Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Harvest is Great Laborers Needed: Overcoming Obstacles to the Priesthood

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by Sam Alzheimer

For every 100 priests who die or retire, only 30 men are being ordained. That’s the recent finding from CARA, an organization which studies demographic trends in the U.S. Catholic Church. The Diocese of Shreveport is particularly impacted by a priesthood shortage: only three diocesan priests are under age 50, and we have only had one ordination in the last 11 years.

Nonetheless, Vocations Director, Fr. Matthew Long, is optimistic. “I’m filled with hope right now!” he said enthusiastically.  “Our number of seminarians is going to increase this year, and the average age is going to go down.”
At 37, Fr. Long is the youngest priest in the diocese, and is nearing the end of his first year as Vocations Director. He recently attended a conference with other vocations directors in the region to discuss the challenges of their unique work.

“My greatest would-be allies in vocations ministry are priests and parents,” he said.  He cited the USCCB’s just-released survey of men being ordained this summer, in which 67% say parish priests were their biggest influence.
“The problem is that other studies show that only 30% of parish priests are actively inviting guys to consider priesthood,” he said. “I think we priests need to better express the joy and fulfillment that we experience from our own vocation. Young men are inspired when they see the priesthood well-lived.”

But while priests can impact young men, parents are often more influential. Fr. Long says that in his work with young men who are considering priesthood – especially men of high school age – parents shape critical decisions.
“Parents want their children to be successful in life, and I understand that,” said Fr. Long. “My parents were the same way, but the problem is the definition of success. Are parents more focused on academic and athletic success, which is fleeting, than on their son’s spiritual health, his eternal soul? I tell parents that there are no plans they can make for their child that are better than God’s plans.”

Sometimes, even good Catholic parents steer their sons away from seminary. “I often hear parents say they want their son to experience ‘real life’ first, or have a ‘normal college experience.’”

The reality is that most people don’t understand what seminary is like. It’s not a monastery where men walk around dark halls in strict silence. Rather, visitors to modern American seminaries are impressed by the joyful camaraderie of seminarians. It’s a college environment with study, sports and nights on the town – but balanced with prayer, spiritual direction and serious discernment of whether a man is being called to be a priest.

“Going to seminary is not a commitment to become a priest,” emphasized Fr. Long.  In fact, because of the years-long process, it’s far less likely that a man will mistakenly advance toward ordination than for a young man to jump into an ill-advised marriage.

“Guys who go to seminary and then discern out are better for it,” he said. “They’re grateful for the experience, for the formation and knowledge, which often makes them better Catholic husbands and fathers. Many former seminarians point to seminary as the most valuable experience in their lives.”

A major consideration for most seminarians is whether they are being called to celibacy. In the wake of the sexual abuse scandals, seminary personnel are highly aware that any man who is ordained must be psycho-sexually healthy. Thus training in the virtue of chastity is a high priority, and seminarians take it seriously.

Celibacy alone, though, is not the determining factor about whether a man is called to priesthood. As Fr. Long puts it, rather bluntly: “You can’t make decisions about eternity based on whether or not you get to have sex.”

“For me, celibacy is very life-giving,” he said. “Every time I come in contact with a child I have baptized, I am affirmed in my celibacy. The same is true when I see couples whose marriages I witnessed. The priest transmits life through witnessing marriage, through baptism—all of the same things that a parent transmits on the natural level, the priest transmits on a spiritual level.  That’s the deepest reason for celibacy—to be unattached to any particular person in order to be available to minister to the spiritual needs of all people.”

Nonetheless, celibacy is a real sacrifice, says Fr. Long.  “Priests, on some level, do mourn the absence of a wife and family. I think my parents looked forward to holding my children. But you know, when they see my happiness, it really does make up for it.  Interestingly, now that I’m a priest, I actually get to spend more quality time with my parents than I would otherwise.”

Looking towards the challenges of his job, Fr. Long says that his experience working with young people gives him hope. “I’m seeing a new influx of young men asking what God wants them to do with their lives, and I’m really impressed by the quality of men we have in seminary.  I sense we’re on the cusp of something great.  The most glorious days of the diocese are ahead of us!”

