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Father Ralph O’Donnell talks with Doug and Margaret Quinn of Mary Our Queen Parish in Omaha, who are members of the Serra Club of Omaha, at the Region 9 Serra convention in Omaha. Photo by Marc May/For the Catholic Voice.

Serrans: Ignite excitement for vocations

The theme alone spoke volumes.

"Inspire! Ignite! Engage!" expresses Serra International’s goal whenever members meet to encourage each other and fellow Catholics discerning religious vocations, said two men who attended an Oct. 20-22, six-state Region 9 Serra convention in Omaha.

For 34-year Serran Greg Schwietz, president of the international group’s USA Council, the convention’s speakers, Masses and devotions recharged him for the work of supporting those considering calls to the priesthood or consecrated life.

Such gatherings help Serrans "break out of this small-world idea that everything happens right here" in their local club and realize "you’re part of a much larger organization working on a larger level," said Schwietz, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Omaha.

 

WELL ATTENDED

Attended by about 150 people from the region that includes Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and southern Illinois, and Tulsa, Okla., the convention began with tours of Boys Town and a Mass celebrated there by Archbishop George J. Lucas.

Much of the convention was held at the Omaha Marriott Regency, including Mass, adoration and a "lectio divina" session led by Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island. Archbishop Emeritus Elden Francis Curtiss presided over the closing Mass Oct. 22.

It was the first regional Serra convention for Dan O’Neill, president of the North Platte Area Serra Club.

A member of St. Patrick Parish in North Platte, O’Neill said he welcomed the two keynote talks by Catholic motivational speaker Patty Schneier and Father Ralph O’Donnell, a longtime Archdiocese of Omaha priest and current executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

"It was a very moving and spiritual experience," O’Neill said.

Schneier talked about the blessings she and her formerly lukewarm Catholic family found in embracing the church’s teachings and devotional life, O’Neill and Schwietz said. That fueled the vocation of her son, John, who was recently ordained a priest, O’Neill said.

She "talked about the source of vocations coming out of the primary seminary – and that’s the home," Schwietz said.

 

FATHER O’DONNELL

In his keynote speech, O’Donnell described his work at the USCCB and highlighted an annual survey of newly ordained Catholic priests by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).

CARA found that the average age of the U.S. church’s 590 newest priests is 34, down from 36 in 1999. Most are lifelong Catholics, and the majority had some full-time work experience before seminary. Three-fourths had been altar servers, with similar percentages saying they regularly pray the rosary and take part in eucharistic adoration.

Most who were ordained in 2017 also said they had been encouraged in their vocation by about four people in their lives, generally parish priests, friends or parishioners. But O’Neill said he was saddened to learn that half of the newest priests also reported being discouraged by at least one person — usually a friend, a classmate or an extended family member.

As Serra’s North Platte-area club was getting started, "someone came up to me and asked, ‘Would you be willing to sacrifice one of your (three) sons to the priesthood?’" O’Neill said. "That’s a terrible way to phrase it, but that’s the culture we’re in."

 

Archbishop George J. Lucas talks with Father Ralph O’Donnell at the Oct. 20-22 Region 9 Serra convention in Omaha.

 

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