Vocations retreat draws record-breaking crowd

BRIGHTON -- A record-breaking crowd of over 60 men discerning vocations to the priesthood participated in a weekend retreat at St. John Seminary Feb. 2-5.

The discernment weekend was the counterpart to a similar event held Feb. 1 at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston for men over age 40.

So many men took part in the St. John’s retreat that the Vocations Office had to rent beds for some of them to sleep at adjacent Bishop Peterson Hall, said Father Daniel Hennessey, director of the Vocations Office.

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley said in his Feb. 9 blog post, “The large number of participants was evidence that the seminary and the priesthood are alive and well.”

“Certainly, in our parishes and religious communities, we are always asking for prayer for vocations, and I think this is a sign that those prayers are heard. In praying for vocations, we are publicly witnessing to our own conviction in the importance of vocations in the Church. This, in turn, is an encouragement to our young people,” he added.

Father Hennessey agreed with the cardinal.

“One of the reasons why I believe we had more men attending this year is because of all of the people in the archdiocese who were praying for the spiritual success of this retreat,” he said

Father Hennessey added that he had sent a letter to all the religious orders and lay orders in the archdiocese, requesting their prayers.

“I asked them to pray specifically that the men who the Lord desired to be on this retreat would be invited and would attend,” he said.

Father Hennessey said he also attributes the success of the retreat to parish priests who encouraged many young men to attend the retreat.

He attributes the turnout, higher than past years, to hard work and God’s grace. Last year there were 48 men who participated and the year before that there were over 30 men, he said.

About 10 men attended the day-long retreat at Blessed John, which began with a conference by Cardinal O’Malley. He spoke to the men about vocations to the priesthood as well as participated in evening prayer and dinner that night, he said.

The St. John’s retreat participants were mostly college-aged and represented the diversity and richness of the Church in Boston, Cardinal O’Malley said in his blog post.

“Among the participants we had immigrants who were Asian, Cape Verdean and Hispanic. In addition, we had students from MIT, Harvard, Boston College and Boston University,” he said in his post.

Participants spent much of their time in prayer with the seminarians at St. John’s. They prayed the rosary together, dedicating their discernment to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The men also participated in adoration, confession and had many opportunities to reflect silently on the different activities, he said.

Cardinal O’Malley gave the first conference at the retreat, speaking on the importance of prayer. He also celebrated Mass for the men on Feb. 3 and 4. The Feb. 4 Mass was concelebrated by Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, who spoke to the men for a half-hour about the priesthood. Cardinal Stafford, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary was visiting the archdiocese to deliver a series of talks on the Sacrament of Penance.

Conferences were also given by Father James DiPerri, a faculty member at Blessed John, and Father Christopher O’Connor, a faculty member at St. John’s, Father Hennessey added.

Men from both retreats said that they especially enjoyed hearing Cardinal O’Malley speak and meeting the seminarians. They added that they were encouraged to see so many other men their age considering a vocation to the priesthood, he said.

“Many of the men who attended both of the retreats said that they found it very helpful to them, both for their Christian life and for discerning God’s specific call for them,” Father Hennessey said.