Stats on Newest Priests
Earlier this year, 366 men scheduled to be  ordained priests this summer were surveyed.
Some of the findings include:

• Average age of the class of 2013 is 35.5.
92% are cradle Catholics.
Two thirds are Caucasian.
One third were born outside the U.S.
62% report full-time work experience before entering seminary.
• On average, ordinands were 17 when they first thought about priesthood.
Half said they were discouraged by at least one person from entering seminary.
• About 43 percent had attended Catholic grade school, high school, or college.
One-quarter carry educational debt, with the average being $15,000.
67% of ordinands said a parish priest encouraged them to become a priest.
• Only 28% reported that their fathers encouraged them to become a priest, and 30% reported that their dad discouraged them.
• Only 34% reported that their mothers encouraged them to become a priest, and 28% reported that their mom discouraged them.
47% had participated in a parish youth group.
67% had been altar servers.
62% reported spending regular time in Eucharistic Adoration before entering seminary.
68% regularly prayed the rosary before entering seminary.

Vocations Crucifix Program

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“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37) This certainly strikes home. The Diocese of Shreveport has had only one ordination to the priesthood in the past 11 years. Close to half of the priests in our diocese are missionary priests. Only three of our priests are younger than 50 and several are rapidly approaching retirement age. Some of our priests are technically retired, but are still active in ministry. We are blessed to have five seminarians, but it takes as long as eight years for a new seminarian to be ordained. It is urgent for us to “pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

In response to this need, some of our parishes have begun a Vocations Crucifix Program. The purpose of the program is not only to pray for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but to also offer prayerful support for our current priests and seminarians. At the end of every weekend Mass, the celebrant gives a blessing to the family who has chosen to receive the vocations crucifix into their home. This family agrees to place the crucifix in a place of prominence and pray for religious and priestly vocations that week. On the following weekend they return the crucifix so it can be passed on to a different family. The crucifix is in a box that also contains a packet with a letter suggesting other ways to support vocations and explaining the program. Included in the box is a prayer card, which offers an easy way to pray for each of our priests and seminarians by name over the course of a month. There is a sign-up book at the back of the church for people to participate in the program.

The initial response to this program has been strong and generous, and at least one of the local Catholic schools has picked up the program and is now presenting the vocations crucifix to a particular home room at the weekly school Mass. Not only are the priests and seminarians benefitting from the prayers of these children, but the children are being blessed by their frequent exposure to the idea of discerning a vocation. Another nice benefit is that people participating in the program are corresponding with the seminarians to let them know of their prayers and support.
The goal of the Vocations Crucifix Program is to encourage our churches to remember to pray for vocations not just sporadically, but perpetually. My hope is that all parishes in the diocese will adopt this crucial apostolate, essential for the future of the Church. The Lord cannot be outdone in generosity. All we have to do is ask.

If you are interested in starting a Vocations Crucifix Program at your parish, contact Fr. Matthew Long, Vocations Director, at 318- 868-4441.

by Mary Frances Parker, mother of seminarian John Parker.

Sisters Part of Local History

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The Diocese of Shreveport has been blessed to have a consistent presence of religious women within our area during its entire history. One of the most well known group of sisters is the Daughters of the Cross, whose motherhouse was located where the current Catholic Center is situated. There is also another group of sisters, the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows, whose presence in our diocese since 1947 has been a blessing. They were invited to north Louisiana by Bishop Charles Greco and have been serving the needs of the poor, the marginalized and others ever since. Their motherhouse and house of formation are located in Shreveport where they serve both the residents of Holy Angels Residential Facility and the children attending the Renzi Education and Art Center, an early childhood development center.

The Congregations of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows was founded in 1839 in Coriano, Italy, by Blessed Elisabetta Renzi.  Mother Elisabetta was committed to providing both human and Christian formation and education to the children and young women of her time. There were many who benefited from Mother’s work in education and her assistance to the poor. She was a channel of God’s love to all she met and her work is continued through the Sisters of OLS.

