LAFLIN – Each of us has a vocation to which God is calling us. When it comes to a young man considering the possibility of the priesthood, that discernment process most often takes place within a community.
As the Diocese of Scranton works to create a culture of vocations within its parishes, it has started the process of creating four parish vocation centers where men can regularly gather for fellowship and prayer.
“If most of our faith life is happening in parishes and local communities, then our vocation work should take place there as well,” Father Alex Roche, Diocesan Director of Vocations and Seminarians, said. “The vocation centers will be places where men can gather together for regular dinners, for Adoration and prayer, where they might be able to do a retreat, shadow a priest or even spend an extended amount of time in.”
After several years of discussion and planning, the first Diocesan vocation center began at Saint Matthew Parish in East Stroudsburg. The second was created at Saint Maria Goretti Parish in Laflin. The others will be located at Christ the King Parish in Archbald and Annunciation Parish in Hazleton.
“One of the criteria for establishing a vocation center is that there is already thriving youth ministry or college ministry so that there are already ways in which young people are engaging with their faith,” Father Alex explained.
The location of each vocation center is strategic. Each center is in a different geographic region of the Diocese of Scranton so that it can be close to a prospective candidate’s home.
“Five of our last six seminarians have come from some interaction with a vocation center,” Father Alex added.
VOCATION CENTERS ALREADY MAKING AN IMPACT
The Diocese of Scranton’s first vocation center at Saint Matthew Parish quietly began taking shape without much fanfare in July 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Father Don Williams, pastor, said the parish began by offering young people the opportunity to gather for Evening Prayer, dinner, and conversation.
“The concept was to establish a regular routine,” Father Don said. “That really took off with a few guys.”
Because Saint Matthew Parish has a large rectory, the parish had enough space to create four private rooms for men who are seriously interested in taking a closer look at the priesthood or making a retreat. The rectory also has its own chapel and exercise room.
“The idea was to help them get a closer look at our life as Diocesan priests. They live with us, pray with us, share meals with us and shadow us in ministries,” Father Don explained. “They really get a chance to look at what rectory life is like, what parish ministry life is like.”
Three young men who are now Diocesan seminarians got their first glance at the priesthood by spending time in the vocation center at Saint Matthew Parish.
“I often say to them that they got the chance, before seminary, to get a really close look at what this is all about,” Father Don added. “They could go in with eyes wide open and they had a really good sense because they got to see the joys, the struggles, the disappointments, they got to see the reality of our life.”
It is not just young men who are participating in discernment programs at Saint Matthew Parish. Religious Sisters have visited the parish to talk with young women. Those who are participating in the discernment groups have also taken trips to Marywood University.
“They’ve come together as a group of women to talk about discipleship, prayer, discernment and we help them have fun and community,” Father Don added.
CENTERS HELPING YOUNG ADULTS FOCUS ON GOD’S CALL
At the second Diocesan vocation center established at Saint Maria Goretti Parish in Laflin there is no private space for overnight accommodations, so the focus has been on discernment groups and prayer.
“Twice a month, we gather as a group, usually about a half dozen guys and we have dinner,” Father Alex said. “So far, in the last couple of years, most of our seminarians have come out of groups like this. We also have monthly Adoration and the opportunity to come and meet and talk with the Vocation Director.”
Father Ryan Glenn, who recently became pastor of Christ the King Parish in Archbald and Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish in Jermyn, will oversee the vocation center in Lackawanna County.
“The drive of our vocation centers is, how are we as parishes purposely engaging people to ask the question, ‘Where are you calling me God? How are you calling me to serve?’” Father Ryan said. “We’re equipped to do that in a creative way responding to where young people are right now in 2024.”
The rectory at Christ the King Parish, which is already equipped with a chapel and private rooms, will be able to accommodate individuals looking for an overnight opportunity for prayer and discernment. It is already being used to meet with young men for spiritual direction.
Christ the King Parish has begun offering monthly Eucharistic Adoration, where people are specifically encouraged to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and Father Ryan is working to intentionally build-up his parish’s young adult ministry program. He is hoping to establish a monthly group of working young adults who want to gather for prayer, food and conversations regarding vocations.
Before taking on his first pastoral assignment in Lackawanna County, Father Ryan was Assistant Pastor at Saint Matthew Parish and helped with the formation of that vocation center. He was amazed by the response of people wanting to learn and discern more.
“It began as a pilot program,” he said. “We socialized. We would pray. We would meet, do intentional discernment with young adults who are really trying to respond to God’s call.”
Even though the vocation center at Annunciation Parish in Hazleton is still taking shape, Father Neftali Feliz-Sena, Assistant Pastor, says he is already accompanying one person who is seriously considering the priesthood.
“We have room available in our rectory. We are thinking there will be three rooms available. There are several priests living in the rectory, so if we have two or three candidates who want to reflect on vocations, we’ll still have enough room for them to stay a few days here,” Father Neftali said.
With Hazleton’s population being more than fifty-percent Hispanic, the vocation center in the Mountain City will be an ideal place for either English or Spanish-speaking discerners.
“We will be able to accommodate both. Our priests can speak both languages,” Father Neftali added. “We would like to have the first Hispanic vocation. Hazleton is big and having a place where people can come and interact with us will be a big benefit.”
If you are interested in learning more about any of the vocation centers in the Diocese of Scranton or participating in the regular discernment groups that have been established, you can contact any of the priests in your parish, or the Diocesan Vocations Office at (570) 207-1452.