Vocations director asks students to be open to God’s call

Every fall, vocations director Father Nick Junker and members of the Serra Club invite fifth and sixth grade school boys from diocesan schools to tour Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. After Christmas, it is the high school sophomores turn. The tradition goes back almost a decade.

They tour the classrooms, the chapel, the library and the grounds. Many of the boys ask about the nature of the priesthood and the personal life of a priest.”

Fr. Nick’s role as a full-time vocation director is a relatively new one.  In recent years, vocation directors in the Diocese of Belleville have also been pastors of parishes at the same time.

“The bishops are naming full-time vocations directors,” he said. “Years ago, there were lots of priests and sisters in the schools who could talk about vocations. Those days are largely gone.”

Father Nick says the most effective thing he does is to encourage pastors and parents to encourage vocations.

Students also hear from Father Chris Martin, vocation director for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, who tells the students that the seminary is “full up” with 132 seminarians, though only one is from the Diocese of Belleville, Nicholas Fleming of St. Clare of Assisi Parish in O’Fallon. Many of the seminarians hail from other countries, including Korea, Mexico and the continent of Africa.

“Right now, as sixth graders, you are most to what God has in store for you,” Father Chris says. “Be patient and be open.”

Besides leading tours and visiting classrooms, Father Nick visits parishes where he encourages parents and extended family members to nurture vocations in their young people. He asks families to “be open.”

Father Junker 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.”

“We’re trying to create a culture of vocations,” Father Nick says. “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.”

How is the new initiative of parishes to appoint a liaison for vocations


Vocations by the numbers

The majority of women’s and men’s communities have at least one person in initial formation. Since 2009, the majority of religious institutes have at least one person in formation: 66 percent of women’s institutes and 80 percent of men’s institutes.


The average age for discernment is 19 and for entrance 30.

The average age a person first considers a vocation to religious life is 19 years of age, while the average age of entrance to religious life is 30. The average age of women and men making perpetual profession is 39 years old.

The average age of potential ordinands is 24 years old with the majority being ordained under age 35. In the Ordination Class of 2016, only 3 percent were over the age of 60.

Religious institutes that sponsor vocation promotion and vocation discernment programs directed toward college students and young adults are more likely to have new members than those that do not sponsor such programs.


Vocations are becoming more diverse, reflecting the increasing diversity in the U.S. Catholic population as a whole. Among those professing final vows in 2016, 66 percent are Caucasian; 16 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander; 11 percent Hispanic; and 4 percent are African/African American.

More than six in ten institutes report having at least one entrant in the past ten years born outside the U.S. Among the challenges for integrating new members into institutes are isolation, age gaps, language and communication skills, difficulties with the regulations of immigration and naturalizations services, and a lack of understanding of each other’s culture.

Eighty percent of those entering religious life were born in the United States. From those who were born outside the U.S., women and men self-identified 33 different countries of origin, with the most frequently mentioned country of birth is Vietnam and Mexico.


The majority of those entering religious life are highly educated.

The majority of those entering religious life attend public schools and universities, yet compared to the national average, they are more likely than other U.S. Catholics to attend Catholic schools and universities. Twelve percent report being home schooled at some time in their educational background. Perpetual professions and ordinations have increased in the past five years n 2016 216 women and men professed final vows from 82 religious institutes 548 potential ordinands from 32 religious institutes; 140 arch/dioceses n 2015 136 women and men professed final vows from 75 religious institutes 595 potential ordinands from 28 religious institutes; 120 arch/dioceses n 2014 190 women and men professed final vows from 62 religious institutes 477 potential ordinands from 31 religious institutes; 114 arch/dioceses n 2013 107 women and men professed final vows from 55 religious institutes 497 potential ordinands from 30 religious institutes; 119 arch/dioceses n 2012 156 women and men professed final vows from 83 religious institutes 487 potential ordinands from 49 religious institutes; 123 arch/dioceses n 2011 122 women and men professed final vows from 60 religious institutes 480 potential ordinands from 54 religious institutes.

Among those entering religious life, 74 percent earned an undergraduate or graduate degree before entering (up from 70 percent in 2009). Among those entering seminary 59 percent earned at least a bachelor’s degree before entering. Religious ordinands were more likely than diocesan ordinands to have an undergraduate degree (45 percent compared to 39 percent).

Among religious institutes, 54 percent have at least one member working on a college campus. Such a presence is wise considering the number of entrants with undergraduate degrees.

The impact of educational debt upon entrance to religious life is still an issue for some entrants. The average length of time required to pay off educational debt before entrance is four years and the average amount of educational debt is $29,100. The National Fund for Catholic Religious Vocations has assisted candidates with educational debt since 2015.


The majority participated in parish ministry prior to entering formation

85 percent of newly ordained ministers are invited to consider the priesthood by their pastors, second only to families.

Women and men are equally likely to have served in parish ministry. The most common ministry experience prior to entrance in order is: Lector, Altar Server, Music Ministry, and Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist. Over one-third participated in youth ministry and college campus ministry before entering.

Before entering religious life or the seminary, one in six participated in World Youth Day. Women were three times more likely than men to have participated in World Youth Day.


Entrants lack familial support; influenced by a sense of call, example, and encouragement of others

Only 27 percent of mothers and 18 percent of fathers encouraged their son or daughter to consider a vocation to religious life prior to entering. Potential ordinands received slightly more encouragement with 42 percent of mothers and 38 percent of fathers encouraging potential ordinands to consider priesthood before entering the seminary.

Families have misconceptions and worries about vocations, such as concerns that their child/sibling may be lonely, overworked, or unable to be with family. The 2015 NRVC/CARA Study on the Role of the Family outlines ways families can support vocation discernment.

While spirituality, community life, prayer life, and the mission of the religious institute are factors that attract newer members to their respective institute, the example of professed members has been most likely to attract newer members “very much” since 2009.

For members of the Entrance Class of 2016 the decision to enter their religious institute was “very much” influenced by the community life in the institute (66 percent), the prayer life/styles (65 percent), the lifestyle of members (54 percent), types of ministries (54 percent), and its practice regarding a religious habit (55 percent).

Although Catholics do not typically see it as their role to encourage vocations, women and men are nearly twice as likely to consider a vocation when encouraged by another person. The effect is additive. People who are encouraged by three persons are five times more likely to consider a vocation than someone who was not encouraged by anyone.

For more information on vocations to the priesthood, please contact Father Junker at 618/722-5035, [email protected]