By Sarah Mac Donald - 28 October, 2014
“Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are firmly on the agenda of the Irish Catholic Church,” the Bishop of Derry reassured diocesan vocations directors assembled for their annual conference in Maynooth on Sunday and Monday.
Bishop Donal McKeown, who is Chairman of the Bishops’ Council for Vocations, said in his opening address that he was “heartened” not only by the number of dioceses represented at this year’s conference but by the “genuine enthusiasm being shown by vocations directors for their ministry and work.”
The keynote speaker at conference, which was themed “I will make you fishers of men”, was Fr Stephen Langridge a priest of the Diocese of Southwark and Chairman of the England and Wales Vocations Directors Conference.
Fr Langridge also runs the UK’s first dedicated residential centre for nurturing a culture of discipleship and vocations promotion.
Since he began this work in 2005, the number of seminarians in Southwark diocese has more than doubled with 20 men currently accepted by the diocese as students for the priesthood.
At a national level he serves as Chairman of the Conference of Diocesan Directors of Vocations and has been instrumental in promoting the Quo Vadis model of discernment group, and the highly acclaimed Invocation festival.
He also produced ‘The Calling’, a vocations DVD for use in schools and parishes and has worked on a number of publications including the collection, ‘Stories of Priestly Vocations’ published by Saint Paul’s, and ‘Transitions’ a contemporary photographic gift book for young adults.
In his address, Fr Langridge spoke to the vocations directors on topics such as promoting vocations to priesthood in parishes and dioceses, the importance of a good formation programme for vocations directors as well as an induction programme for new vocations directors.
The conference also discussed the issues of selection and assessment of candidates for the priesthood.
“Vocations Directors are not paper pushers filling in and checking forms but are exercising an important ecclesial ministry and it is important that as vocations directors we recognise this”, Fr Langridge said.
He said the best people to promote vocations in parishes are priests themselves but sometimes there is a lack of confidence.
According to the Southwark priest, as a Church “we need to help priests to recover their confidence in themselves and in their priestly ministry.”
The diocesan vocations directors welcomed the recent statement by the Irish Bishops’ Conference following their October General Meeting in which the bishops agreed to allocate special time to the issue of vocations at their next meeting in December.
In his opening address, Bishop McKeown said any opportunity for a group like this to come together to discuss and to plan for vocations strategies is to be welcomed.
“Gatherings like this afford us time to focus on important questions – like how we promote vocations in a missionary Church and for a missionary Church and how we share insights on what is working in local parishes and dioceses when it comes to the promotion of priesthood and religious life.”
The conference was also attended by Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, Mgr Hugh Connolly, President of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Fr Willie Purcell, National Coordinator for Diocesan Vocations, Sr Phyllis Moynihan of Vocations Ireland and members of the Bishops’ Council for Vocations.
At the conclusion of the conference, Fr Willie Purcell said the vocations directors had been “given much food for thought by Father Langridge and the other participants” which was “a reminder about the important ministry we have as vocations directors.”
He said his hope was that the conference would reaffirm their ministry as vocations directors and “give us new focus and energy as we return to our parishes and dioceses.”