With a record-six, new priests ordained for the Diocese of St. Augustine this year, momentum hasn’t slowed when it comes to local men discerning the priesthood. The diocesan Office of Vocations and Seminarians saw the largest turnout of young men ever to their annual Priest Discernment Retreat, held this year on August 1-2.
Thirty-eight men, ranging in age from 15 to 32, dedicated their weekend to discerning the priesthood. Typically, only 15 to 25 men attend the discernment retreat held in late summer.
Father Steven Zehler, director of vocations for the diocese, attributes the increase in attendees to a new recruitment plan, which focuses on seminarians connecting with possible recruits.
“The concept was that the seminarians would not only serve the needs of the parish at which they were assigned, but their number one goal throughout the summer was to build relationships with young men who may have a calling to the priesthood,” explained Father Zehler. “Several of the seminarians held ‘vocation events’ in their parish before the discernment retreat to encourage men to attend the retreat.”
This was the first year that the retreat was led by two seminarians instead of one. Deacon Mac Hill from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach and Deacon-elect Michael Kieler from Theological College in Washington, D.C. were this year’s co-leaders.
The retreat, which is open to men in all stages of their discernment journey, was broken down into four sessions, each of which was comprised of a presentation, a seminarian’s witness, and a break-out session for small group discussion.
The weekend also included morning and evening prayer, all-night Eucharistic adoration, and two Masses, both of which were celebrated by Bishop Felipe Estévez.
“Praise to the Holy Spirit for this great retreat,” said Bishop Estévez. “Without a doubt, God’s holy activity is building up our particular church and its future.”
The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word, vocare, which means to call. Within the Catholic Church, it means God’s call. Discerning one’s vocation, whether it is marriage, single life, religious brother, religious sister, deacon or priest, is important, but it is also important to ask God what his calling for our lives is, says Father Zehler.
“In his most holy will for our lives, God calls us to a particular way of life to serve him and his church. It is out of his love that he calls us. And we respond to our vocational call out of love for him. If we truly want to live a fulfilled life of love and service, then we will discern the particular “calling” that God has for us. To live in his will gives us great joy and peace.”
Vocations and the formation of our seminarians are partially funded through the Bishop’s Annual Stewardship Appeal. To learn more about becoming a priest or vocations in general, call (904) 262-3200, ext. 101 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by St. Augustine Catholic/Woody HubandPrint