The young men discerning a call to the priesthood were seated together during the Mass in the Co-Cathedral.
The young men discerning a call to the priesthood were seated together during the Mass in the Co-Cathedral.
Becoming a priest is something that’s been in the back of Patrick Caulfield’s mind for the past five years or so.

But after attending a Mass and dinner with other young men who are also considering a vocation to the priesthood, and getting a better understanding about the discernment process, Caulfield now believes he “finally got the push I needed” to get serious, take the next step and find out more.

PHOTO GALLERY: Priesthood Discernment Mass and Dinner

Caulfield, a member of St. Mary Parish, Middletown, was one of 30 young men from around the Diocese who gathered in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, Feb. 16 for the 5 p.m. Vigil Mass celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. The young men came to the Co-Cathedral through the Called by Name program, which was initiated in November by Father Jason Parzynski, diocesan vocations director, during which faithful in all parishes were encouraged to submit the names of men whom they believed should be invited to discern a priestly vocation.

“Today, at this Mass, we recognize the fact that God, our creator, is calling out to us -- calling us to choices that help us fulfill his plan and our human destiny,” said Bishop O’Connell in his homily. “The Lord is not simply calling out in general -- we are ‘called by name’ by the One who made us. 

“Every one of us has been ‘called by name,’” the Bishop continued. “Every one of us has been given the freedom to follow God’s call. Every one of us has been given the opportunity to choose the things that will help us follow that call wherever it may lead in life … or not. Whatever we may decide or choose, no matter how long your discernment may be, let your YES mean YES and your NO mean NO. And then live that way.”  

Speaking From Experience

At the dinner that followed in the parish hall, the young men, along with their family members who were also invited to attend, had a chance to meet priests serving in parishes and diocesan assignments and hear their vocation stories. The participants also had the opportunity to get their questions about the discernment process and seminary life answered and their concerns addressed.

“Entering the seminary does not mean you are becoming a priest,” said Father Parzynski, after telling highlights of what he called his own “round-about” journey to priesthood that included his consideration of other career choices. “The seminary is a time to figure it out, to discern God’s will for us,” Father Parzynski said, noting that while there is a point in time during the seminary when a man makes a formal decision to be a priest, the beginning of the seminary years are oriented toward discernment.

Other vocation stories were presented by Father Christopher Dayton, parochial vicar of St. Rose Parish, Belmar, and chaplain in St. Rose High School, and Father Jorge Bedoya, parochial vicar of St. Joan of Arc Parish, Marlton. Both priests also serve on the diocesan vocations team that includes Father Parzynski, two associate directors of vocations, Father Daniel Swift and Father Garry Koch, and additional team members, Father Christopher Colavito and Father Richard Osborn.

“Gentlemen, trust God, trust that he will lead you on the path to where he wants you to be,” Father Dayton said after telling how he kept pushing the persistent thoughts of priesthood aside and focused instead on a “be all and end all” career in politics with aspirations to one day becoming the governor of New Jersey.

“I found that I was brutally unhappy working in politics; there was no sense of fulfillment,” he said, and eventually the lingering thoughts of priesthood resurfaced.

Father Dayton said he appreciated his seminary experience that forced him to answer some tough questions. He smiled and shared that the priesthood is “not about being locked up in a rectory and alone.”

In addition to their own eight children, “my parents now say they now have 50 adopted sons through my brother priests,” Father Dayton said. “There is a brotherhood among the priests that I never imagined. There is a beauty to the priesthood that is so profound.”

Better Understanding

The young discerners admitted as well that after having attended the Mass and dinner and learning details on what it means to consider a priestly vocation, most of their feelings of uncertainty had given way to feeling more confident and reassured.

“I was nervous when I received the letter in the mail inviting me to the Called by Name Mass and dinner,” said Luke Denn, one of three discerners from St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford. “My first question was ‘Who submitted my name?’

“I was confused but I feel better about being open and considering all possibilities including the priesthood, said Denn, a student in St. Joseph Preparatory School, Philadelphia.

“It’s good to be here and it helps a lot to see others who are in the same boat as me; they have the same questions,” he said.

Ryan Donohue, a member of St. Mary Parish, Middletown, and sophomore in St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, was “highly flattered” when he received his invitation and realized there are people “who thought I would be a good priest.

“I never thought of myself as a priest,” he said, but now the Mass and dinner “opened the door” for him to explore the possibility.

“Tonight definitely made the idea of a vocation more real for me,” he said.

Mission Accomplished

As the evening drew to a close, a very pleased Father Parzynski said he regarded the Called by Name program to be a success. Since November, he said he received 200 suggested names of men with a potential vocation and of that there were 30 who want to further discern. Also he said of the 30, there are nine who indicated on vocation information cards that they want to learn more about the seminary application process.

“Tonight was a great reminder in how vocations stem forth from the community of believers,” said Father Parzynski. “It’s the community who can help the guys discern and recognize God’s call.”

As Father Swift and Father Osborn listened to the young men reflect on their experiences in having attended the Mass and dinner, both priests also affirmed that the Called by Name program had achieved its goal.

“It’s a very good initiative that involves the people to pray for and reflect on the men they think would make good candidates for priesthood,” said Father Osborn, noting that of the 20 names submitted from St. Mary Parish, four attended the Mass and dinner.

Thinking back to junior and senior years in college when he first realized he might be called to the priesthood, Father Swift admitted he didn’t know whether he would have responded “yes” if his name had been submitted through a program like Called by Name. What moved him, however, was his godfather’s wife who had asked him if he ever considered a vocation. “That was the impetus I needed to approach my pastor about taking the next step,” he said.

Now, as Father Swift helps to guide his young parishioners in the discernment process, he said he has initiated discussions to address their concerns and questions. He is always sure to emphasize that, given their youth, they are not making any commitments at this time.

“The only thing the Lord would require of them now,” he said, “is to be open to a vocation.”