By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
There were two reasons Sheree Carnevale was motivated to attend the Day of Prayer for Vocations in St. Michael Parish June 1.
The first, said Carnevale, a member of the West End parish for more than 25 years, was simply because there is an urgent need to pray for an increase in vocations, whether it is to the priesthood, consecrated life, the diaconate or for lay women and men to recognize God’s call in their lives.
The second reason was more personal. Carnevale remembered a difficult situation her family endured during her childhood and the compassion and support they received from their parish priest.
“I will never forget him or how he helped our family,” said Carnevale. “There are so many wonderful priests and we need more. It’s very important for us to keep vocations in our daily prayer.”
Since 2016 St. Michael Parish has hosted an annual Parish Day of Prayer for Vocations on Aug. 4 in celebration of the Memorial of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests. This year, in light of the absence of men being ordained to the priesthood for the Trenton Diocese, the Day of Prayer for Vocations was moved to June 1, the day priestly ordinations would have taken place in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.
The day was one of continuous prayer, which included Eucharistic Adoration as well as intercessory prayers for vocations, recitation of the Rosary, praying the Angelus, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and a mid-morning Mass with Father John Butler, pastor, as principal celebrant.
In addition to a steady stream of faithful who visited the parish throughout the day which began at 8 a.m. and concluded at 3 p.m., the Mass celebrated at 10 a.m. was well represented by religious sisters, including Religious Teachers Filippini from nearby Our Lady of Hope Parish and St. Jerome School, West Long Branch, and Missionaries of Charity from Asbury Park and lay women and men of varying ages and backgrounds.
Concelebrants with Father Butler included Father Mark Nillo, parochial vicar of St. Michael Parish; Father Garry Koch, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, and associate director of vocations for the Diocese; Redemptorist Father James Wallace, rector of San Alfonso Retreat House, West End, as well as priests from outside the Diocese who serve as weekend assistants in St. Michael Parish.
In his homily, Father Koch focused on how even though God calls people at various times and ways in their lives, “we have lost a sense of awe at the openness to that call.
“Many people do not know how to interpret or understand that call,” he said. “A call to priesthood comes with the baptismal call to holiness, though there are those who are called who have no real connection to the Catholic faith,” he said, noting that there have been priests who were converts from Protestantism and even Judaism and Islam. “For some of them it was the call to be a priest that drove their vocation.”
Father Koch emphasized how vocations to the priesthood need to be fostered through prayers as well as by extending an invitation to “men who strike us” as being faithful and faith-filled.
“Often we ask the wrong question,” Father Koch said. “When we ask someone if he has ever thought of being a priest, that can lead to a ‘no’ response and leave the questioner on the defensive. Instead, the question, ‘When did you first think about becoming a priest?’ opens the door to a discussion. It catches the person off guard and opens a better chance of dialogue.”
For clergy and laity alike, attending the Day of Prayer for Vocations resonated in many ways.
Debbie Osborn, a member of Our Lady of Hope Parish and mother of Father Richard Osborn, parochial vicar of St. Mary Parish, Middletown, said her reason for attending the Mass surfaced when she learned that no new men were going to be ordained priests for the Diocese this year.
“I was so shocked and saddened. I don’t know if this ever happened before or not,” she said, noting that she and her husband have attended most of the priestly ordination Masses during the past seven years. “It is so beautiful to see and I assumed we would have at least a few each year, but not this year. It’s very sad. I will definitely increase my prayers and hope many others will too,” she said.
Father Nillo emphasized how praying for vocations “is a task that is given to us all.
“We are all in this together,” he said. “The countless prayers that were offered throughout the day were a symbol of the collective effort and response to the call to pray for more vocations.”
“God will call you no matter what,” Father Nillo said, “and God will do everything to make you say ‘Yes’ to his call.”