By Rev. Walter Szczesny
Recent letters to The News have painted a picture of the Catholic Church at a crossroads. Indeed, the Catholic Church faces significant challenges when it comes to ministry, where needs are mushrooming.
This is nothing new. Jesus states in the Gospel, “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few, so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” The Catholic Church has always been looking for talented, dedicated harvest workers and there never seem to be enough because the harvest is so plentiful.
Bishop Richard J. Malone, the Diocese of Buffalo’s Office of Vocations and Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora have made it a priority to educate and equip harvest workers for the Buffalo Diocese’s growing field.
These harvest workers include priests, deacons, women and men religious and the laity. Programs at the seminary and other sites across Western New York prepare these and others for the gift and challenge of ministry.
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in men studying for the priesthood in the diocese, reflecting a national trend. The diocese currently has 38 men studying at different levels with hopes of serving one day as a Catholic priest. Five years ago, that number was just 12.
These high-quality candidates, who are thoroughly screened, bring with them to their seminary studies a variety of life and work experiences. Some enter a seminary program right out of high school and at 18 years old enroll at St. Mark College Seminary at Gannon University in Erie. Upon graduation, they enter the graduate theological program at Christ the King Seminary. There are now four Buffalo seminarians in the St. Mark program.
Many enter directly into the program with degrees ranging from business administration to sports management, from sociology to psychology. Many come with years of successful career experience in law, teaching, government service and social work. It is much like the universal call of Jesus to fishermen and tax collectors – to come and follow him and become fishers of men and women.
The diocese is also very carefully interviewing and screening priests from other countries who are asking to minister here. They will join the ranks of our good priests who are faithful to their ministry in these challenging times.
Will there ever be enough harvest workers to minister to the faithful who are desperately looking for counseling, service, food and shelter? Will there ever be enough priests to administer the sacraments? Probably not. But with God’s guidance and the power of prayer, the Diocese of Buffalo will continue to seek out, invite and educate those who feel they are called by God to minister to his people in the Catholic Church.
Rev. Walter Szczesny is director of vocations for the Diocese of Buffalo.