In his first official meeting with consecrated persons since arriving in the diocese in June, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., shared a day of prayer, dialogue and fellowship with 90 religious men and women Nov. 20 in St. James Church, Pennington.[[In-content Ad]]
There he celebrated Mass then took the opportunity to address questions and outline his goals as he prepares to begin his ministry as the 10th Bishop of Trenton, namely to bolster evangelization efforts, promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life and increase support for Catholic schools and parish religious education programs.
In his homily and then in remarks after the Mass, Bishop O’Connell offered the brothers and sisters words of encouragement and sentiments of gratitude for their vocation to religious life and their presence and work among the people of the diocese. He was also met with a round of applause when he recounted his own journey to pursue a vocation as a religious order priest, a Vincentian, and what it has meant to him to live out that call to consecrated life.
“Consecration is the basis of religious life,” said Bishop O’Connell. “It is a divine action; it is God’s offer of grace; it is both public and private and it establishes a relationship with Christ Jesus.”
Through their profession of vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, consecrated persons “join a Christ who was poor,” he said.
“Our consecration is a call and a confirmation to follow that path to Christ who was obedient; we give witness to Christ who was chaste throughout his life, and to a Christ who was united to God in prayer,” said Bishop O’Connell.
“Our consecration is our journey to follow him – the Christ who came to serve and not to be served,” he said.
Bishop O’Connell fielded questions and comments on promoting vocations, especially among the young people of the diocese.
Even though the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life are dwindling and a large number of those who currently serve in ministry are an aging population, Bishop O’Connell maintained that “there is still hope.”
He then proudly spoke about the vocation club he started during his 12-year tenure as president of The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and how participation in the club resulted in 80 male students entering the seminary and 30 women entering the convent.
When it comes to encouraging vocations to the priesthood and religious life, Bishop O’Connell takes a straightforward approach. Priests and religious men and women need to be present and people “have to see you, they have to get to know you, they have to be able to talk to you and you have to ask them” to consider a vocation, he said.
Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Donna Watson, diocesan delegate for religious, said the impetus for the event came at Bishop O’Connell’s initiative. “He wanted to have an opportunity to introduce himself and let them know that they were all important to him,” she said.
She noted that in the diocese, there are 436 men and women who represent 49 (religious) institutes. While the majority of the religious serving the Church are sisters from traditional, canonical religious congregations, there are also women serving in two contemplative orders – the Poor Clares and Good Shepherd Sisters – as well as representatives from the Sisters of Christian Community, consecrated virgins and secular institutes. The religious brothers include the Conventual Franciscan, Franciscan Minor, Society of the Divine Word and Christian Brother communities.
Among the religious who wholeheartedly appreciated the Nov. 20 gathering with Bishop O’Connell were Bernardine Franciscan Sister Rose Colanzi, Franciscan Sister Marie Anthony Heiss and St. Joseph Sister Trudy Ahern.
“I thought it was a very prayerful morning and the bishop was very informative,” said Sister Marie Anthony, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Philadelphia for 64 years, who currently is on staff at Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton.
“It was a wonderful gesture of gratitude on Bishop O’Connell’s part” to show his support for the religious serving in the diocese and speak on the value of vocations, she said.
Sister Rose, a pastoral associate in Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County, Willingboro, said she found the day to be a “very spiritual experience” and was encouraged by Bishop O’Connell’s commitment to enhancing vocations.
Sister Trudy, who is in her 11th year as co-director of the Upper Room Spiritual Center, Neptune, was particularly moved to hear Bishop O’Connell’s words about the “call to holiness” because “that is what we help people to do at the Upper Room.”
“We try to help people get in touch with their baptismal call and to experience and deepen their personal relationship with God,” she said.