Compiled from Staff Reports
When it comes to encouraging vocations, Father Daniel Swift, a diocesan assistant director of vocations and pastor of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford, regularly finds creative ways to get the point across.
Father Swift’s most recent approach occurred July 5 when he, along with two other priests and a seminarian, accompanied a contingent of seven “priest hopefuls” on a day trip to New York City, where they spent time praying together, touring city sites and sharing camaraderie and fellowship.
“I had a really great time meeting other young men who shared my interests and priests who were encouraging and helpful,” said Jack Pangaro of St. Dominic Parish, Brick.
The trip came when Father Swift emailed his brother priests from around the Diocese urging them to “make one-to-one asks” to high school-aged young men interested in the priesthood, or those they thought might have a priestly vocation, to join him as well as Father Roy Ballacillo, parochial vicar of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish; Father Christopher Colavito, chaplain of Holy Cross Preparatory Academy, Delran, and parochial vicar of St. John Neumann Parish, Mount Laurel, and St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Marlton; and seminarian Bill Clingerman for a day in New York City.
Describing July 5 as a “perfect” summer day with sunny skies and lower humidity, Father Swift and the lively brood, which included high school boys who had previously attended visits to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, Pa., as well as other inquirers, arrived in New York in time to attend the noon Mass in St. Patrick Cathedral.
After Mass, the group toured the cathedral and posed for a photo at the side altar before visiting One World Trade Center, where they remembered in prayer all who had lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Kyle Holler, a junior in Holy Cross Preparatory Academy and member of St. Katharine Drexel, Parish, Burlington, said being in such a large city with so many fellow Catholics “was an experience I will never forget. Seeing and being with so many people who share a common faith is a true gift from God.”
Seminarian Clingerman, who is preparing for the priesthood in Mount St. Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., and is serving a summer assignment in St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, called the pilgrimage a blessing.
“We prayed together at Mass, enjoyed good food and fellowship, and contemplated the beauty of St. Patrick Cathedral. I encouraged the young men of the group to continue to pray, to be open to God's will for them, to pray for one another, and, most of all, to spend time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament,” Clingerman said.
Father Swift, in reflecting on the potential impact of “one-to-one asks,” explained that he and staff members had recently completed four seminars on “millennial discipleship” with Parish Catalyst, a Los Angeles nonprofit that engages and challenges successful parishes “to take their ministry to the next level, however one wants to define it.”
One of the takeaways from the seminars, Father Swift said, is the effectiveness of “one-to-one asks," whether it is an attempt to encourage more parishioners to become involved or effectively reaching the faithful, especially those who are of millennial and post-millennial generations.
“Hence was the reason why I [regularly] encourage my brother priests, and all Catholics for that matter, to approach young men and ask if they’ve ever considered the priesthood,” Father Swift said, noting that three of the seven young men who traveled on the New York pilgrimage were from St. Mary of the Lakes Parish.
While they may not be immediately ready to answer the call to a vocation, “by the same token, they are open to receiving the call,” said Father Swift, recalling his “one-to-one ask” experience and the impact it had on his own vocation to the priesthood.
As a college student, he said that although he had been thinking about the priesthood, it wasn’t until he was directly asked by his godfather’s wife if he had ever thought about becoming a priest.
Until then, he said, “she was the only one who ever asked me that question. Even though I had been thinking of the priesthood, her question was what I needed to hear to give me the courage to approach my pastor” who at the time was Msgr. Armand Pedata of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Marlton.
“All of us can ask that simple question to see where God will lead the young man,” Father Swift said.
Father Swift said another powerful tool used to encourage vocations is prayer.
“Often we say, ‘Well the least I can do is pray for…,’” he said. “Rather, let’s to say, ‘The most we can do is pray.’”
Father Swift said the next vocations outing is slated for Oct. 18, when he will host a bus trip to Emmitsburg, Md., home of the Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Mount St. Mary Seminary, which happens to be Father Swift’s alma mater.
Any young men who are interested in attending the trip to Emmitsburg can email Father Swift at email@example.com.