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Saturday, April 5, 2008

"Recruiting posters featuring Catholic priests send out a call that’s being answered"

Two weeks ago I was interviewed by Lisa Gutierrez from the Kansas City Star for an article about vocations posters and vocations in general. Below is the article. Once again I thank John D'Amelio for creating such a great poster for the Diocese of Raleigh.

If you click on the picture to the left, it should link you to a photo-essay they also produced about vocations posters.

The Kansas City Star
Posted on Fri, Apr. 04, 2008

On the door of his room at Conception Seminary College in northwest Missouri, Adam Haake has a poster that reminds him of the other local men walking the same path toward priesthood.

It pictures 2007-08 seminarians from the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

Haake is one of them. He stands in the back row of the group shot, photographed last summer in front of the ornate altar of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, next to Hallmark.

When he looks at the poster, Haake, 23, sees “a whole array of men who have answered the call,” he says. “So many people tell us that when they see the poster, it causes a great hope for them.”

Walk into any seminary and you’ll see posters like this from dioceses all across the country.

The posters have been around for years. They are marketing tools, used to encourage men to answer the call to the priesthood. They are a source of pride for church members who see the faces of their sons and brothers and neighbors.

And, as Haake said, they give hope to those same church members who worry about the church’s lack of priests.

Wait, the posters seem to encourage.

New priests are in the making.

The posters have undergone makeovers in recent years. Many have shed their informational, utilitarian — OK, let’s just say it — “churchy” formats and become more graphic, polished and modern.

As the posters evolve to appeal to a generation raised on cable TV and the Internet, vocations directors realize they are walking a line between appealing to and speaking the language of today’s youth and commercializing the call to the priesthood.

“I think you want something that is attractive, that is going to reach people and it’s going to speak to a target audience,” says Brad Watkins, assistant to the director of vocations in Raleigh, N.C.

“And frankly we would like to get younger people thinking about or considering or even just remaining open to the idea that God might be calling them to the priesthood, that God has a plan in their life, that God has a plan for all of us.

“And the reality is he is calling some men to the priesthood.”

Some of the posters wouldn’t look that out of place in a movie theater lobby. For example:

•In the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh in North Carolina the faces of this year’s 20 seminarians appear against the black of a priest’s cassock and the words “Heroes of Sacrifice.”

•In the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston last year, seminarians were photographed holding a giant fishing net to illustrate a “Fishers of Men” theme.

•In Austin, Texas, photos of this year’s seminarians are displayed on a “Pirates of the Caribbean”-like treasure map. It exhorts: “Discover the Priesthood.”

Cool posters. Promotional videos. Web sites featuring seminarians’ blogs.

Think of it as Promoting the Priesthood 2008.

Jesse Garcia, programs coordinator for the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese, says he hasn’t had one seminarian say he decided to enter the priesthood because of a poster.

Instead, he says, “I think it’s part of an ongoing culture of vocations we’re trying to foster.”

Wanted: Priest poster

The message is clear at www.cincinnativocations.org, the main Web site of the vocations office for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati:

“If your diocese does not produce a poster of the current roster of seminarians, call your Vocation Director and INSIST that he does this!

“As young men see these faces that look just like their own, they can see themselves in the program. Also, they begin to realize that they are not the only ones feeling this call, others will walk the road along with them.”

The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas is said to have been one of the first in the country to create a poster 20-some years ago. In the years since, the posters have taken on a life of their own, says the Rev. Mitchel Zimmerman, vocation director.

“They’re really ubiquitous in every Catholic institution, church, school, parish,” Zimmerman says. “You won’t go into any parish without seeing multiple copies of the poster up everywhere.

“In some ways it’s our most basic marketing piece in that people look forward to looking at it and seeing who the seminarians are.”

This is the sixth year that the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has produced a poster.

“We knew that other dioceses were doing it,” says Keith Jiron, director of the diocese’s vocations office. “We thought that it would be good to also let the people in the parishes know who their future potential priests are so that everyone is in the loop and everyone is pushing in the same direction.”

This year 24 men from the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese are studying at seminaries across the country, nearly triple the number just four years ago, an increase reported by other dioceses as well.

As seminaries report burgeoning freshmen classes, the faces of the posters seem increasingly younger.

“I’ve been in this work for about 15 years, and there’s been quite a change in the dynamic of guys doing this,” Jiron says.

“And I would say a lot of these guys, they would call it the John Paul II generation. These are the guys that grew up knowing no other pope than John Paul II. He was an excellent role model for them.”

An adventurous calling

There wasn’t as much to boast about some 20 years ago, when the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas put together its first seminarians’ poster.

Then, in a diocese of 200,000-plus Catholics, fewer than 10 were studying to be priests, says vocation director Zimmerman. For the last decade or so, the diocese has had between 15 and 25 seminarians each year. The lack of seminarians caused a national conference of diocesan vocation directors to ask themselves, “Are we really inviting our young people?” Zimmerman says.

Some parishes work harder than others on extending that invitation. Even so, most all of the seminarian posters list the names of the students and their home parishes.

“The parishioners feel that their efforts are producing fruit,” says Garcia with the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese.

Even more personal than posters are the prayer cards the Raleigh Diocese printed so church members could pray for individual seminarians.

Prayers and posters go a long way toward helping seminarians feel that they are not alone in a pursuit that sometimes, frankly, feels lonely.

“I think sometimes you feel afraid, you feel all alone in the world with this decision,” says Conception seminarian Haake.

“So when you see the poster you see like an army of men who have heard and answered the call.”


To know more
•www.diocese-kcsj.org: Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph

•www.archkck.org: Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas


Priests by the numbers

Diocesan (parish) priests in the U.S.
1965 35,925
1985 35,052
1995 32,349
2003 29,285

Religious priests in the U.S.
1965 22,707
1985 22,265
1995 16,705
2003 14,349

Graduate-level seminarians:
1965 8,325
1985 4,063
1995 3,172
2003 3,414

Source: Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate


Prayer for a Seminarian
Sunday, April 13, is World Day of Prayer for Vocations in the Roman Catholic Church. This prayer is printed on a poster from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh:

O Lord Jesus Christ, great high priest,

I pray that you call many worthy men to your holy priesthood.

Enlighten our bishop in forming our candidates,

Our director of vocations in guiding them

And their professors in teaching and training them.

Lead the seminarians in your unerring footsteps

So that they may become priests who are models of purity,

Possessors of wisdom and heroes of sacrifice.

May they be steeped in humility

And aflame with love for God and others.

Mary, queen of the clergy, pray for us. Amen.


Joseph Woodard said...

This is Joe Woodard, a Missioner of Christ now at Ave Maria University. I want to know if you have copies of the video you put together from your Summer 2006 Honduras trip. Would it be okay if I used it to give people here an idea of what we're doing down there? I know it's available on youtube, but if I can get a hard-copy, the quality would be better for showing people.
Of course, if you'd rather not share it that way, I understand.

This is a really cool site. Thanks a lot for your work!

Paz y Bien,
Joe Woodard

Brad Watkins said...


Under my profile you'll find my email address - send me your mailing address - I'd be happy to send you a dvd of the video.

In Christ,