New diocesan staff works to increase vocations



CHARLESTON — Two new additions to the diocesan Office of Vocations have been on the job a little more than two months, and while many would think starting a position in the summer would be a slow season, it just happens to be the busiest time of the year for this particular department.

Joining diocesan vocations director Father Dennis B. Willey in the office are Deacon Joseph Cahill from Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant as assistant vocations director and Katie Ramsey as administrative assistant.

From April to August, Cahill said he is primarily involved in processing paperwork for seminaries and dealing with last-minute deadlines. After seminary candidates have been accepted by the diocese, they then apply to several seminaries for admission. Applications are most vital to getting accepted, said Cahill, who makes sure all of the paperwork is in proper order. This includes psychological evaluations, reference letters, and a 10- to 15-page autobiography.

Currently, candidates are given five seminary choices, and they then apply to their top three picks.

For this jubilee year, Bishop Robert J. Baker let all of the seminary candidates attend their first choice for the seminary. However, in the future, said Cahill, he expects that the seminarians will probably be assigned to where they will attend religious training.

Once enrolled, the Vocations Office then handles things such as monthly stipends, student insurance, book reimbursement, and travel expenditures for the men, as well as setting up summer programs and parish assignments during vacation periods.

“We’re the liaison between the seminary staff and the bishop,” explained Cahill.

He called Father Willey a mentor to the seminarians, adding that the vocations director will be visiting with three of them next month. In addition to meeting with the candidates, Father Willey will also dialogue with the seminary rectors.

Costs for attending the seminary run from $13,000 to $15,000 per year per candidate. The assistant director for vocations cited a scholarship program run by the Knights of Columbus as being particularly helpful in assisting with book expenses for the students. Also, councils are matched up with individual candidates, and they receive cards and letters on their birthdays and at the holidays. “The seminarians really appreciate that,” said the deacon.

Now that the school year has begun in earnest, Cahill is focused on the completion of a video promoting vocations to the priesthood within the diocese. Once that project is completed, posters and brochures will be professionally designed in conjunction with the video, and Cahill will take these materials to college fairs and the Catholic high schools in the Palmetto State.

In addition, copies of the video will also be sent to all 240 Catholic colleges in the United States, all colleges in South Carolina, and all parishes in the diocese. A video for religious brothers and sisters is also hoped for sometime in the future.

Along with that project, Cahill is planning a January discernment retreat at The Oratory in Rock Hill. The deacon said information has been mailed the past couple of weeks to 50 men who have inquired about the event, which will be attended by Bishop Baker.

Presenters will include Father Edward McDevitt from The Oratory at Rock Hill, Father Tim Lijewski from the St. Thomas More Center at the University of South Carolina, Charity Sister Maureen Houlihan, Ursuline Sister Julienne Guy, Franciscan Sister Bonnie Pelloux, Capuchin Brother Bill Arlia, Father Willey, Cahill and the bishop.

A retreat for women is planned for sometime in the future as well, and Cahill is working with Michael Gocsik, diocesan secretary of Stewardship and Mission Advancement, to obtain a grant to fund the meeting.

While vocations to religious life and the priesthood are smaller than in years past, the assistant vocations director optimistically expects between six to 10 candidates to the seminary next year.

“The priesthood is a unique, necessary and viable vocation,” he said. “It will take a total group effort to get priests, but they are out there.”

For gentlemen discerning a vocation, Cahill said the diocesan volunteer program is a good place to serve and pray and be a part of a community. “The service and presence aspect is a good idea. I hope more volunteer houses get started across the state.”

To also explore new approaches in attracting vocations, the deacon is attending the National Conference of Vocations Directors convention this week to examine what programs other dioceses are conducting.

“I feel privileged to be doing what I’m doing. The Holy Spirit is bringing priests. Others can help him in satisfying his search, but the spark is initially created by God’s Holy Spirit,” said Cahill.

For more information on vocations to the priesthood or religious life, contact the diocesan Office of Vocations at (800) 660-4102 or (843) 402-9115, or write to the office at 1662 Ingram Road, Charleston, SC 29407.