Vocations, Journeys, Paulists and Bread

As of this writing, we are one week away from (God willing) Evan’s ordination to the priesthood. To be completely honest, it’s all a bit overwhelming.

Earlier today the Paulists released a brief video profile of Evan in which he talks about his calling, how this blog started, the broader Paulist family and how he prays with bread. If you have four-and-a-half minutes, I think it’s worth watching. (Of course, I’m Evan’s dad so my opinion in this matter is not especially objective.)

Thank you all for your prayers for Evan and for all of us. Please continue praying and, if you can, please join us for the livestream of the Ordination at 10:00 a.m. Eastern on Saturday, May 18, 2019. You can find the stream on the Paulist Fathers Facebook page or their YouTube channel.

Finally, if you think you might be called to be a Paulist, you can learn more at the Paulist Fathers Vocations page.

— Dad (of Evan)

Priests/Monks, Nuns/Sisters – What’s the Difference?

The Catholic church has two-thousand years of history behind it. In that time we’ve developed a highly specialized language. Like all jargon it can be confusing — for those on the inside and the outside alike.  (Spend ten minutes with your local IT or medical professional and you’ll know what I mean.)

Even simple things, like the designation of certain roles in the church, can be perplexing. Do you know the difference between a nun and a sister? What is a monk? Are all monks priests? Are all priests monks? What about Deacons?

In the spirit of simplification, let me share a way to think about the different roles of religious life in the church.

Broadly speaking, religious vocations in the Catholic church can be categorized as “contemplative” or “active”.  Those who are called to a contemplative life live apart from society in a monastery or cloister.  A recent Aleteia article explains it this way:

This usually involves living and working within a designated “enclosed” space, off-limits to all but priests, medical personnel and workmen, and leaving the enclosure only for medical issues or business involving the monastery. As with monks, a nun’s “work,” aside from what helps to materially support the house, is prayer, which is ongoing throughout the day and offered for the sake of the Church and the world.

Like many things in the church, there are shadings and variations of how the general norms are applied. A post over at CatholicEducation.org clarifies the rules with regards to cloistered nuns:

In some cases, the cloister restrictions are not as strictly enforced. Some orders of nuns, while technically cloistered, conduct works of charity or education, interacting with the public. For example, the Visitation Sisters are technically cloistered nuns but teach school.

On the other hand, those with an active vocation are called to live in the world and provide direct service.  Perhaps the most famous of these would be Mother Teres’a Missionaries of Charity.

As a general rule, if you see a woman wearing a habit or some other distinctive mark of religious life, you’re probably seeing a “sister”.  The term “nun” is more often reserved for those living the contemplative life.

Similar rules hold true for monks, priests and friars with a couple of additional complications. Priests can be attached to the local diocese — these are called “secular” or “diocesan” priests.  Or, they can be attached to a particular community or order — think “Franciscan”, “Jesuit”, or “Paulist”.  Or they can be monastic — think “Benedictine”.

Aleteia summed it up this way:

Diocesan priests do not take vows of poverty and may possess and inherit property.

Priests vowed to a religious order (like the Franciscans, Dominicans, etc) or a monastic community (like the Benedictines or Cistercians) do make vows of poverty, surrendering any income they generate through their works to their superiors. So a Dominican writer earning profits from his books will turn those royalty checks over to the Order of Preachers. A Trappist writer will turn his earnings over to his abbot or prior, for the benefit of the whole community.

In an order or a monastery, some of the men may be ordained as priests which allows them to perform the sacraments, while others are brothers who have taken vows.  The Aleteia article goes more into depth of the various shadings of meaning.

If you meet someone in religious life and are curious about the details of their particular calling, the best and simplest way to learn more is to ask them.  The overwhelming majority of religious I’ve met are more than happy to tell you all about their vocation.

— Dad of Evan

Fr. Martin’s Confession

Noted Jesuit Fr. James Martin published a piece on CNN.COM this week called “Confessions of a Catholic Priest.”  In it, he makes a couple of interesting points.

