By Rob Grant, Special to The Anchor
Serra International is a global, lay organization that promotes vocations to the ministerial priesthood, encourages vocations to consecrated religious life, and assists its members to recognize and respond in their own lives to God’s call to holiness.
Founded in 1935, in Seattle, Serra has chartered 1,170 clubs in 46 countries.
Dan Grady possesses 25 years of banking experience and is now vice president of First Community Bank, but summed up the bottom line.
“The best decision in my life was to join Serra,” he said.
Grady is on the Board of Trustees as president.
“We’ve seen a general improvement in vocations this past year in our country, but more markedly in Nigeria, Philippines, Thailand, India, and Singapore,” he said.
A Serran since 1996, the second-term president for Serra’s Grand Rapid Club recounts a turning point and intensification of their mission.
“In 2001, at our meeting with St. John Paul II, he brought into focus for us Serrans two simple things:
1. Absolute primacy of prayer for vocations.
2. More attentiveness to personal holiness of our members.
The next big boost in promoting vocations came on Oct. 25, 2004. Serra received approval from the Holy See for use of the invocation — Mary, Mother of Vocations, pray for us.”
The positive results from those 2001 and 2004 milestones fly in the face of conventional wisdom — that leadership is the be-all and end-all of every success. Rather, prayer is the seedbed of each authentic triumph, including leadership.
This notion resonates with Serra’s executive director, John Liston, who has witnessed prayer potently impacting vocational growth.
“We receive many amazing letters,” Liston said. “In person, many priests, religious and seminarians when recognizing my Serra badge, comment how Serra has helped them, affirmed their vocation.
“A mountaintop moment at a seminary in Philadelphia where a former Serra altar-server award-winner recalled being spurred through that experience to begin thinking about the priesthood — he’s in seminary today.
“I work with the best Catholics in the world,” he said. “That’s just a fact. It’s amazing to hear of Serrans’ faith journeys — unshaken even in mighty trials.”
Serra Clubs foster holiness in their members by equipping them to impact the greater community at large, which falls within their sphere of influence, through such devotions as daily attendance at Mass and Eucharistic Adoration.
Grady’s experience confirms, “Unsurprisingly, the most successful members are those whose devotion toward the priesthood is most intense; these Serrans consistently go to Eucharistic Adoration, attend daily Mass, and pray Rosaries for vocations.”
Liston marvels at the power of Eucharistic Adoration: “Caicó is a small town in Brazil that despite being poor is a political and cultural centre. A few years after Serra set up a Eucharistic Adoration program, now their bishop has a problem — too many vocations!”
At the 2015 Serra Rally in Houston, Liston relayed, “We met St. Paul Street Evangelization and Vianney Vocations, which triggered the importance of developing new youth models to revisit what will better attract younger members. We plan to organize many event-driven activities and pique interest.
“Although involved with Serra as a youth through a Boy Scout troop leader when looking for a summer job, I embraced Serra through a simple concept — an Argentinean Serran explained the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, crystallizing my faith.
“The deepening of my commitment sprung from the influence of our patron, Blessed Junipero Serra. While attending law school in 2008-2011 at night, I worked as Serra’s office administrator during the day. I left Serra briefly to pursue a law career.
“In 2013, I was asked to become Serra’s executive director. How busy would life become? Feeling overtaxed, I researched Father Serra’s life; the well-to-do Fray Serra held the chairman of theology at University in Mallorca, Spain, then felt called to preach the Gospel, and become a missionary traveling from Spain to Mexico where through being bitten by a scorpion contracted an ulcerated leg — quite a hardship. If he could relinquish all worldly comforts, I can put my hat into the ring. Only two-and-a-half months of practicing law, I decided to act in kind — leaving a law career, to solely serve the Church. By saying yes, I became executive director of Serra.”
Forging ahead with their patron’s time-heralded motto — ever forward, never back, Liston expounded on Serra Clubs’ activities.
“Adopt-A-Priest programs are where we show a priest around town, introducing him to people in the community — a support network for the priest,” Liston said. “People forget that the priesthood can be lonely.
