Pray for Vocations program expands into schools

By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor

SPREADING THE WORD• This icon of Mary, Mother of the Eternal High Priest, is being used as a part of the diocesan initiative to encourage families to pray for vocations in parishes and now, schools. Courtesy photo

Lori Bonfrisco admits that she rarely thought about the importance of supporting vocations to the priesthood and religious life through prayer.

But when her fifth-grade daughter, Elena, announced that she was given an opportunity in which she and her family were asked to participate in the new Pray for Vocations campaign being offered in her school, St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford, Bonfrisco began to have a change of mind and heart.

“This program gets a family to stop all the noise of life and pray together. It was a rewarding experience,” Bonfrisco said, acknowledging the family became enlightened about those who choose a Church vocation, their lives and some of the challenges they encounter.

“We found out making time to pray together is spiritually fulfilling, and we still continue to pray together each morning,” she said.

The Pray for Vocations program was developed by the Bonfriscos’ pastor, Father Daniel Swift, as a way to encourage families to regularly pray that more men and women respond to the call to priesthood and religious life. Father Swift, who is also an assistant diocesan director of vocations, introduced the program to parishes in mid-January, and within a matter of weeks, he decided to broaden his reach and bring the program to the students in the Diocese’s Catholic schools.

“The more prayers we offer for vocations, the greater the prayer will be answered,” Father Swift said. “Giving the opportunity to our students is a logical next step after the parishes.”

The program, he said, is modeled after the “Cup of Elijah” Pray for Vocations program in which a chalice is given to one household for a week to pray for vocations. However, instead of using a chalice, Father Swift’s program uses an icon depicting an image of Mary, Mother of the Eternal High Priest, along with matching prayer cards. The icon was created by Nadine Haines, an iconographer and longtime St. Mary of the Lakes parishioner.

Similar to how he notified the parishes, Father Swift invited the elementary and high school principals in the Diocese to introduce the program to the students. In St. Mary of the Lakes School, for example, one student in each of the eight homerooms in grades five through eight takes the icon home along with holy cards for each family member in order to pray as a family for vocations for a week. On the following Monday, the student returns the icon so it can be given to the next student for use. Like the parishes, the schools are responsible for purchasing the icons and holy cards. Cost is $20 per icon, and the holy cards are 15 cents each.

While the Pray for Vocations program is up and running in St. Mary of the Lakes Parish and School, other parishes and schools working toward its implementation include Resurrection Parish, Delran, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Asbury Park.

Father John C. Garrett, pastor of Resurrection Parish, said he thought introducing the program would fit well with plans he has for his parish to “promote the Domestic Church.” He’s been urging families to pray together and is turning the parish’s 10 a.m. Sunday Mass into one with more of a family focus.

At the start of Lent, Father Garrett purchased four icons, two for each of the parish’s worship sites – Holy Name in Delran and St. Casimir, Riverside – and introduced the program on Easter. To date, Father Garrett said that families have signed up to participate in the program, and at some point, he plans to invite one of the families to give a witness talk during Mass.

The program is set to be introduced at the start of the 2018-2019 academic year in Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, said Sister of St. Joseph Jude Boyce, principal.

Noting that she views the program as a wonderful effort to promote priestly and religious vocations in the Diocese, Sister Jude said, “When I received the email from Father Dan, I believed that this could be another step in our effort to have families pray together. Hopefully, there will be a priest and a religious brother and a sister in our community.”

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