By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
“National Vocation Awareness Week is vital.”
That was the pointed sentiment expressed by diocesan seminarian William Clingerman about the week the Catholic Church in the U.S. designates each year to promote vocations to the priesthood, religious life and diaconate.
“The Church needs solid priests, deacon and religious to serve the Lord, to win souls for him and to help guide his people against the prevailing culture mood,” he said. “Thus, we are praying throughout this week that the Lord may send more workers into the vineyard and to pour an abundance of his grace on those who may be called. May those who are considering a vocation … have the courage to follow the Lord’s call with joy!”
With National Vocation Awareness Week coming up Nov. 5-11, priests and seminarians from the Diocese welcomed the opportunity to give an update about what’s going on in the Diocese in terms of vocations to the priesthood.
Current Priestly Vocations
As Msgr. Thomas Mullelly, diocesan episcopal vicar for clergy and consecrated life and director of seminarians, reflected on the 19 men who are currently pursuing studies for the diocesan priesthood, he described them as being a mixed group of varying ages with a few who are second career seminarians, men who have pursued other fields of interest before they decided to become priests.
Like Christopher Pinto, who is a former music director, other seminarians left behind lives and careers spent as a jeweler, a special services/social services employee, a high school peer training leader, one who has an avid interest in the political realm and a school teacher, who during the summer months, also worked as a lifeguard. There are also a few seminarians who entered the college seminary or soon after they had graduated from high school.
The three seminaries where the Diocese sends men for their formation are St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore; Mount St. Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, Pa. Highlights on the 2018 calendar include the diaconate ordination on May 19 during which Bishop O’Connell will ordain Pinto a transitional deacon, and the priestly ordination on June 2 during which the Bishop will ordain four priests – Rev. Messrs. Christopher James Dayton, Michael G. DeSaye, James Richard Smith, and Rev. Brother Nicholas R. Dolan.
When speaking of his seminary experience, Clingerman, a second-year theologian in Mount St. Mary, readily said that it has been better than he first imagined. He told of being challenged intellectually by the classes and developed a love and desire for continued learning; honed better time management skills through the regimented schedule and went on an evangelization trip with fellow seminarians to Towson University.
“Talking to strangers about the Catholic faith helps me to get outside my comfort zone and to realize the areas of formation which I need to improve before ordination,” he said.
“There is also a great atmosphere of joy at the seminary, and the fraternity the guys share with one another is incredible,” he said, adding that he has also matured in his spiritual life through the daily practice of making a Holy Hour, meditating on Scriptures, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, spiritual reading and daily Mass.
“These elements of spiritual formation are stressed often because they are essential to the life and ministry of a priest of Jesus Christ,” he said.
“I have been able to learn so many things that have deepened my faith,” said Pinto of his time at St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore, where he is a third-year theologian.
“I have been able to spend time with and learn from so many holy and knowledgeable priests who have become great friends, important mentors and lifelong role models. Most importantly, my love for Jesus Christ has grown to a level I never expected,” he said.
As a seminarian, Pinto admitted to having some challenges. Referring to himself as an “older vocation,” the 43-year-old was used to living on his own, making his own decisions and owning his own home. Now as one who lives in community, he has gotten used to set meal times, sharing common spaces. The challenges, he said, have become a “blessing.”
“I learned so much about myself. I realize that I am so unworthy of this call to the priesthood. I cannot do it justice. I am nowhere holy enough.” But, he said, “I have also learned that the grace and mercy of God is a beautiful gift that enables me to say yes to this call.”
Spreading the Word
As for promoting vocations, Father Michael Wallack, diocesan director of vocations who also serves as priest-secretary to Bishop O’Connell, plans a schedule of activities that are offered throughout the year such as high school vocation awareness days in which he and a team of priests including diocesan assistant vocation directors, Father Daniel Swift and Father Garry Koch, address the male students in the various Catholic high schools in the Diocese. He noted last month’s journey to Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, during which a special visitor – Bishop O’Connell – celebrated Mass and offered words of encouragement to the young men.
An upcoming event is set for 1:30 p.m. Dec. 15 in St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, when male students will go toe-to-toe in a basketball game against Father Wallack, Father Daniel Kirk, Father Augusto Lorenzo Gamalo, Father Gregg Abadilla, Father Carlo Calisin, Father Roy Aris Ballacillo, Father Jean Felicien, Father Christopher Picollo and Father Neiser Cardenas. Other initiatives Father Wallack mentioned were meetings between high school chaplains, high school students who may be considering the priesthood and Bishop O’Connell.
Also, Father Swift, along with Father Koch and Father Wallack, have organized two visits to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary where male students who are in grades eight to 12, could spend an afternoon experiencing various aspects of seminarian life first-hand.
Consider A Vocation
As National Vocation Awareness Week nears, Clingerman and Pinto encouraged people of the Diocese of Trenton to continue to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
“If you are discerning, trust in God!” exhorted Clingerman. “Ask God to make his will known to you and he will not disappoint you. A vocation to the priesthood, diaconate or religious life is an incredible gift, do not be afraid to pursue it further.”
“You rarely, if ever, hear of any career day or career fair making people aware that you don’t have to earn a huge salary to be happy and successful,” Pinto said.
“The greatest success, the greatest joy, isn’t financial. The greatest joy is to do the will of God and follow Jesus Christ. You can’t put that on a wage scale,” Pinto continued. “Following Christ in full time ministry, as a priest, a nun, as a lay minister in the Church, doing charitable works, is not something our society values enough. But the value of doing those things is more precious than anything of monetary value. "