By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator 

Two months into his assignment as vocations director for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Father Joshua Johnson, someone typically seen with seemingly boundless energy, has an extra pep in his step. 

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Four young men recently attended a Come and See Weekend at St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict. The weekend including a number of weekend activities, including hiking, listening to current seminarians give their witness, above, and praying the rosary. Photo by Father Josh Johnson | Director of Vocations

 

Fresh off a Come and See Weekend at St. Joseph College in St. Benedict with four young men discerning for the priesthood, Father Johnson words were showered with passion for a job he obviously loves. 

“It was really, really beautiful,” he said of the weekend. “I was impressed with the zeal they had for the Lord, their love for Jesus and desire for prayer. It was inspiring for me, and I was definitely encouraged.” 

The weekend included group prayer, eucharistic adoration, a walking rosary, hiking through the stunning nature trails St. Joseph offers and even a dip in the nearby Bogue Falaya River. 

Five current seminarians from the diocese gave talks and one-on-one mentoring was also provided. 

“For me as a vocations director I was so proud of our seminarians because they gave phenomenal witnesses. They were super attentive to the young men discerning.” 

“They are great examples of guys who don’t know if they are called to be a priest but are investing the time to find out,” he added. “They are ordinary guys who just want to be saints.” 

Father Johnson said the weekend is important because it allows individuals discerning for the priesthood an opportunity to visit the seminary, see the classrooms where they would be attending class, meet with other seminarians and just imagine themselves attending St. Joseph. 

“Before you go, you are not sure but when you go you realize (seminarians) are just ordinary people trying to discern if they want to be a priest,” Father Johnson said. “They can imagine themselves being a priest which is very helpful.” 

COVID-19 restrictions limited the weekend to four men but Father Johnson is currently “intentional walking” with a total of 10 in discernment. He noted that two of the 10, who are a bit older, are currently involved in a program lasting into May helping them grow in their prayer life, discernment and formation. 

“I’m looking forward to seeing the fruit of that,” Father Johnson said. 

Father Johnson said after learning the temperaments and personalities of each candidate, that person is matched with a priest who will serve as a vocation mentor. Father Johnson admitted he tries to match the personality of the priest with that of the candidate. 

The mentors and candidates will have up to four meetings that will include prayer. 

“They can see themselves in that particular priest and that helps them discern better if God is inviting them to check out the seminary,” he said. 

The Come and See Weekend is just one component of an evolving vocations department that has Father Johnson so excited. He has also made changes to the locations of the Andrew Dinner, distributing vocational prayers and other materials to schools and is becoming visible in the high schools. 

The sites of the Andrew Dinner, which is a national vocation program, is moving to specific deaneries. Father Johnson said one is planned in October at St. Margaret Queen of Scotland Church in Albany and will include potential candidates from the Northeast Deanery. 

Those attending what Father Johnson fondly refers to as a “laid back event” will have the opportunity for fellowship, listen to a priest give testimony regarding his own vocation and a question and answer period with Bishop Michael G. Duca. 

“I’m so excited,” Father Johnson said of the enthusiasm he and good friend and Director of Seminarians Father Andrew Merrick are building. 

He jokingly refers to the duo as Batman and Robin, although he “prefers to be Batman.” 

In Marvel Comics parlance he said he is the Black Panther and Father Merrick Captain America. 

“I think it will be good,” Father Johnson said.

Currently, the diocese has 13 seminarians but Father Johnson is optimistic about that number growing in future years.