By Christina Leslie | Correspondent[[In-content Ad]]
In this age of instant communications via text, Twitter, and Facebook posts, a program joining the forces of Knights of Columbus councils and Catholic school children continues to prove that, sometimes, “snail mail” is the best way to a man’s heart.
The New Jersey State Council Knights of Columbus’ Seminarian Letter Project encourages students in Catholic schools and religious education programs to send letters and cards to men studying for the priesthood. John Tirado of the St. Jude Council, Knights of Columbus, Blackwood, instituted the project in 2000 to encourage vocations and counter the declining numbers of priests in his home diocese of Camden.
The project proved so successful that state Knights of Columbus leaders adopted the practice. Over its 13-year history, thousands of letters and cards have found their way to men studying in seminaries all over the country.
Local Knights of Columbus member Robert Rushnak is a staunch proponent of the seminarian letter project. His council, which encompasses the parishes of St. Alphonse, Hopewell; St. George, Titusville, and St. James, Pennington, has participated in the project for the past four years. This year, Rushnak encouraged his knights to contact the seminarians, man to man, with prayers and support.
“I asked 11 knights to write to two seminarians each. Next year I want to start this earlier,” Rushnak stated. “My goal is to hit every one of [the seminarians] from our diocese.”
Citing the secular world’s disare tractions and negativity toward the priesthood, Rushnak applauded the project’s goal to support the men preparing for a life of service.
“There has never been a more crucial time, we need more priests. We don’t have as many vocations now,” the Knight declared. “They need to know that there are others out there who support them. [The letters] are an important tool.”
The Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Council, Knights of Columbus, Hamilton, wrote letters for the first time this year. “I heard John Tirado talk about it at a Grand Knights meeting and thought it would be a good idea,” Knight W. James White remembered. “[The seminarians] are in a difficult field. They need all the support they can get.”
White enlisted the help of his parish’s school and religious education program to supply young letter writers. Mariyam Francis, director of the OLS-St. Anthony religious education program, adopted it among her youngest charges, garnering letters from students eager to connect with the future priests.
Student Henry Kelly cut out pictures of an altar and a cross to adorn his letter to a seminarian, and encouraged him to “go as far as you can go in the priesthood.” He added confidence, “I know you will be a great priest at any church even if it is old and beat down.”
St. Mary Council, Knights of Columbus, Bordentown, has participated in the seminarian letter project for seven years with help from kindergarten through fourth grade students.
The council chose five seminarians who attend either St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore or the Theological College at the Catholic University of America in Washington to send letters of encouragement.
“They all need it,” stated Thomas Moore, the coordinating knight for the project. “The kids love doing it, and they get such wonderful letters back. Last year a couple of seminarians visited them to say thanks.”
One such grateful recipient was Diocese of Trenton seminarian Jean Renald Felicien, who will be ordained to the transitional diaconate May 18. Felicien said, “It is a blessing for me knowing that they pray for me…I kept all the letters and wrote back to each student individually. I told them, ‘Thank you for your dedication.’”