What exactly do vocation ministers do?
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VOCATION MINISTERS for religious institutes typically work in two main areas: They promote awareness of religious life and their own communities, and they offerinformation and spiritual accompaniment to people considering religious life. If aperson decides to enter their community, they assist with the application process.
The professional ethics of the ministry require them never to pressure a person indiscernment and in fact to help discerners achieve a true sense of freedom about theirvocational decisions. “In the end, vocation directors want to point discerners in the rightdirection by helping them sift through their many options and be attentive to where theSpirit is leading them,” explains Sister Deborah Borneman, SS.C.M., director of missionintegration for the National Religious Vocation Conference (VISION’s parent organization).
Vocation ministers are appointed by the leaders of their religious communities,so their backgrounds tend to be in whatever ministries their communities do.
“Leadership generally appoints members who are perpetually professed, have agraduate education, can adapt quickly to new cultures, and have a solid love of theirown vocation and religious institute,” says Borneman.
To prepare for the ministry most attend a series of professional workshops sponsored by the National ReligiousVocation Conference and stay updated through courses, reading, and networking with their peers.
FATHER Dennis Kerz, O.S.M. jumped with both feet into advocacy and service to thehomeless shortly after he arrived as pastor of St.
Philip Benizi Church in Fullerton, California in
2016. Kerz took the bold—and controversial—step of allowing an encampment of up to 30
homeless people in the parish parking lot.
Parishioners stored their belongings and providedfood, an endeavor that lasted from 2017 to 2019.
“I had people literally drop to their kneesto say, ‘Father, I have no place to go,’” Kerz says.
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SERVITE PRIEST OFFERS A LOT TO HOMELESS PEOPLE
“It [the encampment] caused a stir, not entirelypositive,” with a small number of people leavingthe parish but others joining it.
In addition to the encampment, Kerz andothers from the parish and the larger faithcommunity pushed hard to get Fullerton to opena shelter, once bringing out 600 supporters toa city council meeting on the issue. The shelterthey fought for opened in late 2020.
To counter negative stereotypes of homelesspeople, Kerz began in 2018 to count the numberof people who died each month “with no fixedabode” as the coroner’s report puts it. Eachmonth Kerz publishes an article in the Voiceof Orange County website that names eachindividual who has died on the streets. With oneof the deacons at St. Philip Benizi he also holds amonthly prayer service for them.
Kerz’ efforts, he says, are part of the Servitetradition, embedded in their constitution: “We’resupposed to stand at the foot of the cross andbe by the side of the suffering.” He also expectslittle reprieve in the future. Kerz has set hissights on advocating for greater access to low-income housing—which he sees as the long-term solution to homelessness.
FATHER DENNISKerz, O.S.M. (below,center) with Sergio,Eddie, and Andy,men living on thestreet near Kerz’parish.
COURTESY OF FATHER DENNIS KERZ, O.S.M.
VOCATION MINISTERS often givepresentations about religious life. SisterDeborah Borneman, SS.C.M. is directorof mission integration for the NationalReligious Vocation Conference.