The Catholic Commentator 

St. Margaret Queen of Scotland Church, sits cradled among the towering pine trees of Albany, its roots deeply planted in its Hungarian culture. 

Seminarians for the Diocese of Baton Rouge include, bottom row, left to right, Alex Ruch, Matthew Dunn, James Vu, Michael Graugnard, Joseph St. Cyr and John Vu; middle row, Tres Turner, Austin Young, Deacon Tim Grimes, Danny Roussel, Nicholas Lyons, Joseph Bergan, Jesse Barrow and Joseph Bresowar; top row, Taylor Sanford, Albert Blount and Jeremy Lopez. Photo provided by the Vocations Office of the Diocese of Baton Rouge

 

Not considered a large parish, although the quaint church which oozes charm of yesteryear is beginning to stretch the seams a bit, St. Margaret has developed a reputation as being the torchbearer in the Diocese of Baton Rouge for supporting and encouraging seminarians.  

“When I got here (six years ago) I noticed (St. Margaret) was a place ripe for vocations,” pastor Father Jamin David said. “People don’t actively discourage vocations, which I think is very important, but at the same time the community is able to propagate vocations.  

“It’s in a subtle way, just being in the community that is close knit where the church is at the center of the community. There is that natural encouragement to serve the church in extraordinary ways.” 

Currently, three young men are in various stages of religious formation, including seminarian Nick Lyons. Through the years several others have chosen the religious life from the parish Father David calls “seminary friendly.”  

St. Margaret was also one of the first parishes in the diocese to form a vocations committee, developing a matrix that others are now beginning to emulate. The vocations committee, along with the Knights of Columbus and the Ladies Auxiliary, put on a number of events throughout the year benefitting seminarians. Perhaps the largest is a school supply drive at the beginning of the school year. Supplies include the standard school supplies as well as gift cards and other items that may be required during the year. Those supplies are then delivered to St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict and Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans for the seminarians from the diocese. 

Other activities include a crawfish boil in the spring, the baking of cookies in early December as the seminarians prepare for their final exams and the adoption of a seminarian to provide support in various ways throughout the year. 

During Vocations Awareness Week, which this year began Nov. 5 and concludes Nov. 12, parishioners are active in distributing literature and prayer cards. Also during that week, either a seminarian or a deacon candidate are invited to speak at the Sunday Masses to discuss their vocation stories. 

Vocations Awareness Week is increasingly important as the church grapples with the priest shortage. Currently, there are 51 active priests serving the diocese’s 64 church parishes. Of those 51, seven are above the age of retirement. 

In the next three to five years, eight additional priests will be eligible to retire and that number grows to 11 in 10 years. 

The diocese is also served by 24 priests from religious orders. 

“There is a vocation shortage, not because there is a shortage of men being called but a shortage of people responding to the call,” said vocations director Father Andrew Merrick. “God created enough men with a call to serve his people. It’s a matter of people responding.” 

Father Merrick cited dwindling Mass attendance as part of the challenge facing the church in attracting not only priests but also men and women religious. Statistics show that only 25 percent of Catholics regularly attend Sunday Mass. 

“You look at that alone,” he said “How many people that are going to Mass are fully giving themselves over as intentional disciples? There is the real crisis, crisis in vocation or marriage and general discipleship.” 

He said the church needs to educate people more about the priesthood and what a priest does, but he added that is secondary to the new evangelization of living one’s life in the Holy Spirit, developing a deep connection to the sacraments. 

He said Vocations Awareness Week is an opportunity to bring to the forefront the vocation of religious life. He said it is a time to encourage young men and women to discern in a particular way to be open to the call of the consecrated or religious life. 

“There is a lot going on and a lot of things that can distract you from really pursuing what God wants,” he said. “It’s sometimes too much noise that just keeps us from being quiet. The call comes from deep within the heart, and it is in the silence of the heart that we hear the call.” 

Currently, the diocese has 17 seminarians, a number Father Merrick calls average for a diocese the size of Baton Rouge. But he emphasized he is looking for quality and not quantity when it comes to priest candidates. 

“We want more men but our first thing is looking for quality men that God is calling,” Father Merrick said. “Not perfect men.” 

Father David shares Father Merrick’s concern regarding the priest shortage but takes pride in watching how his parishioners remain proactive in trying to encourage seminarian formation. He said the parish has taken on the identity of a teaching parish, as noted by the fact seven seminarians have been assigned to St. Margaret during the past six years. 

“Exposure is one of the big things on our vocations agenda,” Father David said. “Just by (the seminarians) being involved in parish ministry allows the young people to see these guys are normal. Young people being around the seminarians makes them consider (the religious life).”

“It is a sense of pride,” he added. “It’s nurturing and supporting seminarians, helping mold them into the type of priests we need. 

“(Parishioners) have taken on that role, just to acclimate men into that type of lifestyle they are desiring.”

 

The Catholic Commentator provides an inside look at seminarian Danny Roussel and deacon candidate Paul Soileau.

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Danny Roussel

What did you do before entering the seminary?  

My life before the seminary I worked for PepsiCo for 17 years as the plant’s quality control manager, and although it was a great job I knew God had a different calling for my life. I was involved in my home parish as a Knights of Columbus member, perpetual Eucharist adoration adorer, co-leader and guitarist/vocalist in our parish’s contemporary choir and also a lector. My church parish ministries always fulfilled me more than my career, without a doubt. 

What convinced you to enter the seminary? 

When the plant closed I was offered a relocation to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I turned that down because I couldn’t imagine not living in southeast Louisiana. In the yearlong severance package I received, I met with my pastor and started spiritual direction and one thing led to another and here I am in my fourth year of formation at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and I couldn’t be happier!  

People may be surprised to learn this about me: 

We had a Catholic Leadership Institute session earlier this semester and my personality was rated as an “extroverted acceptor.” Basically what you see is what you get, so no surprises. 

Other interests:

Playing acoustic guitar, reading and hanging out with friends. 

What is your profession? 

I am a chemical engineer and have worked in the chemical industry for the past 29 years.  Specifically for the past 15 years I have been a plant manager in both Plaquemine and Seadrift, Texas.  I have recently taken on a new role for my company that requires me to travel to many of our manufacturing sites and evaluate the opportunities for energy reduction and reliability improvement. 

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Paul Soileau

Tell us about your family 

My wife Jill and I recently celebrated our 33-year anniversary.  We have two children that joined our family by adoption through Catholic Community Services in Baton Rouge.  

What parts of the diaconate attract you? 

I was lead to the diaconate for the main purpose of being of service to our diocesan priests.  As we have seen lately in the Diocesan Task Force Report, the diocese is growing in numbers of parishioners but the numbers of priests are shrinking.  Many of us who interact with our priests see that they just have too much on their plate, and so what draws me to the diaconate is the desire to help our priests in whatever way is needed to free them up to become the holy priests that Jesus called them to be. 

What would people be surprised to learn about you?  

I was born and raised in New Orleans in a family with four brothers and one sister.  My oldest brother, Brian, was ordained to the diaconate in 2015 in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and my youngest brother, Stephen, was elected deacon in his Baptist church in Covington.