ROCKFORD—The first Vianney Vocations Dinner opened with a holy hour of prayer at St. Rita Church, here, on Jan. 4.
After reading the Gospel of the day, Msgr. Aaron Brodeski, diocesan director of vocations, welcomed priests, seminarians and young men who were inquiring about the priesthood. He thanked them for their presence and “for your openness to listen (and) to be open to God’s voice.”
“There is nothing greater we can do in life than to point people to Jesus,” Msgr. Brodeski said in his homily. “We see in the Gospel a wonderful model for all vocations. When John (the Baptist) pointed to Jesus, (the future Apostles) listened. Our participation at Mass is an opportunity for us to imitate the Apostles, to hear (Jesus’) words as speaking to our hearts … .
“Jesus asks them ‘What are you looking for?’ It’s a great question, (one) that each one of us should ponder for ourselves.”
The vocations dinner was designed for young men ages 16-35, to offer information about the priesthood and the discernment process in a casual atmosphere. Additional vocations dinners are in the works for this summer in other locations around the diocese.
The seed for the idea of such dinners came from a conversation Bishop David J. Malloy says he had with the bishop of Cologne last fall. Bishop Malloy and Msgr. Brodeski named the dinners for the patron saint of parish priests, St. John Vianney.
This first dinner attracted more than 19 young men from all four corners of the diocese — including Rock Falls, Freeport, Durand, Wayne, Big Rock, Crystal Lake, McHenry, Aurora, Algonquin, South Beloit and the Rockford area.
Carlos Rodriguez came from Huntley after being invited by one of his parish priests. He hoped, he said, to learn “a little more about the seminary” after hearing “mixed messages from the media.”
Brian Lucca also came from St. Mary Parish in Huntley. “Generally, I feel called to marriage,” Lucca said, but added that he’d be ready “if God throws a curve (ball)” his way.
Eleventh-grader Garrett Miller heard about the dinner from his pastor at St. Mary Parish in Durand, and Warren Melton, also a high school junior, picked up a slip about the event at Newman Central Catholic High School in Sterling. Both are in the “just thinking about it” stage and appreciated the easy-to-approach setting of the dinner. “I’m in sports all year long (and this) was easier to come to” than other vocations events have been, Melton said.
The social time and dinner gave the young men a chance to visit with the bishop as well as priests and seminarians. After the dinner, two seminarians, Robert Blood and Nicholas Sentovich shared their experiences at their respective seminaries, noting in particular the camaraderie that develops among seminarians.
Msgr. Brodeski provided information about some of the practical discernment tools including the step-by-step course of study, spiritual formation, human and pastoral formation, and the application process itself.
“I don’t do arm twisting,” Msgr. Brodeski said. “Our goal is not to recruit. The goal is to discern, (and) I encourage you to come and see me, and also to talk openly and freely with your (parish) priests … It’s a very thorough process.”
Bishop Malloy also spoke after the dinner. “I would be willing to bet that everybody (here) is in a little bit of a different place,” he said, counseling the young men “not to feel pressure” as they ponder the idea of becoming a priest.
“Ask Christ, but don’t feel trapped, don’t feel pressured,” he said, noting that the diocese and seminary faculty members all will help and “try to walk with you” through the process.
Bishop Malloy said that being a priest “is not easy … but it’s worth doing.” He recalled happening upon a stranger at an airport who noticed his collar and asked him to hear his confession.
Fulfilling that request in a quiet corner of the busy airport was unexpected but important, Bishop Malloy said, concluding, “Priests really have that sense (that we) give ourselves to something really, really worthwhile.”