My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Last week, the Diocese of Brooklyn was most fortunate to have the Ordination of four new priests to serve here in Brooklyn and Queens. You have seen their profiles in The Tablet and may even have read the articles that they have written.
Two of the new priests, Father Chin Nguyen and Father Joseph Hung Tran, come from Vietnam, a place rich in vocations to the priesthood for many reasons, however, perhaps most of all because they have suffered persecution for their faith for many years. The people of Vietnam have made martyrdom the way to fulfill themselves. This has been the case in many other persecuted nations; the priesthood becomes attractive as a way to preserve faith. These two men have overcome the barriers of language and have studied well and are now ready to serve, not only their own Vietnamese community but all of the people of our wonderful diocese.
By coincidence, the other two new priests hail from the Dominican Republic, Father Robinson Olivares, and Father Elvin Torres. The Dominican Republic also has been a place, because of the strong family structure, where vocations have flourished. Again, their path to the priesthood has been varied depending on their educational abilities. Now they come to us here in Brooklyn and Queens, fully bi-lingual and able to serve all of God’s people. As we know, more than half of the Catholics living in the Diocese of Brooklyn are of Hispanic origin and many are immigrants barely knowing the English language. How important it is that we have bilingual priests from their own communities to serve.
The program that we have initiated in the Diocese for recruiting vocations is a rather complex one. As you know, we have our Cathedral Preparatory High School and Seminary, the only high school seminary in the country. Some graduates immediately upon graduation enter the college program. But some of the graduates from prior years have returned to enter the pre-theology program. We do not isolate potential vocations to the priesthood, but we need to give those contemplating a vocation an atmosphere in which they can flourish and discern that vocation with others who have a similar desire.
Our newest vocations director/recruiter, Father Christopher Bethge, not only teaches religion at Cathedral Prep, but also engages in programs for many grammar school and high school discerners. Fraternitas is our grammar school discerners program and Jeremiah is the program for high school and college discerners. Both programs meet once a month. Father Chris has great energy and is able to attract many young men to consider the priesthood through programs like these.
As I mentioned previously, our annual Bishop’s Vocation Retreat had 42 young men of high school and college age participate in that weekend of prayer and reflection. This is thanks to the great work of Father Bethge. Of the 42 who attended the retreat, 27 were of Hispanic origin, which I see as a turning point in our efforts to reach out to the Hispanic community of Brooklyn and Queens and call forth vocations from this vibrant community.
Our St. John Paul II House of Discernment will be moving from its current location on Highland Boulevard to the residence at Cathedral Prep. This will give us an opportunity for at least five residents, which allows those who are discerning a vocation, either while they continue to work or go to school, to have the formation necessary during their time of discernment. Father Jim Kuroly, Rector and President of the Prep, and Father Bethge will take responsibility for the discernment of the residents, and allow them that period of time, usually one year, before they make a decision to enter the seminary or not to continue.
The success of the St. John Paul II House of Discernment is shown in the priests that we have ordained who have spent time living among others who were discerning a call to the priesthood. Almost 80% of those who were residents at the house have either become priests or are currently in the seminary. This kind of ‘half-way house’ is a necessary component in vocation recruitment today.
At this time, I am pleased to announce that Father Joseph Holcomb, MSW, will become the Rector of the Cathedral Seminary House of Formation at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston. This is the location for the college program for our diocese and other dioceses. Normally, we have about 50 to 60 college-age students, as well as some who are in the pre-theology program, which also takes place at ICC. Father Holcomb, who has great skills as a counselor, will soon conclude his pastorate at St. Andrew Avellino.
He will take over the responsibility of not only being Rector, but also the Director of Vocations. We have divided into two parts the responsibility of recruitment and direction of vocations, so that each may concentrate on their primary responsibility. Father Holcomb will be responsible for the seminarians at the Immaculate Conception Center, and also those who are attending the other major seminaries. His wisdom and experience, I believe, will be a great asset to the formation program and will help increase the stability and number of seminarians that we recruit and see them through to ordination.
COVID-19, unfortunately, has put a crimp in our work with our parish vocations committees. I am committed to again ask each parish to form a vocation committee whose primary responsibility is to pray for vocations. The Lord, Himself, told us that the harvest is great, but the laborers are few. He told us to pray to the harvest masters for workers in the vineyard.
Parish Vocation Committees and pastors and associates are asked to identify potential vocations in their parishes. This is the only way we can contact the Brooklyn and Queens-born men and women who might have a vocation. We need to double our work in our Catholic high schools to recruit our American-born Catholics to serve the faithful of Brooklyn and Queens as priests and religious sisters and brothers.
We cannot give anyone a vocation, no matter what we do. It is the Lord who calls one to a vocation, but we must be there to respond humanly so that the vocation put into the heart of young people may grow. We nourish a vocation with our prayers and support, so that it continues to live in the heart of the ones called by God, Himself. Our parish vocation committees can assist in the recruitment process, searching out young people who may have a vocation, bringing them to the attention of the vocation recruiter, and assisting them along the way of discernment.
During the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen how important the Eucharist has been to our understanding of who we are as a Church, for without the Eucharist there can be no Church. And without our priests, there is no Eucharist.
Our work today is to call forth vocations to the priesthood. We need to support those in discernment and assist them and give them all that is necessary that they might follow this sublime vocation.
As these four young men ordained to the priesthood just last week put out into the deep mystery of being priests of God in this complex society and world in which we live today, we accompany them with our prayers. We pray to the Lord of the Harvest, that they will be successful in their ministry here in the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, that whatever difficulties and sufferings they may endure that they will join those sufferings to those of Jesus Christ, Himself, so that as the suffering servant of Yahweh they too, will, with their efforts, bring forth salvation for God’s people.