November 2023 By Father Stephen Durkee, Director of Priestly Vocations Through this holy anointing, may…
A Pivotal Weekend…the Vianney Visit helps young men discern whether seminary is right for them by Fr. Stephen Durkee.
“May I use your pen?” I asked nervously to the lady seated next to me in the airport. I was filling out some final paperwork for the place I was visiting. After returning the pen, she asked, “Where are you going?” “St. Paul, Minnesota,” I replied. I stopped there; I didn’t want to tell her the reason for my visit. But she politely asked, “Oh, what’s in St. Paul?” There it was. The question I did not want her to ask.
I explained to her I was feeling called to the priesthood, so I was taking a weekend away from Central Michigan University to visit the seminary. She was delighted. I learned that she was a parishioner in the diocese. I also learned that she was in the spiritual director training program at the Dominican Center near Aquinas. When it was time for my flight, she asked for my mailing address and promised to pray for me on the visit, during my discernment and that God willing one day I would be ordained a priest. Never could I have imagined the friendship that would begin in this moment. It all started with me simply asking to use her pen.
As I sit here in my office at St. Pius X Parish in Grandville, I have just returned from the Vianney Visit. This year, 14 young men accompanied me on a bus trip to St. John Vianney College Seminary to “Come and See” the seminary. This is the same Vianney Visit I attended more than 10 years ago, a visit that convinced me I needed to go to seminary. It just felt like home. I remember the nerves, the excitement and how the decision to visit the seminary set everything in motion. Now I am in my fifth year as a priest. I love having the opportunity to allow young men to discover if this could be their vocation too.
On the 10-plus hour bus drive home, one young man wanted to discuss “What now?” I asked him, “How seriously are you considering the seminary?” His response: “Father, I’m in. I want to go. SJV just felt like home.” My advice to him was simple. First, make a commitment to pray daily; in order to follow God’s voice we need to listen to him. Second, I encouraged him to serve at his parish. He must become an apprentice of Jesus by living his life for the sake of others. For him, this might mean volunteering as an altar server, assisting in evangelization efforts through youth ministry and outreach ministry related to serving the poor and vulnerable. Lastly, I recommended that he start meeting with his pastor as a spiritual mentor to guide him on this journey.
These are the moments I feel privileged to witness and be a part of. These young men are men of prayer. They love Jesus, and they are open to the call to the priesthood. How many of these 14 will go to the seminary? I do not know. But I know this: Without the Vianney Visit, our diocese would not have the success we are having in increasing our number of seminarians. I am grateful to the Knights of Columbus and the diocese for making this visit financially possible for the men. Because of their generosity, the men can attend this trip for free. I am proud of our diocese, the Knights, and the young men who are willing to see the seminary.