First of all, he speaks to a fact that might surprise some:

This may disappoint some readers, but I love being a Catholic priest. And I’m not alone. Survey after survey, year after year, shows that the priesthood is among the most satisfying of jobs.

He expands on that:

Think of just three moments of deep joy and deep sorrow in life: a wedding, a baptism and a funeral. You’re invited to participate in each of those moments with all manner of people — from families and friends you’ve known for years to nearly complete strangers. By virtue of your priesthood, you’re sharing people’s most important moments.

The rest of the article is interesting and well worth reading.  Especially as it was published to promote an episode of This is the Life with Lisa Ling which will explore the call to the priesthood.

Path to the Priesthood

Saturday, May 24, 2014 saw the addition of a new priest to the Paulist ranks.  “Jimmy” Hsu, having completed his formation period was ordained by Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas.

If you dig into the archives of the Paulist Fathers’ website, you can trace Jimmy’s formation.

It starts with an article from August 2009 detailing the Mass at which Jimmy marked the transition from novice to student by making his first promises to the community.  In part, the article says:

For Yao “Jimmy” Hsu, the novitiate year was a chance to experience St. Paul, the legacy of faith left by Paulist founder Servant of God Father Isaac T. Hecker and being part of a community.

“[Making first promises] is the first formal step to being part of the Paulist community, but is another small step in the road ahead,” he said.

Fast-forwarding to September of 2013 brings us to Jimmy’s final promises, payment for service (one penny) and ordination as a transitional deacon.

Jimmy Hsu, CSP, took his final steps toward the priesthood by pledging a lifetime of service with the Paulist Fathers before his Paulist brothers, family and friends Sept. 6 in the chapel of St. Paul’s College in Washington, D.C. The next morning, Mr. Hsu was ordained to the diaconate in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception by Most Rev. Barry C. Knestout, auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C.

After one year of ordained service as a deacon, and update on the Paulist Fathers’ website reflects on Jimmy’s journey and his impending ordination.

Encouraged by family and friends, Deacon Hsu was inspired by the example of the Paulists he met at the University Catholic Center while earning a philosophy degree at the University of Texas at Austin.

“My family has always been supportive of whatever I do, and they are proud of my decision [to become a priest],” Deacon Hsu said. “And the Paulists have been there to help me process my experiences in formation and become part of the community.”

The big moment came on May 24, 2014 when Jimmy Hsu was ordained.

“You will be consecrated to Christ in a very special way,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of the Diocese of Austin, Texas – Deacon Hsu’s home diocese – who presided over the ordination.

“Impart to everyone the word of God you have received with such joy,” the bishop said, “so that by your example you will build up the house that is God’s Church.”

One of the things that has impressed us the most about the Paulists is the strong sense of community.  (I suspect the same is true of most orders.)  Evan has become part of a larger family and considers Jimmy a brother.

We extend our congratulations to the newly ordained Reverend Jimmy Hsu and pray that God blesses his ministry.

— Dad

Question: Who Pays for Seminary?

stack of dollars

Not all the questions about the seminary experience deal with weighty theological issues.  Some of them are, in fact, pretty mundane.

Seminary — like most higher education — isn’t cheap.  So, who is paying for the training for the next generation of priests and religious?

The answer is: it depends.

As we mentioned a while back, there are two kinds of priests:  diocesan and order.  (Sometimes referred to as secular and religious priests — toss out that bit of trivia at a party and watch your friends try to puzzle out the difference.)  Among the other differences, diocesan priests generally draw a salary and are expected to pay for their own food, transportation, etc.  Order priests generally do not draw a salary and are dependent on their order for all of their material needs.  In practice, this means that diocesan priests need to be careful managers of their money as the salary isn’t that great while order priests rely on the order to balance needs the of the entire community.  As our previous pastor put it (with tongue firmly in cheek), “Order priests take the vow of poverty, diocesan priests live it.”

