When Father Jeffrey Kirby was first appointed as vicar of vocations, the whole field was on the brink of a huge national shift in how it approached discernment.
Before, vocations departments were there in the background, to help guide young men once they decided to become priests. But as numbers dwindled and priests began to age, people realized there needed to be a change.
For the past 5½ years, Father Kirby has revamped the role of vocations vicar, joining a national movement calling for active involvement to promote vocations and seek out young people who may be called to a religious life.
He has traveled from parish to parish, visiting churches, schools, and college campuses, asking the question “Are you called?” Every week, he spent three to four days on the road, rolling up 365,000 miles on his car.
Along the way, the vicar helped mold and shape the new paradigm of vocations in the diocese, creating tactics and programs that earned his department national and international recognition.
“We’ve made vocations a comfortable topic of discussion,” Father Kirby said. “We’ve created a culture that’s open to vocations.”
Now, his term is ending and he is passing the torch to Father Mark Good, who will assume the full duties of vicar of vocations at the end of June.
Lately, he has been shadowing Father Kirby, growing familiar with his new role and brainstorming plans of his own.
One thing he would like to see this summer involves seminarians who are assigned to parishes. Father Good has asked that they be allowed to branch out and visit other parishes in their area too, to thank people for their support and be the face of discernment.
Father Good also asks his brother priests to help him by passing along the names of potential candidates to the priesthood.
“That’s hugely important — that the individual priests and pastors in the parish keep an eye out,” he said.
Father Good said he will continue the efforts of his predecessor, noting that the groundwork Father Kirby laid is already paying off and will make his job easier.
It will also be a challenge, however, because Father Good will be assigned to a parish. In addition to vocational responsibilities, he will continue to serve as pastor of St. Mary Church on Yonges Island and Sts. Frederick & Stephen Mission on Edisto Island.
It’s a lot to take on, and he’s thankful that Justin Gatea will remain as director of vocations and maintain the website, Facebook and all other aspects of social media.
Father Kirby said the advent of social media was one of the biggest changes over the past five years, and noted that the diocese was at the forefront of the movement, and still is. He added that trends are constantly changing and it’s a challenge to stay relevant in cyberspace.
From the beginning, the need for relevance had Father Kirby’s brain spinning with ideas, which led to his creation of a four-year strategic plan to promote vocations across the diocese.
It was a novel concept, and one that drew acclaim from the BBC, NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” the National Catholic Educational Association and more.
Father Good said he is grateful to have the strategic plan as a guideline, and is excited to go out and find help for the priests in the diocese, to find local men ready and willing to say yes.
“I am very happy and excited for Father Mark Good. He has the right spirit,” Father Kirby said. “It’s a heavy responsibility. Our numbers are declining, our priests are getting older. We have to find the next generation.”
The priest is also excited about his own opportunity to take on new challenges.
So what’s he doing next? “Sleep,” Father Kirby said, laughing.
Maybe, but he’ll also serve as temporary administrator of St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken for three months, and then in October travel to Rome for a year to finish his doctorate in moral theology. After that, it will be up to the bishop. Ideally, Father Kirby said he would like to serve in a parish.
“That is something I am ready for and welcome,” he said. “The past five years have been a blessing, but I am ordained for parish work and ready to be back there.”