The Belleville diocesan Vocations director keeps a busy schedule. Father Nicholas Junker is Sacramental Minister to the Newman Catholic Student Center at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale where he lives and maintains an office at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Belleville as well.
A few students who regularly go to the Newman Center are “discerning a call to the priesthood and religious life. While they are not from our diocese, I’m trying to help them,” he said.
Father Junker makes regular visits to Catholic schools and parishes where he speaks not only to young men but also encourages parents and extended family members to nurture vocations in their young people. He asks families to “be open.”
“I’m constantly on the move,” he said, visiting diocesan Catholic schools where he celebrates the liturgy and then visits classrooms taking questions from students. Father Junker also stresses the importance of the pastors in nurturing vocations. Citing a national survey, he said: “85 percent of newly ordained ministers are invited to consider the priesthood by their pastors, second only to families.”
Many of the young people ask abut the nature of the priesthood and the personal life of a priest. Ordained in 2008, he said he never imagined himself a vocations director. “I pictured myself as a pastor, but God has a sense of humor,” Father Junker said.
His vocation was nurtured in his immediate and extended family. “My grandmother wanted a priest in the family, and my dad is the youngest of seven. She knew she was running out of people.” While his grandmother died before he was ordained, Father Junker felt her presence in his journey to the priesthood and at his ordination as well.
Throughout the school year, Father Junker meets students from Catholic schools at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, where the diocese currently has two seminarians studying for the priesthood: Nicholas Fleming and Christopher Streetman, and gives them a tour. The visits are sponsored by the Serra Club of St. Clair County.
In a recent visit, fifth- and sixth-graders from Blessed Sacrament and St. Teresa schools in Belleville and St. John in Smithton toured the campus with Father Junker.
In a new initiative, Father Junker has asked parishes to appoint a liaison for vocations in each parish to work with the pastor, the parish and the vocations office.
“We’re trying to create a culture of vocations,” Father Junker said. “It’s so much bigger than just numbers. When I visit the seminaries and see what great men they are and what great priests they will be, I am encouraged.”
Noting that it is helpful for people to know a vocations director who is important to the process, but it is equally important for work to be ongoing at the parish level.
“The vocations director plays a supportive role to the other work already in process at the parish and family level,” Father Junker said.
For more information on vocations to the priesthood, please contact Father Junker at 618/722-5035, [email protected]