By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — It’s a common misconception that young people aren’t interested in the priesthood and other religious vocations. “Not true,” said Rhonda Gruenewald, the author of “Hundredfold: A Guide for Parish Vocation Ministry.” “Please don’t give up on them. God is still calling.”
Gruenewald spoke during the Diocese of Davenport’s Clergy Overnighter at Best Western Plus Steeplegate Inn on Nov. 5 and 6. The Houston-based speaker has given presentations on building a culture of vocations in 36 dioceses over the past three years; this was her first in Iowa.
In her presentation, Gruenewald explained the importance of promoting vocations at a parish level. This includes priesthood, the diaconate, consecrated life and marriage. She was adamant that it is not the sole responsibility of priests to foster an atmosphere that encourages and supports vocations. Every parish should have a vocations committee, though in her experience, only about 20 percent of parishes do. “It’s about finding the right people to lead vocations-promoting ministries. It could be anyone with a love for the faith.”
Including the Hispanic community in vocations ministries is essential, Gruenewald said. At least 38 percent of U.S. Catholics are Hispanic; yet only 5 percent of priests are Hispanic. “We need to get to the Hispanic community and inspire them to promote vocations.” Her book is available in Spanish under the title “Sembrando Semillas.” Visitors to her website, www.vocationministry.com, can access content in Spanish or go directly to www.vocationministry.com/es/.
Perceived barriers to vocations include news of the clergy abuse scandal. However, Gruenewald believes in focusing on the positive. “This is the time to be (promoting vocations). The people still in the pews are the people ready for the message. You’ve still got the leaders at your parishes.”
While some may think that adolescents are too young to discern vocations to priesthood and religious life, Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) studies show that more than half of all newly ordained priests heard the call during this time frame. Gruenewald said the number is almost the same for women religious.
“We need to get the ground fertile so they can answer that call. We want to nurture those calls and not put obstacles in their way.”
She offered an overview of the themes found in her vocations guidebook, “Hundredfold.” It contains about 70 activities within four categories: prayer, awareness and education, youth, and affirmation.
Gruenewald’s guidebook is designed to help parishes and dioceses of any size. For example, she encourages parishes to offer eucharistic adoration, as a majority of priests say adoration played a role in their vocation. While perpetual adoration may not be practical for a small parish, it’s possible to set something up monthly for one or two hours. Additionally, any parish can implement a prayer for vocations before or after Mass or at parish events.
A workshop for persons interested in promoting vocations at the parish level will take place Dec. 1 at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. Gruenewald will offer instruction in English. Leticia Ramirez, the mother of a priest and a seminarian and the sister of Bishop Oscar Cantu of San Jose, Calif., will offer instruction in Spanish.
Father Joseph Sia, diocesan vocation director, said the clergy presentation was timely, taking place during National Vocations Awareness Week. “While Rhonda focused on forming ministries to promote the priesthood, she acknowledged that there are different vocations and that all of them are important and complement each other.”
He said it is important that parishes send faithful individuals to the Hundredfold workshop “to ensure that the spark (Gruenewald) created goes on to light a fire that will continue to burn for a long time.” Follow-up activities and resources such as online newsletters, gatherings and other endeavors will be offered.
“I am also willing to attend meetings of the different ministries once they have been set up on the local level. What is most important is, of course, prayer — constant prayer in many different forms such as holy hours, prayers of the faithful, vocations prayer, rosary for vocations, etc.,” Fr. Sia said.
Deacon Terry Starns, diocesan director of the diaconate and parish life coordinator for St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass, found Gruenewald’s presentation enlightening, informative and passionate. “Rhonda helped me to remember the simple things we can do to increase vocations,” particularly prayer and offering opportunities for young Catholics to get to know priests and seminarians.
“We must increase vocations in the priesthood and consecrated life for the church to grow,” Deacon Starns said. “We are all called by God to a life of service but not everyone is called to do the same thing. It is up to each and every one of us to help each other discern that call. Through prayer, patience and persistence we will be able to discern what God is calling us to do.”
Attend Hundredfold workshop
What: A workshop focused on creating parish-based vocation ministries to educate and inspire adults and young people. The workshop will include talks, a holy hour for vocations, discussion and more. The workshop is offered in English and Spanish.
Who: All Catholics interested in helping to promote vocations
When: Dec. 1, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: St. Patrick Parish, Iowa City
Deadline to register: Nov. 20
How to register: Go to https://www.davenportdiocese.org/registration-hundredfold.
The registration page can be translated into Spanish by clicking the “select language” menu in the upper right corner of the page.