Students attend retreats to help discern their vocations

GREENVILLE — Jason Oakes, Scott Dunn and Jonathan Arrington are three young men who are seriously discerning God’s call to the priesthood in their lives.  All three are converts to the Catholic faith. Oakes became a convert in the seventh grade, Dunn as a high school freshman, and Arrington as a college sophomore.

Oakes and Dunn, both 19 and now college sophomores, attended a weekend discernment retreat Nov. 6-9 at the Pontifical Josephinum College and Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. Oakes attends Winthrop University in Rock Hill, while Dunn is at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. Both were lavish in their praise for what they experienced. They found college seminary life at the Josephinum to be a well-balanced blend of spiritual formation, community service, intellectual development and unscheduled time.

“On the weekends, the men have free time,” Oakes said.  “We went out with 15 diocesan brothers on Saturday night, and that experience was a lot of fun,” he added.  He was also impressed by the weekly community service projects that all the men engage in.

Dunn agreed with Oakes’ assessment.  “Like Jason said, we didn’t find a bunch of men withdrawing from the world and reality.  The formation appears to be quite good, with a blend of human and spiritual formation,” Dunn said. He also said that since diocesan priests “are not going to be monks,” the environment was very balanced with quiet time for prayer and discernment, along with time for friends and fun.  Not that there is anything wrong with monastic life.

Just ask Arrington, 21, who visited a Benedictine monastery in Clear Creek, Okla., for two weeks during Christmas break of 2003.  Arrington, from Laurens, is a senior Greek major at Furman University. He has been Catholic for 2 years, and after his freshman year at Furman seriously considered transferring to a Bible college to train as a Protestant minister.

After coming into the Catholic Church through St. Mary in Green-ville, Arrington has been trying to determine God’s will for his life. In addition to considering monastic life, he is considering a vocation with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter or the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest.  All three communities are currently building, or adding to, existing seminary buildings due to the influx of vocations to their communities.

“I knew I had a religious vocation even when I was a Protestant,” he said.

Like Oakes and Dunn, Arrington credits the time and attention of a few priests as major influences in his discernment process.

“Father Jay Scott Newman especially has been more than willing to give his personal attention and aid in my discernment,” Arrington said.

Oakes and Dunn also cited Father Newman, another convert, for his assistance in encouraging them to  visit the Josephinum in November.

All three young men spoke of the reverence they experienced in Mass at the places they visited.

“That is what the new generation of young men discerning priestly vocations desire,” Dunn said. “They want orthodox Catholic teaching and reverence in the Mass.” Oakes nodded his head in agreement.