Recently, Cardinal Collins & I had the pleasure of spending a few days at Mount Mary Retreat Center with most of the seminarians for the Archdiocese of Toronto. The seminarians get plenty of very fine spiritual retreats throughout the formation year at the seminaries; this was more of an opportunity for the men to spend time with their very busy archbishop and to build fraternity with one another. Throughout the three days (Wednesday until Friday) our seminarians talked about their own challenges in formation, played sports, (ate junk food), had casual conversation and even came up with a game of “Church Jeopardy”, which I stoically observed (but would have lost at had I had participated). This retreat was also an opportunity for our seminarians already in formation to meet the 11 seminarians joining them this year! This gathering came at the end of their busy summers – most of our seminarians serve in parishes, serve at our shrines (Marylake & Martyr’s Shrine), evangelize as missionaries for Totus Tuus and work in various secular positions (landscaping, MacDonald’s, etc.) and a few in archdiocesan offices like the Office of Catholic Youth and Office of Vocations.
It is ever so vitally important for our seminarians to build this fraternity and unite themselves in the Mission of Jesus Christ that God may be calling them to. In the climate of the Catholic Church we are all living in, with so many challenges and where many of the most recent reports we read and hear about are so serious, dark, negative and concerning to us all – I think it’s important to share something upbeat and positive here today!
We are blessed; truly blessed! The Archdiocese of Toronto has 56 men in formation in various years at 2 major seminaries; St. Augustine’s Seminary (which includes Serra House Pre-Theology Seminary) and the Redemptoris Mater Seminary. In a society which I’m sure we all can see has it’s challenges in so many ways – we have very good men who desire holiness, who are servants and who really do seek to be shepherds after the Heart of the Good Shepherd.
Our men are not perfect, nor are they (yet) living saints! But I can assure you that they are self-reflective and honest men who are generous and who live in this world but desire something greater than this world can EVER offer them: a life always in Jesus Christ; sharing His love with their sisters and brothers. These are men of faith who desire holiness and men with hearts that have a great capacity for love. They are men who are emotionally and mentally healthy (this is an important matter to me as Director of Vocations) and who realize that who they are as men is as important as anything they can do for themselves spiritually or academically; and so their honesty with me and their seminary formators is paramount to who they are to become when they are (God willing and with their own willingness) ordained Catholic priests in the future. They are men who desire to be fathers in every sense. Our men need to know and accept God the Father’s love first; and as men to have a good sense of what it means to be a father to people in this world, modeled on St. Joseph, other saints and other fine examples of fatherhood in the world, often their own fathers.
Cardinal Collins spoke to them about so many different things. One of the most important things he shared with them a sense of the Lord’s mission with them and assured them that they were an important part of that mission in the Archdiocese of Toronto. We are also blessed to have an archbishop (who knows formation better than many) who despite his many responsibilities has always made time for his men. I look for ways to make this happen, and this retreat was one such a way.
I am deeply grateful to the Lord to be their Vocation Director! I am aware that this is title given to me to define a role I have – because Jesus Christ is and always will be their true Vocation Director! I spend a lot of time with these men before they are given the green light to apply for seminary formation. This can be a challenge. It’s a challenge because men feeling called themselves to the priesthood – is really only the beginning. I owe it to the Catholic Church, to the Archdiocese of Toronto and I owe it to these men in formation to really test a man’s call before he enters seminary. I don’t do that alone. I am blessed to have Cardinal Collins giving me clear direction, support and encouragement. I am blessed to have a great and honest relationship with key seminary faculty and we work together to ensure our men are getting the best formation. I am blessed to have a great support team (eleven Vocation Assistants, priests who assist me in key roles as well as three dedicated office team members who help us find ways to engage as many people as we can).
One of the challenges most Vocation Directors face today is a reluctance on the part of many to come forward. In many places, Vocation Directors resist the urge to take just anyone when they don’t have a lot of men presenting themselves in the first place. Most Directors also hear from many people that they should be more open to the men who do come forward. At times, among my brother Vocation Directors I feel reluctant to say much since we still have a number of men discerning and a number of men entering formation every year. But we don’t have as many men entering as represents our Catholic population of over two million in the Archdiocese of Toronto. I look at this as a worldly concern, and I keep reminding myself it’s not a concern given to me by the Lord. I am not exaggerating when I say that we could have more than double the men in formation that we have, and at first glance that might seem to serve a need of offering Mass and having more parish priests – but that will not serve any of us in the future! It’s also why I know that it’s important to empower a team to help me in this task – I want to be sure to have strict enough requirements to help the right men enter formation, but not so strict that I discourage an authentic and true calling because of my own limitations. And then I need to listen: first and always to the Lord Himself, then to my archbishop, then to those who share in this ministry with me.
We are truly blessed that these men are the men the Lord has given to us, to discern for us and please God to serve us in the future. To have an abundance of diocesan priests is not the Lord’s desire, but to have the right ones is. That’s what I hope and pray for, and I hope it’s what you will pray for too. May the Lord who has begun the good work in them, bring it to Glorious Fulfillment.