By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
CHARLESTON The annual Chrism Mass events proved to be the perfect occasion to unveil a new vocations awareness effort.
At the Mass of the Oils on April 10, celebrated at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Bishop Robert J. Baker invited the assembled priests, deacons, and lay men and women to renew their commitments to serving the Lord. Following the liturgy in which the sacramental oils of the church are blessed, at a luncheon held at the Sheraton Hotel, Father Dennis Willey, diocesan vocations director, previewed a video for the new “Imagine” vocations awareness campaign, calling forth young people to join the ranks of the presbyterate.
The 20-minute video was produced by Paulist Father John Geaney, who also served as executive producer of “Fire Tried Gold,” a documentary history of Catholics in South Carolina. Much of the work for the “Imagine” film was done in conjunction with the production of “Fire Tried Gold.” Both efforts were funded by Larry and Beth Burtschy, well-known Catholic benefactors in the Charleston area.
The video features interviews with several diocesan priests, including Bishop Baker; retired Bishop David B. Thompson, who initially envisioned the video project; Msgr. Thomas R. Duffy, pastor of St. Michael Church in Garden City; Msgr. Charles Rowland, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Columbia; Father H. Gregory West, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton; and Father Tim Lijewski, pastor of the St. Thomas More Center at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
In addition, comments are featured from various lay men and women throughout South Carolina, discussing such topics as the shortage of clergy in their various areas to how they would react if their sons told them they were interested in joining the priesthood.
Following the video’s premiere, the hotel banquet room erupted in approving applause.
As part of the “Imagine” campaign, Father Willey said that copies of the video will be sent to each parish, Catholic school, and institution of higher education in South Carolina. Also, tapes will be sent to each Catholic college in the United States.
“We want to bring that video to young people,” the vocations director said. “It gives a positive image of the priesthood, enabling the possibility to say yes.”
In addition to the video, three English language and one Spanish poster promoting vocations to the priesthood will be sent to each parish, along with postcards and an accompanying container. The poster and reply cards also feature a toll free number for the diocesan vocations office in Charleston as well as the address for the vocations web site.
The poster features artwork of a young priest with crossed arms. Father Willey said that a photograph was not used because those pictures become dated, and there was also concern over model selection.
“It’s a heroic image of a working priest. It’s a strong image, but also compassionate, open, and inviting,” he said, also using the word “timeless” to describe the art. “We wanted to get our money’s worth out of this. I see this poster as being in the diocese for some time to come.”
Novelty items are a part of the vocations awareness package too, as key chains and diocesan coins are also to be distributed. The coins, though, are to be given only to those seriously contemplating a vocation to religious life, to be used as a token to reflect upon in prayer.
“We’re looking for full coverage,” Father Willey explained. “We want you to use these materials to get the word out at every opportunity.”
As part of the new promotions campaign, the vocations office has purchased new equipment to conduct state-of-the-art computer presentations for various groups. Audiences will see a DVD presentation of the “Imagine” video, fixed time examples of diocesan web page and vocations office web page, and an interactive CD rom made available from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
However, Father Willey cautioned the clerics that all of these new efforts will be for naught if they do not embrace their role as inviter. “All we have done to promote vocations will not be successful if you my brother priests are not the first inviters. Look to the young men in your parishes. Be the first one to invite them to the possibility of a vocation. Then we in the vocations office can help him discern his vocation.”
At the conclusion of his talk, the vocations director, who also serves as pastor of Church of the Nativity on James Island, gave an update on the status of seminarians in the diocese. Thirteen seminarians are returning to studies this fall, and six candidates for the seminary have been accepted by Bishop Baker, with the possibility of two additional students. One man, Deacon Greg Wilson, will be ordained to the priesthood this summer. The ordination will take place at 11 a.m. on June 9 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston. Also looking positive for the future, Father Willey said that there appears to be four strong candidates for studies in the fall of 2002.
As they left the event, priests and parish life facilitators received some materials, such as the posters and reply cards, while the videos will be mailed out in the near future.
Before the closing prayer, Bishop Baker said he was “very indebted to the Burtschy family and Mary Jeffcoat,” former director of communications for the diocese, for their contributions to the new vocations video.
Two priests observing their silver jubilees of ordination to the priesthood were honored at the Chrism Mass luncheon by Bishop Baker and Msgr. James A. Carter, vicar general. Small medallions were presented to Msgr. Thomas Evatt, pastor of St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken, and Father Thomas Morrison, pastor of St. Catherine Church in Lancaster, St. Joseph Church in Chester, and St. Michael Mission in Great Falls, in recognition of 25 years of ordination to the priesthood. Both men were ordained on Dec. 18, 1976, by Bishop Ernest Unterkoefler.
“I commend you for your years of serving people,” Bishop Baker told the two priests.