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Saturday, July 26, 2008

"New vocations director taking God’s call to new places"

From Catholic Review online - St. Louis
by Jean M. Schildz

CALLING THOSE TO SERVE CHRIST — Father Edward M. Rice, director designate of the archdiocese’s Office of Vocations, speaks with Kenrick-Glennon seminarian Paul Hamilton last week before celebrating Mass at Father Dempsey’s Charities in Midtown St. Louis. Photo by Rebecca Venegoni Tower

Father Edward M. Rice need only glance at the portrait of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in his new office to know the archdiocese’s vocations efforts are in good hands.

The native St. Louisan officially becomes the archdiocese’s director of vocations Friday, Aug. 1. He will succeed Father Michael T. Butler, who after 14 years in the position was released from duty this June by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke to serve with the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.

In his first act, Father Rice has placed the vocations office under the Sacred Heart’s protection. Said the priest, "Whatever success, whatever failures happen, I’m just going to unite it to the Sacred Heart."

The large framed picture of Jesus pointing to his Sacred Heart was one of the last things Father Rice removed from the rectory at St. John the Baptist Parish, where he had served as pastor since 2000. It also was one of the first things he hung up in his vocations office at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

The painting was a wedding gift to his parents, John and Helen Rice, in 1952. It hung over the mantle in the Rices’ home for years and later was presented to him as a gift by one of his sisters. Father Rice is number six of 10 siblings, seven boys and three girls. All but one still live in the St. Louis area.

His father, John, died at age 57 while Father Rice was in high school. His dad had survived serving in both World War II and the Korean War. The family claims "it was the 10 kids that did him in. The Germans and the Koreans were nothing compared to us," Father Rice joked.

The priest said his mother instilled in him a devotion to the Sacred Heart. She died in 1988, a year after he was ordained. It is largely because of his devotion to the Sacred Heart that he chose to start a monthly Holy Hour for vocations.

He became director designate of the vocations office June 17. No stranger to the seminary, Father Rice ran Cardinal Glennon College from 1994 to 2000, worked closely with Father Butler and lived at the seminary in Shrewsbury.

"It’s almost like coming home," the 47-year-old said. He is excited to be living at Holy Redeemer Rectory this time around. "I just wanted to be parish-based. I love parish life, and I think that’s the kind of vocation we want to cultivate."

Father Butler has been a big help to him in learning the ropes, Father Rice said. The archbishop asked him to continue to build upon Father Butler’s successful endeavors, including Kenrick-Glennon Days for sixth- through eighth-grade boys; Camp Mater Dei, a camp for girls operated through the vocations office; the monthly John Gabriel Society meetings for high school students discerning a vocation; and the archbishop’s annual retreat.

"It’s so obvious Father Butler has a great love for this program because he knows how important it is to have good, solid priests. I’m just very lucky to be able to step into" his shoes, Father Rice said.

To further vocations, Father Rice plans to reach out to Newman Centers on college campuses, locally and beyond, something suggested by the former archbishop of St. Louis.

He particularly will seek out 20-year-olds just establishing a career. "I’m going to go after the college grads and those in the business world who might be dissatisfied but don’t know why they’re dissatisfied and see that possibility as an avenue to vocations."

He also plans to work closely with Sister Eva-Maria Ackerman, FSGM, of the Consecrated Life Apostolate, as he works to promote vocations to religious life.

Father Rice spoke of two major impediments today in cultivating vocations. One is that people may not respond to the call because they’ve never been asked. "So one of my practical goals is to get that question out there."

A second goal of his is to try to change the attitude of some parents toward vocations. Parents want a priest to baptize and marry their children, to be there when somebody dies, he said. "They lament the lack of sisters in our classrooms, but at the same time three out of four would not support their son or daughter" discerning a vocation.

"I think we need to change that attitude and tell them, ‘When you give your heart totally to this vocation, there’s happiness. And I think the bottom line is our parents want to know their kids will be happy, and that you can be happy in this life. So it’s going to be a change of attitude for some of our parents."

He acknowledged that the priests’ scandal in recent years has not helped, "but by the grace of God we’re still getting fine candidates. It just shows the devil has not won. God’s grace is still at work. But the parental attitude is important."

What will be the first thing he does when he officially takes over?

"I’m going to get down on my knees and pray. That’s going to be a daily occurrence. Whatever programs I can cook up, whatever new innovations, if it’s not based on prayer it’s going to fall short. I have to strive to be a man of prayer. That’s essential."

He knows he can’t do this work by himself. "I need our priests squarely behind me looking for those vocations to the priesthood and religious life. I need our parents supporting it at home. We’re all in this together."

A vocation, he said, can survive in a broken home, but it best survives "and is nourished when there’s a good, solid, Catholic family life and prayerful life, a life where the parents bring their kids to Mass on Sundays, there is prayer in the home, and they’re supportive of the Church. It’s crucial."

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