Priests Called to Support Parish-level Vocation Ministry
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
October 5, 2017

ROCKFORD—God’s humor is not lost on Rhonda Gruenewald, the keynote speaker to priests of the Rockford Diocese at Presbytery Day, Sept. 12.

She is a wife, mother, author and speaker on parish vocation ministries. She is also a convert to Catholicism, and she laughs at the irony of it all.

The ministry began out of necessity.

In 2011, Gruenewald was asked by her parish’s new parochial vicar to help promote vocations in her Texas parish. She went hunting for resources and found nothing, so she began from scratch.

Her book, “Hundredfold,” was written 17 months later, after people in other parishes noticed something good was going on and began to ask how they could follow her parish’s lead.

Laity can help, too

Presbytery Day introduced Rhonda Gruenewald, her book, website and ideas to the priests. She will return to the Rockford Diocese to provide training to men and women who are interested in being a part of this parish-based effort.

Her next presentation will be Oct. 21, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., at St. Rita Parish hall, 6254 Valley Knoll Dr., in Rockford.

The materials and presentations will be available in Spanish that day also.

Contact your pastor for more information.

The book, website, speaking engagements to priests and laity all around the country — “never was my plan,” Gruenewald says.

Her personal story, she adds, is “to show you God can work through anyone who says, ‘Yes.’ ”

Saying “yes” to God’s call is at the heart of vocation ministry.

The ministry includes God’s invitations to the priesthood and religious life — and His call to the sacrament of marriage.

A quote from Mark 4:8 — the parable about seed falling on good ground and increasing a hundredfold — is her vocation ministry model.

“We must prepare the soil,” Gruenewald told the priests. “That is a collective ‘we.’ Priests, yes, but vocation ministry is not just your job. We (laity) are tilling the soil and watering it with prayers.

“Parishioners need guidance from you as to how to seek God’s will in our lives,” she adds, encouraging the priests to “help them ask the right questions.”

The work of parish-based vocation ministry, she says, is for laity. Men and women in the pews realize there are fewer priests and notice the lack of  religious sisters in most schools, she said, but “laity don’t know they can help in this.”

The “Hundredfold” book, she says, “was written for ordinary Catholics as an A-Z guide on how to inspire the next generation.”

Fewer vocations do not mean God is calling less people, she says. Quoting a recent survey, she shared that many are first called between the ages of 13-18 and a lot of youths consider the idea of religious life and the priesthood as preteens. Approaching marriage as a vocation and discerning that vocation certainly could help shrink divorce statistics, she says.

In her work in dioceses around the U.S., Gruenewald has noticed that the “typical” person to head a parish vocation ministry is a woman aged 45-65 or older who has children and grandchildren and who wants to build up the Church. That, of course, is not a given, she adds, noting how a very successful vocation ministry in a Peoria parish is run by three married couples with young children.

What matter when seeking someone to head a parish vocation ministry, she says, is to look for someone: 1. who loves the Church, Jesus and Mary; and, 2. who has respect for the priesthood.

“The priest’s role is as a spiritual guide” for the group, she says, also strongly recommending that the task of leadership not be given to a member of the parish staff. But the vocation ministry leaders should look around and widen its reach of helpers to include perhaps the Knights of Columbus, youth ministers and Scout leaders.

The foundation of a vocation ministry is the organizing of prayers for vocations, she says, adding that Step One is to consecrate the ministry to Jesus through Mary.

And always “start small,” she says. “Vocation ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.”