Father Jason Parzynski, diocesan director of vocations, noted that despite the pandemic, the Diocese always wants to “keep the avenue open for people to recommend people to vocations … that’s how the early Church was – they came from the community. It’s important to keep vocations alive for the health of the Church.”
Father Jason Parzynski, diocesan director of vocations, noted that despite the pandemic, the Diocese always wants to “keep the avenue open for people to recommend people to vocations … that’s how the early Church was – they came from the community. It’s important to keep vocations alive for the health of the Church.”

As far as God is concerned, vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life are on his timetable, irrespective of any global pandemic or civil unrest. Thanks to his timing, the process of discernment has continued steadily in the Diocese of Trenton.

Father Jason Parzynski, diocesan director of vocations, has been able to work with his diocesan vocations team for several months in spite of COVID-19, organizing a number of meetings and media to help promote God’s ongoing call, and how that call can be answered in central New Jersey.

“One thing we restarted in October were our small group discernment gatherings,” he explained, noting that the gatherings had been taking place on and off for years in the Diocese of Trenton. “These discernment gatherings center around three parts. First, we gather for evening prayer, and that’s an opportunity for us to expose those discerning to the breviary and explain how that form of prayer works. Dinner follows evening prayer and is a great opportunity for the guys to get to know one another better and to recognize they are not alone in their discernment of God’s call in their lives. This fellowship is an important part of the gatherings as it becomes easier to recognize God’s plan for us when we are in community.” 

The second half of the small group gatherings is focused around the presentation of one of the chapters of Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan’s book– “Priesthood for the Third Millennium.”

“At each gathering, a different priest from the Diocese is invited to present the chosen chapter from the book and to share their own vocation story and experiences of being a priest,” Father Parzynski said. “That way, the guys discerning would get to meet and talk to several priests of the Diocese.”

This year, partly in light of COVID-19, and also wanting to make the gatherings easier for more to attend, they split into two groups.

“We decided to have a Mercer and Burlington County group meet the third Tuesday of every month at the Frasatti House of Discernment in Lawrence Township,” Father Parzynski explained, “and on the second Tuesday of every month at Villa Saint Dominic in Point Pleasant for Ocean and Monmouth Counties.”

The hope was that the two locations would keep the gatherings smaller for those exercising an abundance of caution as well as provide for easier travel. 

About five young men were interested in each gathering, Father Parzynski noted. “We have overall 30 active discerners; some are in the initial stages, and we assist them in identifying a priest for spiritual direction. Those who are a bit more serious and actively thinking about the priesthood tend to like the small group gatherings. They get to meet priests of the Diocese and ask a lot of questions.”

Participants came out of the Called by Name campaign run in the Diocese’s parishes last fall, in which parishioners were invited to use cards in church pews to submit names of young men ages 16-35 whom they thought might have a vocational calling. Some 200 names were collected and invited by the Diocese to seek more information.

“The Called By Name program is definitely having an influence,” he said. “We currently have two guys in application for entrance to seminary next fall, both of whom came from the Called by Name program, and we have two more guys who could potentially enter next year as well. We hope to have even more parishes participate next year in the Called By Name program,” he added, explaining that the program will run every two to three years with the small group gatherings happening in between.

As the coronavirus continues to influence in-person meetings, Father Parzynski said that the groups are discussing the possibility of having online meetings if and when necessary.

“There are those who are being more cautious and who are living at home with individuals who are at higher risk, and we don’t want to deny them the opportunity to attend. And there are some college students who can’t come in person,” he said.

In addition to the small group gatherings, the diocesan vocations office staff have been hard at work for the past few months on a dynamic new website they hope to roll out before the end of the year: www.godiscallingyou.org. While the site is not yet active, plans are in place for various resources about discernment and what a call to vocations means.

“We’re trying to create a website designed for that 16- to 35-year age group we are targeting,” Father Parzynski said. “It will include video and written resources to help in the discernment process. One thing we are working on is a page for parents, to give them insight into what the process is like … how they can be involved and how they can help support their sons.”

The diocesan Department of Multimedia Production, he continued, has been creating and editing the videos. “They are of our own priests and seminarians, talking about the priesthood and what seminarians experience. … Some of them are these awesome charismatic priests, so enthusiastic – it’s just great to see.”

Father Parzynski noted that despite the pandemic, the Diocese always wants to “keep the avenue open for people to recommend people to vocations … that’s how the early Church was – they came from the community. It’s important to keep vocations alive for the health of the Church.”