When intending to provide the best assistance to discerners, especially to those of high school age, it has become clear to me that family members, especially parents, play a large part. In many cases, parents have been of tremendous help on their sons' vocational journey, and much appreciation is due to them. Sometimes, when a high school student musters up enough courage to share that he is feeling a call to priesthood, the parents are stopped in their tracks. This surprise can be followed by a number of possible reactions.
Some parents might feel their son is simply too young to make such a big decision. They may feel troubled by priesthood being different from the future they have envisioned for their son. Some may feel that their prayers have been answered. Others may know little about the road to priesthood and feel unable to give him the proper guidance, support, and encouragement. It is clear that the work of our vocations ministry ought to include assisting family members of discerners, especially parents of high school students.
This past year, thanks to the Serra Club of Buffalo and Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, some special programs designed to assist high school discerners and parents have been created. Breakfast and Games was held at the seminary in the spring. This event was open to all high school boys, not exclusively those with a strong conviction to a vocation.
The day began with a Mass and brunch. Attendees joined their peers, seminarians and faculty members on a tour of the grounds, followed by more activities. Guests had the chance to interact with seminarians and faculty, hear stories, and ask questions. At the end, parents of the participants had an opportunity to meet members of the community and myself. A similar event was held in the summer. Prayers, treats and stories were shared around a bonfire, hence the event name, Bonfire and Games. Thanks to camaraderie formed via these events, the St. Joseph Club, a discernment program for high school boys considering the priesthood, welcomed a handful of new members.
The St. Joseph Club, named in honor of St. Joseph, patron of the Diocese of Buffalo, has existed for several years. This year, thanks again to the Serra Club of Buffalo, the St. Joseph's Club has been able to enhance its service and extend its pool of resources. Since my appointment as diocesan vocation director, the Serra Club has not only presented new ideas for improving vocations ministry, but provided all of the assistance and support necessary for making their ideas come to life. Their ideas and insights have especially interested me because many Serrans are parents. Their perspective is invaluable to me as I reach out to young men who have shown interest in priesthood.
Serra Club member Mrene Corra, whose sons, Eric and Andrew, are St. Joseph Club members, suggested a plan where meetings would include activities and resources for parents of the members. In this plan, the parents of current seminarians would be invited to share experiences with parents of discerners. They would be able to share their feelings and ask questions about everything from hearing from their sons that they would like to be priests, to watching them pack up to begin their seminary career. Upon hearing this, I was thoroughly impressed by its cleverness, and a plan to implement this new approach followed shortly thereafter.
At a St. Joseph Club meeting last November, I spoke with the students about discernment, while the parents' session occurred in the next room. Parents met Susan Santandreu and Robert and Barbara Courtney. Santandreu is the president of the Serra Club of Buffalo and the mother of seminarian Peter Santandreu. The Courtneys are the parents of Ryan Courtney, who began his studies as a seminarian for our diocese at St. Mark's Seminary in Erie, Pa. The three parents shared their experiences with the guests.
Santandreu said, "I knew somewhat about the process of becoming a priest because of my involvement in the Serra Club of Buffalo, but it took on a whole new meaning when my son, Peter, entered Christ the King Seminary. I was happy to be able to share our experience of having a son consider his vocation to the priesthood with other parents whose sons were also discerning that call. Everyone's experience of discernment is different. Each person answers that call in his own way, but it's helpful to share the common experience of what we are all going through along the way."
The Courtneys sent Ryan off to seminary in August 2016. Barbara said, "(This) allowed Bob and I to reflect on what a privilege and blessing it has been for us as parents to witness Ryan's vocation journey, and it also gave us an opportunity to hear how other young men are listening to God's call in their lives. We are really very fortunate here in Western New York that there is a club like St Joseph's to encourage young men and their families to share vocation concerns and experiences."
Andrew Corra, a student member, commented, "It was a good group of guys. We had fun."
The next St. Joseph Club meeting that will include sharing sessions for parents will be on Saturday, March 11. Those interested are encouraged to attend and to invite others. The Vocations Office can be contacted with any questions regarding the event or any related matter.
As the St. Joseph Club continues, it is pleased to have accepted a gift: a vocation prayer chalice from family of seminarian Paul Cygan. Families will take turns having this chalice in their homes as a visual reminder to pray for priests and those with vocations to priesthood. Since prayer is the most effective means of bringing confidence and clarity to finding and pursuing God's will, anything that fosters prayers for vocations is an invaluable tool.