This is important because diocesan seminarians often attend seminaries which aren’t associated with the diocese and will be assessed tuition.  This responsibility may be picked up by the seminarian, their parents or the diocese or some combination thereof.  The Office for Vocations for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis addresses the question by saying:

How much does it cost?  Who pays?
Everyone is concerned about the high cost of education, including potential seminarians and their families.  In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the archdiocese will pay for the room and board cost of our college seminarians as a scholarship. This does not need to be paid back. In addition, the University of St. Thomas offers a 35% discount on tuition for seminary students. The seminarian and his family are required to fund the rest of the cost through regular scholarships, financial aid, and loans.

There are (not surprisingly) many scholarships available to seminarians.  Often, there is also a distinction between those entering “college seminary” for the purpose of earning an undergraduate degree and those who have earned a bachelors degree and are moving to the next level of formation.  The Diocese of Des Moines outlines such a program:

How much will it cost to go to the seminary?

This depends on which level of Seminary formation you enter.  For those that enter as college seminarians, the cost will be the responsibility of the seminarian.  As would be typical for any other college student, you will fill out FAFSA forms for student loans.  The college seminary programs we use typically have reduced tuition for seminarians as well as scholarships that are available.  One college seminary program gives a scholarship that covers your full tuition.  Regardless, you can expect significant expenses for college, which will remain your responsibility regardless of whether you are ordained for the diocese.  The rationale behind this policy is that college is a pre-requisite for professional life in any capacity in our culture, and whether or not you become a priest your degree will serve you well into the future.  The Diocese does provide college seminarians with re-imbursement for books and certain travel required by the diocese, as well as a monthly stipend.  You are encouraged to work during the summer for extra spending money.

The policy is different for men that enter seminary for Pre-Theology (those with a college degree but in need of required philosophy before studying Theology) or Theology.  The Diocese will cover the entire amount of your tuition, room and board, as well reimburse you for books, certain travel required by the diocese, and will provide a monthly stipend.   These expenses do not have to be re-paid in the event you discern out of seminary formation.

What do I do if I have previous student loans that are not fully paid off yet?

The diocese, while it provides for much of your training as a seminarian, cannot offer assistance in paying off previous college loans. However, many loans can be deferred, some without accruing extra interest, until the time you finish seminary training and are ordained a priest, at which time you receive a salary and can pay off your loans.

As much as possible, Vocations Offices and Seminaries try to remove the obstacle of money.  And there are plenty of private donors who are doing what they can to aid in preparing the next generation of priests. An article on the Vision Vocation Network website notes:

Fortunately there are many benefactors who donate directly to seminaries or make funds available through scholarships or grants. Two Catholic organizations that have generously supported vocations are the Knights of Columbus (contact your local council) and the Laboure Society (www.labourefoundation.org).

At the diocesan level, the Vocations Director would be able to provide better information for a particular case.

Seminarians who enter as part of an order, often have their training provided for (in whole or in part) by the order.  The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary uses a mixed approach:

How much does it cost to educate a seminarian?

he actual cost is about $22,000 per year. Most of this cost is paid through the generosity of our benefactors, who deserve our prayers every day. The cost that FSSP seminarians currently are responsible for is $7,000 per year for tuition, room and board.

What if I cannot pay for my annual tuition and room/board?

We ask all seminarians to do their best to pay everything they are able to pay. This includes actively seeking benefactors, running an ad in your home parish bulletin, asking priests for financial help, and applying for scholarships with various Catholic support groups. However, if you do not come up with all of the tuition money you will not be required to leave. Nor do we deny entrance to men due to an inability to pay these costs.

In Evan’s case, he was required to be debt-free (with the exception of his student loans) before he could be accepted as a novice.  His room, board, and training are all provided by the order and he is given a small stipend each month for incidentals such as toiletries, clothing, and personal transportation.  Living in DC (and having to switch for a college wardrobe of jeans and t-shirts to a wardrobe of business casual) the stipend is adequate, but not excessive.  Fortunately, two different Utah Councils of the Knights of Columbus (St. Olaf’s in Bountiful and St. Mary of the Assumption in Park City) have adopted Evan under the RSVP program.  He wasn’t aware of the program until they contacted him.  He was (and is) touched by their generosity.

