Like his friends in sports or his classmates hanging around the malls and subdivisions of his community, Mowry has pressures: grades, girls and keeping an open relationship with his parents.
In the past few months, though, he has found a salve. It sets him apart from his family, his neighbors and even his high school friends. He sat beaming during a teen vocation group one recent Wednesday night at St. Mary Parish in Kenosha.
Mowry is considering becoming a priest.
“I love this group,” he said. “It’s cool that a bunch of guys can get together and talk about faith. I started thinking about it last year when we went to the Steubenville Youth Conference in St. Louis. Then this group started for discernment; my faith was strong then, and it is helping me keep up with it.”
Fr. Jim Lobacz, archdiocesan vocations director, is eager to hear comments such as this as he looks forward to reversing the plunge in Catholics pursuing religious vocations.
“This wonderful group could be a great model and uses strategies to encourage younger men to consider the priesthood as an option,” he said.
Fr. Joe Shimek, ordained in 2007 and named associate pastor of St. Mary the following year, knew that one of his missions would be to reach out to young men who are open to the priesthood. He and St. Therese youth minister, Brian Magliocco, began thinking of ways to encourage high school students to consider vocations.
“Brian took the young people with him to the Steubenville Conference in St. Louis and when he was there, he sent a paper around to ask if there would be any interest in attending a discernment group,” Fr. Shimek said. “Bringing an interest in vocations is my priority; we have a call to meet vocations in all that we are to do.”
The monthly meetings attract approximately eight high school-age men.
“We gave the boys a Christian prayer book, which is a shorter form of the breviary, and a rosary and a Catholic prayer book,” the priest said.
The format for the meetings is constant: Members gather at 6 p.m., go to confession if they are interested, pray the rosary or evening prayer and celebrate Mass.
“After Mass. Fr. Joe and myself take the teens out for dinner,” Magliocco said. “This is a great opportunity to just talk to them and do some real bonding as Catholic men. It has been very fruitful so far.”
Funds for the monthly dinner night come from the Serra Club, parishioners and private donors who support the religious life.
Because the vocations group is open to all Catholic young men regardless of parish affiliation, Fr. Lobacz is hopeful that other parishes will adopt similar groups and form clusters throughout the archdiocese.
“This could easily boomerang and I think it is affirming that we have finally turned the corner on cultural vocations because I am seeing more support from vocation summer camps, teachers, religious education support and even parental support. The period of silence has ended,” he said.
While he isn’t certain if he will enter the seminary, Victor Aiello, a junior at Kenosha’s Tremper High School and member of St. Mary, admitted that he is happy to have time to share his faith with his peers.
“It is a great way to meet with a group of guys to talk about different things,” he said. “I am learning about all types of perspectives, such as priesthood, single life and marriage. We talk about it all.”
Since Nick Hartnell, a St. Joseph High School senior and member of St. Mary Parish, began attending the discernment group, he has been thinking seriously about pursuing the priesthood.
“It is nice to have this leadership and guidance to be able to talk about things,” he said. “It is giving a group of guys the right path to consider our future. I am discerning the priesthood and will be going to Marquette University next year. Right now I am 95 percent sure that I am going into business, but I plan to take theology and philosophy courses, too.”
For Tim Gleeson, a member of Mt. Carmel Parish, Kenosha, the opportunity to speak openly with Fr. Shimek about his path to the priesthood is an experience he might not have if it weren’t for attending the discernment group.
“I have learned a lot from Fr. Joe about what led him to the priesthood,” said Gleeson, who is home-schooled. “I also have had a chance to talk with Brian about considering married life – both of them help us figure things out. Who knows? Maybe it will be one of us who becomes a priest.”
Attracting people to a religious vocation means knowing what the average American teen faces and offering an alternative to the usual work or college plans. Magliocco begins with establishing openness and encouraging questions through his Life Teen group or through the vocations group.
“We want a culture open to the priesthood, single life and to discern and be open to what God is calling them to do,” he said. “We are not pushing them to do this. We certainly don’t want to make disgruntled priests, but we want to foster the need to be open to this universal call to holiness. We are all called to this and we all need to strive for this.”