From National Catholic Register July 1-7, 2007 Issue
BY BOB HORNING
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Occasionally, one hears of a parish that has a man in seminary — but 15 from one parish?
Priestly and religious vocations have become commonplace at Christ the King in Ann Arbor, Mich., since its inception 25 years ago. Father Ed Fride, pastor, estimated that 15-20 men from the parish have become priests — men who either grew up in the parish, became members while attending the University of Michigan, or who were affiliated with the church when they discerned their call.
Six of 23 seminarians this year studying for the Diocese of Lansing, Mich., were from Christ the King. Of the other five seminarians from the parish, two are in the neighboring diocese of Saginaw, Mich., one in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and two in religious orders.
Christ the King also is the home of the 15 sisters who make up the Servants of God’s Love, half of whom came from the parish. Six other women from Christ the King have joined religious life in the past five years, two with the Servants of God’s Love, and four with other orders. The parish also has five permanent deacons, three candidates and several more in formation.
Why such a number of vocations from a parish of 830 families? Father Fride has his theories.
“The spirituality of the parish, in which a personal relationship with Jesus is continually stressed, is key,” he said. “We began as, and still are, part of the charismatic renewal, again where a living, active relationship with Jesus is encouraged.
“In addition, since beginning perpetual adoration five years ago when we finished our church building, almost all of the present seminarians, and those to begin this fall, have heard the call to seminary,” Father Fride said. “Jesus has a plan for everyone, whether to marriage, religious life or celibacy, and I address that, but it is proximity to the Lord Jesus during adoration that helps people hear the call.
“Also, we can’t overlook the influence of John Paul the Great,” he continued. “We constantly reference him, his teachings and the example of his life. He was the only pope that these kids knew, and they want to be like him. They want to participate in the New Evangelization, and becoming a priest is a great way to do that.
Said Father Fride: “When you preach orthodoxy, the Eucharist and the centrality of Jesus, vocations result. It seems natural to me to have so many young people who love Jesus and want to serve him become priests. I’m surprised there aren’t more vocations, both here and elsewhere.”
Christine Brinkman, whose son, Andrew, is at St. John Vianney in St. Paul, Minn., notes that Father Fride’s love for the priesthood, along with that of other young priests Andrew met, especially at World Youth Day in Toronto, was influential in his decision to go to seminary. “At one point, he was avoiding seminary, but joyful priests impacted him,” she said.
Sister Mary Ann Foggin, a member of the Servants of God’s Love, and director of vocation services for the Diocese of Lansing, talks with many high school students about vocations. When she mentions that she is from Christ the King, they say, “Oh, that’s the parish with all the children,” or “that’s the parish with all the vocations.”
Sometimes people realize there is a connection between those two statements, Sister Mary Ann said.
She is another believer in the effect of Eucharistic adoration upon vocations.
“Where they have it, kids are on fire with the Lord,” she says, “and then they run toward God’s call, which sometimes is a [religious] vocation. If kids are raised having a relationship with Jesus, as is the goal at Christ the King, they will not be afraid to give their life to him, and will trust him when they hear his call, regardless of what it is, because they know he loves them.”
Msgr. Edward Burns, the executive director of vocations and priestly formation for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, finds it amazing that Christ the King has more seminarians than some dioceses.
“That these men are willing to put all aside is reassuring,” he said. “It gives us hope that there are young men willing to answer the call. I think there are more out there. We should want to learn why Christ the King is such a fertile ground for vocations.”
Being a non-territorial parish has been an advantage to Christ the King, according to Father Mike Byrnes, vice-rector of Sacred Heart Seminary, and former member of the parish. He said that many faith-filled families came to Christ the King from all over because of the charismatic renewal; and through the ages, the seedbed of vocations has been faith-filled families and communities. Many vocations these days are coming out of renewal movements.”
An encounter with Christ during a Eucharistic procession led to Mark Rutherford’s decision to enter seminary.
“The priesthood was the farthest thing from my mind until then,” he said, “but that encounter allowed me to hear his call.”
Rutherford, beginning his third year at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, is one of 11 men studying for the priesthood from Christ the King Church. Four more are scheduled to enter college seminary at St. John Vianney this fall.
From his experience as rector at St. John Vianney, Father Bill Baer contends that vocations tend to come from two sources: Christian families that take the faith seriously, and youth who have had their faith renewed in high school, often through World Youth Day, Eucharistic adoration or the Life Teen program.
“Christ the King has both,” he says. “The seminarians from there are a tremendous bunch, a fine combination of Christian character development and excitement.”
Another close observer is Father Jerry Vincke, director of seminarians for the Lansing Diocese. He said that “even if only a small percentage of seminarians from Christ the King were to be ordained, it’s beautiful to see a parish that is open to God’s will and the leading of the Holy Spirit. That openness is what is needed for any calling in life.”
Jim Rolph is an example. He was beginning his senior year at the local Catholic high school, attending the weekly school Mass, when he felt God saying to him, that, like the priest, “I want you to bring the sacraments to my people.” Rolph has now finished his first year at St. John Vianney.
He said that “the parish’s involvement in the charismatic renewal helps foster a love for the Eucharist, which leads to vocations.”
Fellow seminarian Mark Rutherford added that “many people who attend or visit Christ the King say that the parish is unique, abnormal. But it shouldn’t be. Men and women who come to know Jesus desire to be partners with him. That partnership is often expressed in a vocation.”
Bob Horning writes from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
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