“Then Eucharistic Adoration programs are typically launched. The 31-Club is well-received. Serrans sign up to pray for a different, priest, religious, or seminarian. We keep vocations in our prayers, hearts, and minds.”
Grady added, “One fruit of Serra’s activities is in evidence in the son of one of our Serrans; namely Auxiliary-bishop Andrew Cozzens of St. Paul, Minn.
“Before joining Serra, I didn’t fully appreciate what they do. Not only do I better understand my faith and realize how vitally important the support Serrans give one another in living it out in a secular world, but the privilege of speaking with many priests, nuns and bishops who’ve helped me become a better disciple of Christ, is priceless.
“Serrans also contribute to Serra International Foundation — providing grants between $150,000-$200,000.
“Our Episcopal Advisor is Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., whose father was a Serran. His Eminence says, ‘Vocations are everybody’s business.’”
Serra’s mission recognizes the highest calling, the priesthood — analogous to what Father Garrigou-LaGrange wrote in “The Priest in Union with Christ,” a chapter entitled, “The Excellence of the Priestly Grace”:
“Not even the angels are called to this service of the altar, only surpassed in its dignity by the Virgin Mary’s maternity. How is it possible for a man who is in every way inferior to the angels to receive such an extraordinary grace? Theologians reply, ‘as the eagle is superior to man in possessing wings and a keener vision — although man is of a higher nature — so the priest is superior to an angel in virtue of his power to consecrate and absolve.’”
Grady spoke more about Blessed Junipero as Serra’s patron:
“During his time as a missionary, Father Serra had little involvement with promoting priestly vocations. In fact, in England there had been talk of instead selecting St. Thomas More.”
In retrospect, it’s Providential that a holy priest who demonstrated such zeal for the Salvation of souls would be chosen as Serra’s patron, their primary focus fostering and promoting vocations to the holy priesthood, and to supporting the Sacred ministry of priests, those who spend and consume themselves for the Salvation of souls.
Grady and Liston outlined the three popular activities suggested for Serra Clubs — A Holy Hour, the “31-Club,” and Adopt-A-Priest program, to have in the parish at the same time.
The list below expounds upon Serra USA’s five recommended activities for newly-launched Serra Clubs:
— Star One: The Traveling Chalice Program — This program directly involves the parishioners. At the end of a Sunday Mass, a family, couple or individual receives the chalice from the priest. They take the chalice home, place it in a prominent location and pray daily for vocations. It may be the first time this topic has been explored, and may be a very important week for the family. This might be an opportunity to invite family and friends to join in sharing and prayer.
Participants use a Memory Book to comment on their experiences, thoughts and ideas as well as prayers or plans that result from it. The memory book then becomes a source for potential members of a parish vocation team.
— Star Two: Use the Church Bulletin — A weekly vocation-oriented item in the bulletin is a great way to keep the parish praying and thinking about vocations. Serra maintains in its resources excellent suggested inserts for the bulletin.
— Star Three: 31-Club — A prayer program built around the concept of people attending Mass and praying for priestly and religious vocations every month on a specific date. Once underway all that is needed are invitations in the parish paper (or reminder notes in the pews), plus occasional reminders by the pastor to join or be faithful to this “no dues, no meetings” club. Simple, but powerful!
— Star 4: Celebrate Priestly and Religious Life — Celebrate one or more of the established National Vocation Events throughout the year. The main annual events are Priesthood Sunday, World Day of Prayer for Vocations, World Day for Consecrated Life, and National Vocation Awareness Week.
— Star Five: A Holy Hour for Vocations — At least once during the year, the parish vocation team should schedule a Holy Hour for Vocations.
Although these steps can be rearranged to fit parishes, Serra suggests the Traveling Chalice Program continue for about six months before the “key” person begins contacting people who have had the chalice in their home, to inquire about their possible membership in a parish vocation team. This builds awareness of vocations in a parish.
Pray hard, work diligently and you will create a culture of vocations in your parish.