CUMBERLAND — With a microphone in his hand, Mark Gadoury assured his audience of 8th, 9th and 10th graders that he and the two seminarians sitting next to him were “normal people just like you.”
“I wanted a family. I wanted a life and I felt that was a lot to give up,” Gadoury, 27, who is in his second year of theology studies, said in describing his initial hesitation to enter the seminary despite his feeling that God was calling him to discern the priesthood.
But overcoming that reluctancy brought a sense of consolation that he was following God’s plan for his life, Gadoury told a group of about 250 faith formation students at St. John Vianney Church in Cumberland on Jan. 26.
“Read about Jesus. Get to know him,” Gadoury said as Father Brian Morris, the vocations director for the Diocese of Providence, listened and smiled a few feet away in front of the sanctuary. Father Morris worked with the religious education and youth ministry leaders at St. John Vianney to have the seminarians share their stories for a parish talk on vocations.
“I like to bring seminarians to events like this,” said Father Morris, 34, who was ordained in 2017 and became the diocesan vocations director last summer. In that role, Father Morris recruits and counsels young men to discern the priesthood, and helps them through the extensive seminary application process that includes psychological exams, background checks and interviews with people who know them.
“I ask them questions to see what is driving them and what they think the priesthood is all about,” said Father Morris, who is also the chaplain at Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick.
As vocations director, Father Morris organizes retreats, hiking excursions, pizza parties and movie nights at Our Lady of Providence Seminary, as well as camping trips and other events to gather young men together and get them to at least start thinking about what God is calling them to in their lives.
“I’m open to helping anyone find God’s plan for them, whether it’s in the priesthood, religious life or married life,” Father Morris said.
The Office of Vocations is one of the ministries funded by the annual Catholic Charity Appeal, which provides the principal means of support for the apostolic works done by more than three dozen charitable ministries and programs in the Diocese of Providence. The 2020 Catholic Charity Appeal is underway, and has a fundraising goal of $7.3 million.
Every January, the Office of Vocations hosts an overnight discernment retreat for young adult men. This year, 15 men attended the retreat. Father Morris said a couple of them decided to apply to seminary after listening to the retreat speaker, who this year was Msgr. John Darcy, pastor of St. Margaret Church in Rumford.
In the summer, the vocations office offers the Quo Vadis retreat for high school-aged boys, as well as a camp program in May for middle schoolers where they can go and see the seminary for themselves.
“We try to be creative and come up with ideas throughout the year and find other ways to get young men who are considering it to meet the seminarians,” Father Morris said.
The event at St. John Vianney provided an opportunity for young people to meet seminarians like Gadoury, who grew up in Cumberland attending St. Joan of Arc Church. Gadoury talked about being an altar server in grade school, attending daily Mass in college, and sensing God’s call but trying to hold it off, as well as the importance of praying, reading the Scriptures and learning about the Catholic faith.
“We need to take time and spend time with God,” Gadoury told his audience of teenagers and religious education teachers.
Seminarians Joe Brodeur, 21, and Rob Caputo, 22, both of whom will graduate this spring from Providence College before moving on to major seminary, also shared their vocation stories and answered questions. Brodeur, the youngest of four siblings who grew up attending St. Pius X Church in Westerly, shared how he developed a personal prayer life in high school after getting involved in youth group and attending Steubenville conferences.
“It was a tug on my heart. I felt the Lord calling me deeper to explore the vocation of the priesthood, and the ability to give Christ to other people through that ministry,” said Brodeur, who reached out to the diocesan vocations office in his senior year of high school.
Caputo, who grew up in North Providence, where he attended St. Augustine Church, credited a devout grandfather with teaching him his first theology lesson. Caputo recalled how his grandfather once pointed at the candle next to the tabernacle and said, “When that candle is lit, it means God is in the church.”
Caputo said he grew in his faith during high school, attended a discernment retreat and sensed a possible vocation. He went to college in New Hampshire to study biology and chemistry, thinking he would go on to medical school. Those plans didn’t pan out, and he again went on a discernment retreat, where he still sensed God’s voice telling him to enter the seminary.
“That’s when I realized that you can only discern so far when you’re not in the seminary. The seminary is the next step in the discernment process,” said Caputo, who credited the diocesan vocations office with helping him in that discernment.
Father Morris added that filling out an application and entering seminary is just a part of the discernment process for some people, adding that while some complete their studies and go on to become ordained, others will later realize that God is calling them to something else.
Said Father Morris, “They don’t sign on the dotted line with their blood.”
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Because of generous of so many, the Catholic Charity Appeal is able to support numerous ministries and programs of the Diocese of Providence, providing social, educational and spiritual support to thousands of Rhode Islanders each year regardless of race, creed or background. Please visit dioceseofprovidence.org/cca to learn more or to donate.