When I was in grammar school, a prayer for vocations was distributed regularly to all the students who recited that prayer daily before class. To this day, I remember the prayer word for word: “O God, Who wills not the death of the sinner, but rather that he be converted and live, grant we beseech Thee through the intercession of the Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, Saint Joseph, her spouse, the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, and all the saints, an increase of laborers for thy Church, fellow laborers with Christ, to spend and consume themselves for souls. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.” The prayer card was sponsored by the Sera Club or the Knights of Columbus, and the explicit mention of Ss. Peter and Paul, the patrons of our cathedral, might indicate that the prayer was probably of local origin. I have always thought of this prayer as “Bishop McVinney’s Prayer for Vocations.”
Vocations, of course, were the least of Bishop McVinney’s problems in the 1950s and 60s. Purchasing acreage to found new parishes was indeed a more pressing concern in that era. Twenty-six young men entered the first year of college at Our Lady of Providence Seminary, Warwick Neck, in 1958; eleven of us were ordained in 1966; three of us are still on the diocesan roster. And of course at the same time scores of young women entered the various congregations of religious women who served and still serve the various apostolates throughout the Diocese of Providence. Surely, let’s not overlook those thousands of our contemporaries who were entering into the noble vocation of Catholic married life, affirming their spouses, raising their children and supporting their parishes. And God bless those Catholic single persons, those maiden aunts and bachelor uncles, who, time and again, lent all kinds of support to their families and their communities and richly remembered their parishes in their wills.
The Diocese of Providence was particularly blessed this academic year to have eight young men choose to enter Our Lady of Providence Seminary now at Mount Pleasant to study for the priesthood. Bishop Tobin, Father Christopher Murphy, seminary rector, Father Brian Morse, director of vocations, expressed, along with many others, their delight that the diocesan Catholic priesthood held an appeal for these fresh candidates. The Dominican Fathers at Providence College have similarly noted a healthy commitment to priestly vocations within their religious order. A young man from East Providence has chosen to join a Franciscan community in New York. The Diocese of Providence and the Catholic Church in general is certainly justified in hoping that God will endow the local Church with a suitable number of clergy “to spend and consume themselves for souls,” in the present day as in previous generations.
The prayer for vocations sited above was recited daily at my parish school, a regular reminder of the need for Catholic vocations in general, “fellow laborers with Christ,” be they priests, religious, spouses or individuals. Every believer has a Christian vocation. But as we stood beside our desks every morning praying for vocations, we certainly felt that we were praying mostly, if not entirely, for priestly vocations. And this thought of the importance of priestly vocations was amply re-enforced by the impressive list of priestly saints whose lives were regularly narrated in the classroom. Agents of mercy like Vincent de Paul and Damien De Veuster, scholars like Francis deSales and Thomas Aquinas, martyrs like Isaac Jogues and Oliver Plunkett, missionaries like Junipero Serra and Peter Claver, monks like Benedict of Nursia and John of the Cross, and parish priests like John Vianney and John Bosco were often the stuff of religion class. Regularly praying for priestly vocations, the frequent narration of sainted priestly lives, common encounters with parish priests at Mass, at frequent confession, at CYO meetings, and even on the parish census, and the awareness that other boys from the neighborhood had gone off to the seminary made the prospect of a priestly vocation real for many young men. The priesthood was clearly part of our lives, no matter what he future held.
Somewhere along the line, the Catholic priesthood became real for these eight young men who are committing themselves to seminary life. The Catholic community, which has changed drastically since the 1950s, must consider how often the priesthood is even mentioned, let alone prayed for or praised, in our present day. Praying for vocations in the home, praying for vocations at religious education classes, awareness of a parish priest’s contribution to Catholic life, and, yes, the ideal of priestly saints should still be a part of the Catholic experience. Those who labor for an increase of priestly vocations deserve the support, the gratitude and especially the regular prayers of our whole diocesan community.