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Office of News & Public Affairs

Boston College Hosts "Summit on Vocations" to Identify Ways to Promote Priestly Vocations

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (6-20-13) -- Catholic bishops, Catholic college and university presidents, university mission officers, campus ministry staff, and vocation directors for 15 dioceses and 10 orders of priests will convene at Boston College June 20-21 for a national gathering to discuss ways to promote vocations to the priesthood.

At the “Summit on Vocations: Exploring Ways to Promote Vocations to the Priesthood,” participants will discuss the results of a survey commissioned by Boston College and the Jesuit Conference to assess the impact of higher education on the vocational discernment of men entering the seminary and religious life in the United States.

The research study, “The Influence of College Experiences on Vocational Discernment to Priesthood and Religious Life,” was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) in Washington, DC. James C. Cavendish, an associate professor of sociology at the University of South Florida, and CARA Executive Director Thomas P. Gaunt, S.J., will present the study’s findings.

Other panels will discuss the state of vocations today and emerging strategies and new directions. About 100 attendees are expected.

This 2012 photo shows members of the Jesuit Community of Boston College concelebrating Mass with members of the Blessed Peter Faber Jesuit Community at St. Mary's Chapel. Photos by Fr. Harvey Egan, S.J.

“This is a critical time in our world and in our Church,” said Boston College Vice President and University Secretary Terrence P. Devino, S.J. “It is important that we ask the question on our college campuses- how can we further our work to promote priestly vocations? We hope the summit at Boston College will play an important part in developing a national strategy for fostering vocations.”

Among the notable clergy and academic leaders scheduled to participate in the Summit on Vocations are: Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap.; Archbishop of St. Louis Robert J. Carlson; Archbishop for the U.S. Military Services Timothy P. Broglio; Rev. W. Shawn McKnight, executive director, Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Assumption College President Francesco C. Cesareo, and Rev. Thomas J. O’Hara, C.S.C., provincial of the U.S. Province of Priests and Brothers, Congregation of Holy Cross.            

In addition to Fr. Devino, other Boston College participants are President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., who will deliver remarks; Professor Rev. Richard Lennan, chair of the Ecclesiastical Faculty, School of Theology and Ministry, and Woods College of Advancing Studies Interim Dean Rev. James P. Burns, I.V.D.

A Mass for Vocations will be celebrated by Archbishop Carlson at the Chapel at 9 Lake Street at 5 p.m. on June 20 and Cardinal O’Malley will offer the closing Mass at Gasson Chapel on June 21 at 2:30 p.m.  Members of the University community are welcome to attend the liturgies.

“The Influence of College Experiences on Vocational Discernment to Priesthood and Religious Life” represents one of the largest recent surveys of men in formation and the newly ordained. The survey polled respondents on college coursework, Mass attendance, involvement with campus ministry, experiences with religious retreats, and peer friendships, among other topics, to identify the distinct factors at Catholic colleges and universities that influence vocational discernment to diocesan priesthood or religious life.

The survey findings support the idea that Catholic colleges and universities offer a more encouraging environment for vocational discernment and more opportunities to dialogue about vocations. Compared to those who attended a non-Catholic college, those who attended a Catholic college are: over three times more likely to report being encouraged in their vocational discernment by college staff (50 percent to 14 percent); almost three times more likely to be encouraged by a college professor (72 percent to 25 percent); and substantially more likely to be encouraged by parents, siblings, friends, and campus ministers.

A Catholic college environment can provide opportunities for students to discuss their faith in an academic setting in ways that a non-Catholic college environment does not. Over half (51 percent) of those who attended Catholic colleges reported having discussed faith, religion, and prayer “frequently” during class, compared to only 11 percent of those who attended non-Catholic colleges. Similarly, Catholic-college attendees are substantially more likely than their counterparts to report having discussed these topics with professors outside of class (43 percent to nine percent), and with students outside of class (62 percent to 40 percent).

“The Influence of College Experiences on Vocational Discernment to Priesthood and Religious Life” survey found that one of the most influential college experiences in terms of shaping respondents’ religious vocation is having a regular spiritual director. While the level of reported influence does not vary much based on the type of college (Catholic vs. non-Catholic) the respondent attended, those who attended Catholic colleges are substantially more likely than their counterparts to have a regular spiritual director during college.

Having a priest, sister, or brother in the roles of professor or campus minister is another highly influential college experience in terms of fostering vocational discernment.

The Summit on Vocations is a collaboration of Boston College, the Archdiocese of Boston and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Financial support has been provided by the Knights of Columbus. Boston College’s support comes from various departments and offices: The Division of University Mission and Ministry, the Church in the 21st Century Center, Manresa House, the Woods College of Advancing Studies, the School of Theology and Ministry and the Blessed Peter Faber Jesuit Community.


--Kathleen Sullivan, Office of News & Public Affairs,