— Dad

The Outside Perspective

Good day all,

This is Sparky, the occasionally referenced elder brother of the Novitiate. My brother leaves town on a largely permanent basis in less than a month so I figured it was high time I put out some words about it.

I think it’s just now hitting me. I mean he and I haven’t spent that much time in each other’s company in years, scheduling trouble and my own reclusive tendencies saw to that. But there is something different in this. I think part of it is geographic. No longer would a trip to see him be just a few hours on the road. But a larger part perhaps is in the nature of his move. Priesthood is a demanding calling, and yes I’m sure he isn’t abandoning his family, and Paulists are rather big on being in the community rather than separated from it, but still. They do refer to it as giving oneself entirely to God. I seem to recall something about a hand on a plowshare,

Now about the title of this post: I am not part of the Church anymore. I often find myself in a position to defend Catholic beliefs and practices but ultimately I struggle with faith on a personal level. I sometimes joke that there was a cosmic mix up and he got all the belief.

So while my parents are watching their younger son go forth in the Service of God I’m watching my brother pursue what he feels is his calling. I’ll not speak a word against it mind you, he does as he feels is right. And there are far far worse things to dedicate one’s life to. But on some level it remains a mystery to me that I can’t quite grasp. Still it is my wish to support him, though probably with less in the way of chaplet crafting.

Another time I shall have to tell the tale of his informing me of his calling, and I’m sure I can come up with a few other posts. But for now I bid you farewell.

–Older Brother

Question: What is a Vocations Director

riceOne of the things that’s impressed me the most about Evan’s journey is the level of support that he’s had.

See that smiling fellow on the left of the page?  His name is Fr. Larry Rice and he’s the current Vocations Director for the Paulists.  His job is to guide men in the process of discernment.  He talks to them, prays for them and with them, and assists them on their journey.

The Vocation Network website puts it this way:

A vocation director is designated by a religious institute to promote vowed membership, to help others discern their vocation, and to oversee the application process of new members entering the community as a postulant. They assist those who are considering the possibility of religious life by providing support, discernment counseling, and information.The Vocation director for a religious congregation answers to the elected superiors of their congregation. The National Religious Vocation Conference is the professional organization for vocation directors of religious communities.

Vocation Directors who work on behalf of a diocese answer to the bishop.They have  their own professional organization, the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors.)

It might sound (a little) like Vocations Directors are recruiters, looking to grow the ranks.  This isn’t the case.  In fact, anyone who has been pressured is not (by canon law) permitted to take vows.  The ordained life — like marriage — is only legitimately available to those who choose it freely.

It might interest you to know that there are Vocations Directors for nuns as well.  Sister M. Consolata is the Vocations Director for the Sisters of St. Francis of Alton, Illinois.  She describes her role in working with young women in the process of discernment.

My role is to help you.  Do you feel a tug on your heart to give everything to Jesus?  Do you desire to live only for Him?  Or maybe you are just wondering what religious life is all about.

I am here to help answer your questions and walk with you during your time of discernment.  Remember, the Lord takes the first initiative.  He loves you.  Yes, YOU!  Then He invites you to make a response to His love.  Be not afraid! I would love to hear from you and about your journey with of faith.

Whether you’re a woman considering a vocation as a nun or a man considering the priesthood, your first contact should be with a Vocations Director.  There will likely be one in your diocese and there are plenty of links on the web that you can use to contact them.  Communicating with a Vocations Director will be an important step in the vocation journey — not just for the discerner, but also for that person’s family.

We haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet Evan’s current Vocations Director, Fr. Rice.  We did get to meet Fr. Rice’s predecessor, Fr. Dave Farnum when he came through Utah to meet with Evan a year ago last spring.  Fr. Dave is a wonderful man who told us about his own call to the priesthood.  He reassured us about the process of discernment and gave us insight into what the ordained life would be like.  We thoroughly enjoyed spending time with him and are grateful for everything that he — and Fr. Rice — have done for Evan.

–Dad