In October of 1947, the Congregation moved beyond the borders of Italy and opened its first mission in Louisiana.  Today, the sisters continue to work in educating the young and the poor in six countries around the world (Italy, U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe).

United with Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows at the foot of the cross, they are consecrated totally to Jesus crucified. Their life consists of communal prayer with Liturgy of Hours, daily Mass, daily recitation of the rosary, spiritual reading, meditation and weekly adoration. Following in the footsteps of their foundress and rooted in Christ, Crucified and Risen, they continue weaving their history to make the gift of God present to all.

Young women seeking to follow Christ as a Sister of Our Lady of Sorrows are invited to retreats offered several times a year. The retreats provide young women with an opportunity to spend time in prayer and to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ. The retreats offer opportunities for Holy Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, Confessions, Divine Office, silence, personal prayer and sharing with others who seek to know and love God in a radical way.  For more information on their upcoming retreats, please visit their website – www.ols.org, or contact: Sister Fatima Aphiri, OLS; (337) 322 9983, or vocations@ols.org.

by Sr. Fatima Aphiri, OLS and Fr. Matthew Long

University of Dallas Students Celebrate Final Class

Catholics from across the Diocese of Shreveport have been meeting together, taking classes and studying through a program sponsored by the Diocese of Shreveport and the University of Dallas. This four year program is coming to a close and the students gathered together at the Catholic Center for one of their final classes on May 4.

Daughters of the Cross Relocate

The two remaining Daughters of the Cross Sisters, Sr. Maria Smith and Sr. Lucy Scallan, moved to Montclair Park Assisted Living on E. Kings Hwy in Shreveport. Bishop Duca ate lunch with Sr. Maria to see if there was anything he or his staff could do. She appreciated his kindness and interest in helping them to close the convent and move to an assisted living. Sr. Sharon Rambin was so instrumental in the success of closing a convent that has been in Louisiana since 1855. Both sisters would love to hear from any of their former students, families and friends. Sr. Maria: 318-797-3340; Sr. Lucy: 318-795-0477.

St. Joseph Youth Help Homeless

On April 10, The EDGE Middle School Youth Group of St. Joseph Church in Shreveport gathered in the kitchen to assemble 70 tacos and all the trimmings to take to the clients at the Hope House. Hope House is a day shelter where the hungry and homeless come to shower, wash clothes and check their mail. As the group left St. Joseph, the sky opened up and the rain began. When they arrived at Hope House, the hungry women and men were waiting inside. The middle-schoolers carried the trays of food onto the porch and then joined the clients in a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing. The group distributed the food and drinks and watched as the clients walked out into the pouring rain to eat and sleep in circumstances unfamiliar to the young people.

Zwolle Children Received Attendance Awards

Parish School of Religion children at St. Joseph Church in Zwolle received Perfect Attendance awards from their teacher Luci Parrie at the end of their classes. Pictured: Jordyn Tramel with her award.

Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Church Honors Students

Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Church presented certificates to those in the parish who made the honor roll for the third nine weeks. Pictured (l to r): Sydni Henson, LeAsia Bailey, Jacoby Bailey, Adrian Green, Adriane Aytone, Fr. Andre McGrath, Lyndon Green, Edward Lee, Krisha Aytone, Sean Woodfork, Jordan Joshua and coordinators Tim Ford and Ramona Green.

Groundbreaking for St. Francis Community Health Center

A Groundbreaking and Blessing of the Soil was held on April 17 for the new St. Francis Community Health Center on the corner of Tower and Fulton in Monroe. In opening remarks, Sr. Kathleen Cain, FMOL Provincial, said, “This new site marks a milestone in St. Francis’ 100 years of extending the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to those most in need, one that reflects our continued commitment to our community and to our mission.” Services at this new location will include: speech, physical and occupational therapy, cardiac rehab, radiology, laboratory, pharmacy, occupational medicine, convenience clinic, Diabetes and Nutrition Center and physician offices.

Sacred Heart Teens Celebrate Faith

Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Shreveport Life Teen youth had a blast at Encounter Faith 2013 at the Catholic Center and look forward to their next adventure at COVECREST in Tiger and Hiawasse, GA for summer camp!