This school year, more children in diocesan schools will be given the chance to pray for the men who have chosen to devote their lives to serving God. The Adopt a Seminarian program, implemented in Mary Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School in Cheektowaga in 2013-14, will be expanding to take place in more elementary schools, ideally all 35 of them, by the third week of September.
The program enables children to provide spiritual "adoption" and support for the seminarians studying at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. The children may write to and email the men, pray for them and send them messages of encouragement as they continue along their journey to the priesthood. Classes are provided with prayer bookmarks with photos of and contact information for each seminarian. Students are encouraged to pray in school and at home, with the encouragement of parents or guardians.
"We want 35 schools, and all the students, praying daily for an increase in vocations to the priesthood," said James Grubka, a former president of the Serra Club of Buffalo, who continues to lead efforts to promote vocations in the diocese. "If you look at the number of vocations that increased, from 12 to 38 or 39, you can't not attribute it to people praying. More than 40 percent of the diocese is praying this prayer for vocations, and we're hopefully going to implement the rest of the diocese this year."
Last month, Grupka spoke with principals of diocesan schools at Erie 1 BOCES in West Seneca to give them more information. "I addressed them and explained to them that, one, we're trying to get the entire diocese, (Bishop Richard J. Malone) is on board with this, to have all the Catholic grammar schools praying for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious," he said.
In order to begin the program, the principals will receive packets of information to be provided to their teachers, as well as some of the 168,000 Adopt a Seminarian prayer bookmarks the diocese has printed for distribution in the schools. A letter will also be sent home with students, including a bookmark, asking parents to pray with their children, over dinner, on behalf of vocations.
"Mary Queen of Angels was the first school on board, and (Principal Mary Alice Bagwell) got up and spoke and said how wonderful it was for the children, the experience of a seminarian that they prayed for that was just ordained a week earlier, came and spoke with them, had Mass, and it was just an amazing experience," Grubka said in August. "Notre Dame Academy in South Buffalo is definitely going to do it. I'm meeting with (Principal Kimberly Suminski) next week with the cards to implement it."
Father Walter J. Szczesny, director of vocations for the diocese, said his office has been responsible for printing the bookmarks. Father Szczesny said of the program, "It's extremely successful so far. The people in the parishes love it. The seminarians love it, and it's a great way of getting the message out and supporting them. Once these fellows come to the seminary, it's not like, 'Okay, you're done.' These people are supporting us along the way. They're praying for us. Some of them are emailing or calling."
"I think it makes it a little more personal, that these aren't just little priests already. They're real people that are still journeying toward priesthood. Yes, there's a lot of joy, but yeah, there are still some challenges, also, and it makes them feel they're not alone in this journey, which is kind of nice for that," Father Szczesny added. He also emphasized that the bookmarks feature the diocesan seal and seminarians' pictures, and details such as the seminarian's birthday, hometown and age personalize them.
As of Aug. 22, Christ the King Seminary was in the process of enrolling this year's newest seminarians. Once the seminarians settled in, each of the newest seminarians were to have pictures taken and submit brief biographies of themselves to be included on the diocesan website. Father Szczesny said this is the information that will be used to create the bookmarks, so people may begin praying for them.
Grubka said his goal for the Adopt a Seminarian program is to create one unifying force with a common goal, with support of Bishop Malone, diocesan Superintendent of Schools Sister Carol Cimino, SSJ, and Secretary for Education Carol Kostyniak. "It is a no-brainer that everyone should support. Everyone's talking about evangelization, and we need to pray more as a family," Grubka said. "Father John Adams (ordained on June 7) specifically said the prayers, letters, emails and cards he received from the various schools and churches helped him through days of doubt, and that's really critical."