Kyle Holler, 17, served at one of Bishop O’Connell’s Anniversary Blessings Masses during October. Holler, of St. Katharine Drexel Parish, Burlington, says the support of family, friends and clergy has been key as he discerns a vocation to the priesthood. Photo courtesy of Kyle Holler
Kyle Holler, 17, served at one of Bishop O’Connell’s Anniversary Blessings Masses during October. Holler, of St. Katharine Drexel Parish, Burlington, says the support of family, friends and clergy has been key as he discerns a vocation to the priesthood. Photo courtesy of Kyle Holler

For Father Jeffrey Kegley, it was opening his heart to the Holy Spirit that guided him to discern the priesthood.

But the pastor of Middletown’s St. Mary Parish says the support of his family and parish community played a critical role, too.

“It really confirmed what God was already doing in my heart,” Father Kegley said. “It takes a lot to say yes, [to] respond to the call. People being able to confirm that was a big help.”

Thirty years ago, Father Kegley was among those to have his name put forth as part of the Called by Name program – an initiative that invites men ages 16-40 to consider a vocation to the priesthood. A variation of the program is being introduced in parishes across the Diocese in November, which coincides with the National Vocation Awareness Week campaign.

“Ultimately, Called by Name is an opportunity for people to recognize that certain individuals may have the qualities that they would see in a priest,” said Father Jason Parzynski, diocesan vocations director and chaplain in Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville.

In explaining the program, Father Parzynski said parishioners across the Diocese are being asked to prayerfully reflect on the priesthood and then put forward the names of men whom they feel should be invited to consider the ­vocation. Men can also nominate themselves.

During the weekend of Nov. 2-3, priests across the Diocese are invited to talk about vocations in their homilies, how priests discern vocations and how the parish can be of support. There will be pew cards in every parish where faithful can nominate someone who they think has the qualities seen in a priest.

“This is fostering both the idea of, ‘Help us to identify and recognize the guys who God may be calling” and also, “Let’s join together as a community of faith to pray for these men so they have the strength and the courage to say yes,’” Father Parzynski said.

During the second weekend of the month, which closes out National Vocations Awareness Week, priests are asked to highlight their own vocation journey and collect the nomination cards.

In the months to follow, candidates will be encouraged to attend social events around the Diocese, not only to discuss a vocation to the priesthood, but to shed light on the fact that parishioners recognized these men as having ministry-like qualities. These social gatherings, Father Parzynski said, could also foster a calling to other ministries, such as liturgical, youth or Communion to the homebound ministries, to name a few.

“Some of those nominated may never even have thought about the idea of priesthood,” he said, “but being told that people have seen qualities in you that suggest you may make a good priest, I think, could be a humbling experience.”

Key to the program is prayer for the men who have been nominated, he added, hoping those who spend time in Adoration chapels may spend some of that time to pray for those who God may be calling.

Prayer and support are certainly aspects Kyle Holler, 17, finds important as he discerns the priesthood.

“Many of my friends are not surprised that I feel called to the priesthood, because they see the face of Christ in me,” said Holler, who attends Holy Cross Preparatory Academy, Delran. “Classmates and teammates come up to me and ask different faith-based questions because they trust me and know I will help.”

Holler says he’s been interested in the priesthood from a very young age. Though over the years he thought about being a police officer or doctor, he explained that he was in Adoration one day when “I heard God speak to me. I clearly heard him say to me in my heart and mind, ‘Be a priest.’ Ever since that moment, I knew God was calling me to be a doctor for the souls, a priest.”

Contributing editor EmmaLee Italia contributed to this report.