Sustaining a culture of vocations

By Rev. Tyler R. Tenbarge

Special to The Message

In the summer of 2018, Bishop Joseph M. Siegel and I sat down to talk about his expectations for the vocations office and our ministries. In the conversation that day, Bishop Siegel shared that he wanted us to not just “promote religious vocations” or only to “recruit seminarians.” He wanted us to begin “creating a culture of vocations” across parishes in our 12 counties. 

Creating “a culture” is a big task. 

Creating a culture means zooming out and focusing on a long-term goal, even sometimes at the expense of shorter-term gains. Would we even see any fruit if we were focusing on the long game? 

So we began to create a culture. 

Since the then-new House of Discernment would have young men living and discerning there, we opened our community to others for prayer on Monday nights at Sacred Heart Church in Evansville. Why not invite others to pray for and with us about vocations? Quickly, the “Holy Hour and Mass for Vocations” attracted folks from all over the greater Evansville area. Attendance six years later remains at 200 to 300 faithful, many of whom are teenagers and young adults. Families come together, too, and couples have made “Monday Nights” their destination for a date. Several couples who met there have now been married.

We began reaching even younger men and women by creating communities of faith formation and discernment for teenagers called Savio for boys and Siena for girls. Hundreds of youth from more than two-thirds of our parishes have been active in these communities which have met at Sacred Heart, St. Mary in Ireland, St. Joseph in Jasper, St. John in Daylight, and Corpus Christi in Evansville. Of the six 2024 graduates entering their first year of seminary this fall, four were active in Savio.

We reached out to folks who enjoy sports, and we connected young men to priests and seminarians on the court with our new Cleric Cup volleyball tournament, which started in 2021. The faithful get to see their pastors’ competitive side, and teenagers get a chance to defeat the seminarians or priests.

A group for young adult women called Fiat was formed a few years ago, too, offering ladies discerning a call to religious life a place and support for visiting convents, having days of recollection and prayer, and forming friendships with others who may have the same vocation as they are hearing.

The Propaedeutic Stage of seminary formation, a year of formation prior to beginning philosophy studies, is now hosted at Sacred Heart’s campus for our first-year seminarians. The men take classes taught by priests and lay faithful from the diocese and visit parishes on the weekends. Bishop Siegel has been tremendously active in spending time with the men in their first year, and the program has gone so well that we are making more space for these first-year seminarians in the former convent building at Sacred Heart this fall. The former rectory will again return to housing men who are still discerning whether God is calling them to seminary. 

A new community of cloistered sisters has moved into a convent that was vacated by another group of faithful sisters, and this new community is young and holy, and the Lord will surely bless their apostolate of praying for us right here in southwest Indiana. 

If that doesn’t all indicate a growing “culture of vocations,” then maybe we can add in ordaining three new priests this month, in addition to ordaining four more in the summer of 2025. And all seven of these men were born and raised in our 12 counties, attended our schools and are under the age of 32! 

People are praying — and they have been — for decades. They ask the Father to “send us holy priests and consecrated vocations,” and Father is listening! As the Lord blesses us in creating this culture of vocations, now we may also want to begin looking at sustaining it. 

The fruit is here. The Lord is calling young people to himself. Families are so open to their children hearing God’s voice. Sisters are still being called. Men are being ordained, and they are our men, your family from your parishes.

So keep going! Pray for vocations. Gather with others who are supporting this culture. Encourage the young people in your life to find and follow the voice of Christ. The long-term goal is that each person in our diocese will know the Lord and live the life he created for them, and we are heading there. Please join us!

Father Tyler serves as Diocese of Evansville Director of Vocations, Diocesan Director of the Propaedeutic Program and Father Deydier House of Discernment Chaplain and Director.