SIMPSONVILLE – On the eve of his return to Rome for three more years of priestly formation, seminarian Michael Cassabon expressed optimism about the future of the priesthood. Both a prominent priest in the Upstate and the bishop of South Carolina agreed with him.
“Young people are searching for meaning in their lives and for truth; they are looking for stability and salvation,” Cassabon said. “I think that people of my generation are more open to God’s call than has been the case in a long, long time.”
The 1998 graduate of St. Joseph’s Catholic School based his optimism on his undergraduate years at a secular college, his involvement with youth conferences and groups, his teaching stint at Bishop England High School in Charleston and on his experiences at the graduate seminary of the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.
Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary in Greenville and diocesan vicar for continuing education of priests, is also optimistic about the future. Part of his reasoning is theological, part practical.
“The priesthood is an institution of God’s grace and cannot be defeated by anything,” Father Newman said. “We must maintain that trust in his providence. Also, I am in conversation with seven young men at Furman University (where he is the Catholic chaplain) and St. Mary’s who may be hearing God’s call to a priestly vocation. That’s a hopeful sign.”
He noted that there are currently 17 men in seminary for the Diocese of Charleston. Considering that there are only 50 active diocesan priests in the whole state, he said, the number of seminarians is proportionally large.
Bishop Robert J. Baker said that the sense of optimism and the strong faith that Cassabon spoke about will eventually serve to offset the recent crisis caused by the national scandal of sex abuse by priests. He said that he had a wonderful discussion with the seminarians for the diocese at their summer meeting last month at Camp St. Christopher on Seabrook Island, and came away with their optimistic outlook.
“We will see a turnaround,” Bishop Baker said. “There are many blessings on the horizon.”
Cassabon said that priestly vocations are not the only ones that will benefit from “this new faith in Christ” that he perceives in his generation. He sees young men and women donating their time to things like pro-life activities and other ministries of the church. He said that marriage vocations will also be strengthened as these folk mature.
“These are husbands and wives who really want to be parents, who put God into their family life. I think it’s pretty clear that the future looks good,” Cassabon said.