidate alone may require numerous hours of a vocation director's time.

As my fellow priest and I discussed these programs, it occurred to me that I had just given a priests' retreat. It was one of the best ever because the retreatants were a happy, joyful group of men. They laughed often and were very open with and respectful of each other.

In one of our retreat conferences, priests recalled their journey to the priesthood and their memorable experiences. Their support of brother priests stood out.

One spoke about finding his pastor dead in his room not long after coming to the parish. "Priests called me," he said, "inviting me to dinner. Many asked in what ways they could help. They surrounded me with concern and support."

Another priest recalled that his spiritual director was there repeatedly for him when he was considering the priesthood.

A number of priests recalled their pastors, and how they pursued them when they thought they had a vocation to the priesthood. As they recalled these pastors, you could feel the fondness they had for them --- they had become life-long friends.

As we listened to one story after another, the word "camaraderie" came to mind -- priests bonding with priests.

Suddenly it struck me that priests openly sharing their stories, troubles and joys with each other is at the heart of a happy priesthood. Who better understands a priest than a fellow priest? And what better gives us joy than being able to share ourselves with a fellow priest?

The same holds true for a good marriage. The very heart of marriage is being able to open up the heart and share with a significant other.

There are some wonderful programs available for helping men discern a call to the priesthood. Nothing, however, attracts vocations better than happy priests who are bonded with each other.

Before seeking creative vocational programs, the first place to focus on is the camaraderie of priests. When its level is high, so will be the level of persons considering the priesthood.