Fr. Kris Schmidt, Vocations Lead at the Archdiocese of Edmonton, delivers a presentation at the vocations rally held at St. Joseph’s Basilica in February. Luke Fuentebella

Dioceses aim to build ‘culture of vocation’

  • April 3, 2024

The Benedict XVI Institute of Newman Theological College and the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton took the first step towards building a new “culture of vocation” in Canada on Feb. 2 by hosting a vocations rally at St. Joseph’s Basilica, which drew 300 people.

On April 21, the Diocese of Calgary will join the cause with a vocations rally called “Come Follow Me” at St. Michael Catholic Community parish starting at 11 a.m.

Dr. Ryan Topping, the director of the Benedict XVI Institute and a professor of theology at Newman, is one of the keynote speakers. He will present his recently published study, Meet Our New Priests: 12 Key Findings about the Background, Discernment, and Seminary Formation of Canada’s Recent Ordination Classes.

The Saskatoon native’s research revealed disquieting trends that need reversing. He found that the “national rate of retention for seminarians in 2022 was 46 per cent.” If that degree holds, “in 2030, Canadian seminaries will present for ordination in the entire country about 13 Catholic priests.”

Topping referred to the Vatican Central Office of Church Statistics’ replacement ratio for seminarians to priests (RRSP) equation in his report. The Vatican suggests that if a diocese or country seeks to replenish its current number of priests, the RRSP “should be 12.5 seminarians for every 100 priests.” According to Topping, 6,025 active or retired priests are in Canada today. Applying the RRSP equation of 12.5 per cent yields a figure of 753 seminarians. There are reportedly 211 active seminarians in Canada. Thus, there needs to be 3.57 times more young men entering the seminary to attain the desired RRSP.

Alluding to “Rome not being built in a day,” Topping will not use his presentation to deliver a frantic doom-and-gloom message about the state of vocations to religious life in the Great White North. Comparing the nurturing of vocations to growing flowers, Topping told The Catholic Register “that the right conditions need to be fostered” within Catholic culture.  

“There are three legs to the stool of Catholic culture: the family, parish, and the school,” he said. Nothing can replace any one of those legs. The family is the first place of vocation. Insofar as families are flourishing, confident, and centres of Catholic culture, they provide the kinds of conditions that allow for a generous response to The Lord.

“The second stool is the parish,” continued Topping. “One of our consistent findings is that Eucharistic Adoration is highly correlated to an openness to vocations. Secondly, we found that the number one ministry within the parish that seminarians were involved with before entering the seminary was serving at the altar. When young men apprentice at the altar, it is far more likely that they will take seriously a call in their lives.”

As indicated in Meet Our New Priests, of the 23 new ordinands (of the 26 invited) from 2021 and 2022 who participated in the Benedict XVI Institute’s survey, 70 per cent were former altar servers. A similarly high percentage — 61 — stated they served as lectors. 

As for the role of schools, Topping said “there is a need for apologetics and a sense of how to engage with modern secular culture in a way that’s confident, grounded in reason and open to dialogue.”

 Topping said the Edmonton vocations rally was illuminating for him, and he expects the Calgary event to be the same. 

Fr. Cristino Bouvette, the vocations director for the Calgary diocese, and Fr. Santiago Torres, who was ordained in 2023 and now serves as associate pastor of All Saints Parish in Lethbridge, Alta., will deliver presentations about vocations. Bishop William McGrattan will deliver the closing address. 

Archbishop Richard Smith fulfilled that role at the Edmonton rally. Smith communicated the urgent need for every member of the Catholic community to be a part of the vocations solution. He alluded to the slogan of the Edmonton rally, “All hands on deck.”

“When a ship’s captain calls out ‘all hands on deck, it is often in the face of an urgent crisis,” said Smith. “Well, our world today finds itself before just that: a crisis so pressing that it demands everyone work together to face and overcome it. It is a crisis of hope.

“The one sure answer to that crisis is Jesus Christ and the light He brings, the light He is,” added Smith. “It falls to all of us, as members of His Body, to make Him known. So, the call of the Church to each and every one of us is ‘all hands on deck!’ None of us can remain indifferent to the challenge before us.”

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