By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

Encouraging young men and women to consider a call to religious life will be the focus of National Vocations Week, scheduled Nov. 3-9.

During weekend Masses, priests will preach on the theme “May God Make You Worthy of His Calling.” The Prayers of the Faithful will also focus on vocations.

Additionally, tips on how families can nurture vocations within their own family will be distributed.

“It’s kind of a broad approach; you are preaching to prospective candidates but you are also preaching to the influencers: parents, grandparents, people who might influence someone who has a call inside,” said Father Matthew Lorrain, director of vocations for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. “If there are some high school or college students (at Mass) you want to reach them but you also want to speak to the families. 

“Families can sometimes encourage or sometimes discourage someone to consider a vocation. We want to send the message out to everyone.”

The diocese currently has 16 seminarians in formation, and although Father Lorrain said the target number would exceed 20, he is “not complaining.”

“We are very grateful for these 16 because we feel like they are all good quality men,” he said. “We are very happy with what God is doing in the church and in our diocese. It gives us a lot of hope for the future.”

Citing the number of Catholics in the diocese, its size, the exceptional quality of religious education in the schools and various youth ministry programs, Father Lorrain said the potential exists to exceed that 20-seminarian mark. He pointed out to achieve  the goal young people need encouragement from their parish priests.

“The pastor is one of the  greatest influences of vocations,” Father Lorrain said. “God is obviously the one that plants the seeds of religious formation in someone’s heart but we can also be God’s mouthpiece.

“God might extend that invitation to someone through the priest, youth minister, religious educators or the parent or grandparent.”

“For so long it was the religious sisters who taught in our Catholic schools and they were our greatest recruiters,” he added. “That is one of the reasons why we had such great numbers at one time. Now, most of our Catholic schools are laity who do a great job, but we haven’t replaced the role of those sisters to call forth young men to at least serving God as a priest.”

The Diocese of Baton Rouge, similar to many others around the country, is experiencing a shortage of priests. In some areas, parishes have been clustered or perhaps some Masses discontinued. 

Father Lorrain, pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Brusly,  cited the example of a lack of a Sunday evening Mass on the west bank of the Mississippi River. According to the annual Mass schedule published by The Catholic Commentator, the only Sunday evening Mass along the west bank, covering an area from Port Allen to Labadieville, is at St. Elizabeth Church in Paincourtville.

“The (Sunday evening Mass) is very popular but because we don’t have the number of priests we once had, it’s hard for a priest by himself to do a full schedule on Sunday morning and do another Mass Sunday evening. We just don’t have the cushion we once had.”

Despite the challenges, Father Lorrain is optimistic. He said there are many people praying for an increase in priests and expressed his appreciation for the support seminarians receive from the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Daughters of America.

“The prayers will yield a harvest at some point,” he said. “In God’s time he will send the right people and we will be ready for them.”

Seven Ways Families Can Foster Vocations

1) Snuggle up and read a story.

2) Watch a better story.

3) Set the record straight.

4) Encourage ‘dress up’ play!

5) Pray from the heart.

6) Talk about vocations.

7) Befriend priest and religious.