Newly appointed vocations director seeks to make priesthood, religious life realistic options for young people
BY TERRY MCGUIRE
Archbishop J. Peter Sartain appointed Father Bryan Dolejsi as the archdiocese's new vocations director last July. Father Dolejsi said his goal is to make the thought of a vocation as "realistic" to young people as any other occupation. Photo: Chris Tumbusch
If you haven't seen Father Bryan Dolejsi in your parish yet, you will.
The archdiocese's new director of vocations will be highly visible in the coming months and years as he plans to preach on vocations in each of the 147 parishes and missions in Western Washington. He'll be carrying out Archbishop J. Peter Sartain's mandate of creating a "culture of vocations" in the archdiocese, with a focus on the priesthood and religious life.
"At its core, we're trying to form good men to be good priests to serve our local parishes," Father Dolejsi says of his office.
Since his appointment last July 1, he has visited approximately 25 parishes and missions, speaking at Masses to encourage parishioners and staffs not only to pray for vocations but to invite those young people who appear to possess the right qualities to consider a vocation as a priest or a religious sister or brother. Who better than the parish to know their potential, Father Dolejsi said.
The goal is to make the thought of a vocation to the priesthood or religious life as "realistic" in a young person's mind as any other occupation, be it a doctor, firefighter or pilot, Father Dolejsi said.
Father David Toups, a Florida-based priest and former executive director of the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, noted in his "Ten Things That Promote Vocations" that "vocations kept out of sight are out of mind." Vocations need to "be talked about regularly if a vocation culture is to take root in parishes and homes," Father Toups says.
Father Dolejsi added that young people should discern their vocation with the church rather than on their own, because "it's not just them looking at us that they want to be a priest, it's us looking at them" to see if they have what it takes.
‘Invite Jesus into the dialogue'
And no matter whether the vocation is in or outside the church, "invite Jesus into the dialogue and the decisions that you're making before you make them," he advises, "as opposed to making a choice and then checking with Jesus later."
So what qualities make for a good priest candidate? Someone who is prayerful, compassionate, able to preach the Gospel and able to relate to both young and old, Father Dolejsi said. Also, the young man should have leadership abilities, a sense of sacrifice and a desire to be of service to others.
In his first six months as director of vocations, Father Dolejsi has been encouraged by the feedback from his parish visits. He said people have come up after Mass to thank him and say, "You know, I've been in the church my whole life and I've never heard somebody come through specifically to speak about religious vocations."
He said the most visible change in his office is the fact it is headed by a priest. His predecessor, Rich Shively, who is now parish administrator at Mary, Queen of Peace Parish in Sammamish, is a layperson.
"There's an advantage to having a layperson," Father Dolejsi said, noting that Shively brought a perspective of being a spouse, dad and parishioner to the role. "The advantage of having a priest is that I've been through the seminary and I've served as a priest in different contexts," he said, "so I know it from the inside out."
That will help him, he said, as he discerns with God if candidates have the qualities and gifts needed to be a pastor of a parish.
Reaching young people
At 6 feet 2 inches in height, the affable and articulate former college basketball player stands out at gatherings. At age 36, Father Dolejsi is young enough to relate to young people.
Ordained to the priesthood in 2006, he most recently was priest administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Issaquah. In addition to his ministry as vocations director, he is chaplain two days a week at Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien. And part of his duties as vocations director is to visit the archdiocese's 28 seminarians around the U.S. and in Rome.
He plans to use the Internet and social media to reach young people. His office also has developed brochures, posters and a seminarian handbook, and it recently added a monthly discernment night in Tacoma to go along with monthly discernment gatherings in Everett, Seattle and Vancouver.
Father Dolejsi is investigating a program used in several dioceses that focuses on outreach to children in the sixth and 11th grades. Started in the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1989, Focus 11 is based on studies that show that young people first think about their careers when they're 11 and then reinforce their thoughts when they are high school juniors.
Priests reflect diversity
He also will work with the Serra Club, the Knights of Columbus and vocations directors of religious communities to promote vocations.
He said inquiries into the priesthood reflect the diversity found in the Archdiocese of Seattle, with European Americans, African Americans and people of Hispanic, Vietnamese, Korean and Filipino ancestries represented. The USCCB, in a report last year on the ordination Class of 2011, said 69 percent of the new priests are Caucasian, 15 percent Latino, 10 percent Asian/Pacific Islander or Hawaiian, and 5 percent African American.
The report noted that 80 percent of the ordinands are under 40 years of age. In the Archdiocese of Seattle, men interested in the priesthood must be no older than 43 by the time they enter the seminary. They also must have legal status and be versed in the English language, and those new to the area must have two years' residency in the archdiocese.
While Father Dolejsi's focus is on the priesthood and religious life, he notes there are two other vocations in the church: married life and single life.
"We all have a baptismal call to grow in holiness," he said, and all four vocations "are paths to it."