It's been just about a year since Father Andrew Lauricella exchanged his role of a parish priest for an office in the downtown Buffalo Catholic Center. He now serves as the director of vocations for the diocese. He has gone from bringing God to the people, to bringing people to God.
"When I first began in June of 2015, the first while took some good transitioning time for me, personally," he recalled. "Getting out of the parish mindset, working in a ministry with the premise that everybody is called to be a disciple of Christ, and that potential is a given in anybody. But then coming into this job; not everybody is called to priesthood. So I realized I had to put a lot more emphasis on discernment, scrutiny, some careful probing of the person, their background and their intentions, their qualifications, realizing that this is a vocation that not everybody has, that it is a privilege. It is the ones that Christ has called. That was the shift. All people's vocation is to be a disciple of Christ, but not everybody's is to the priesthood."
Father Lauricella has a twofold purpose. For men considering the priesthood, he serves as a guide for discernment. When someone feels the call to serve God in the role of a priest, the first one he will talk to, after friends and family, is the man on the third floor. He helps people look inside themselves to determine their vocation. He doesn't like to use the word "recruit," insisting that a call to his office will lead to a discussion on all forms of vocations, not a drafting into the priesthood.
"It's guiding people along, guiding people through discernment, guiding people through the application process, giving them encouragement, giving them direction. Basically, helping people find God's will for them," Father Lauricella explained.
The second job is taking it to the streets and spreading the word to parishes and groups throughout the diocese, telling people to keep their minds and hearts open to the priesthood. Even if they do not feel a personal calling, they can still have a role in the ministry.
"They all have a part in fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life. That's something that John Paul II reminded us. He mentioned that in his letter 'Pastores Dabo Vobis,' that came out in the early '90s. It is something that has resonated very well with me. I try to remind people that the Church is counting on them for their work in fostering vocations through their prayers and through their help in making connections," he said.
He reminds pastors, teachers, youth ministers and coaches of their role in promoting vocations. Even if the priesthood is not for you, God may have put someone in your path. You may be the first person to suggest the priesthood to him.
After his ordination in 2012, Father Lauricella served as parochial vicar at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Niagara Falls, where the parishioners became a second family to him. Leaving the parish life that most priests look forward to during their studies at seminary for an office job took some adjustment.
"There were some things that were tough to leave behind in that transition. While I have enjoyed the variety of seeing many different communities, parishes, it was tough leaving behind the one family that I was able to call my own," he said. "Another thing that was an adjustment was a lot more time in the office. That took some self-discipline for me to get into that routine, because when I was doing parish work, I wasn't bound to the desk as often as I am now."
Officially, his office is comprised of only two people - himself and secretary Michele Passafiume, but a big support comes in the form of the Serra Club of Buffalo. The Serra Club is an international organization, including 255 American chapters and a presence in a total of 40 countries, that promotes vocations to the Catholic priesthood and religious life. The Serra Club has supported those on their journey through an Adopt a Seminarian program, where parishioners can help those studying at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora through financial support and prayer.
"Father Andrew has been wonderful," said Susan Santandreu, president of the Buffalo chapter. "He was very open, right from the very beginning, about wanting to be involved and wanting to work with us, and very thankful for everything we do. He's always thanking us all the time for all the assistance, anything we help him with. So, he's been very easy to get along with."
He's very clear on what he wants to see, but at the same time accommodating to what the Serra Club wants to do. Recently, the club sponsored a brunch and games day for high school boys who wanted to know more about the priesthood. Seminarians, priests and even a married man told the 20 teens about their vocational calls and gave a tour around the seminary.
"Father Andrew was right there through the whole planning process and the whole day when they were there, at Mass on a Sunday," said Santandreu.
Shortly after taking over from Father Walter Szcszesny, Father Lauricella noticed the great amount of support that came from the Serra Club, as well as pastors, youth minsters, campus ministers at the colleges, directors of religious education programs, and the staff of the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
"A lot of them really valued my ministry, really took the initiative to reach out to me, and really wanted vocation awareness and the invitations for our young men to ask to consider. I found that to be very encouraging," he said, adding that he often accepts their invitations to visit or have conversations with them about different ways of enhancing vocations awareness, and better fostering prayers for vocations.
Currently, 12 men are in various stages of application. Some are in high school and too young to formally apply. Father Lauricella meets with them to talk about discernment. There is no typical background for seminarian. The diocese has seen men fresh from college enter the seminary, along with older men having a change in their career path. Many come from good homes with strong examples of faith taught by parents. Father Lauricella pointed out that nurturing parents can help, but "Christ calls who He wills."
"In these times, I think that our faith is challenged more. I think that we are presented with opportunities to really ask ourselves what we believe. "We're in an age now where, in the political scene, there are many different ideas, views, perspectives, and ideologies being thrown around. I think that has prompted a lot of people, young and old, to examine their faith and ask what they believe and why they believe it. In the consequential probing, their sense of vocation has been become clearer."
Father Lauricella oversees two groups of people who have felt a call to priesthood. The St. Joseph Club is open to all high school men who wish to take a serious look at their lives and grow personally, emotionally and spiritually. Each member is asked to attend the club's meetings and events in an attempt to discern and understand God's call in their life. At meetings, teens will look at key issues involving priesthood, such as simplicity of life, celibacy, respect and obedience to the bishop, and the role of priests as spiritual fathers.
For college-aged and older men, the Response Program is a process of ongoing prayer and discernment. It provides for the spiritual growth needs of those who are looking at diocesan priesthood as a possible vocation response, as well as offering a forum for the mutual support needed for discerning a call to a priestly vocation.