An Answer to the 'Culture of Death'

Despite the culture of death - and a nationwide drought in vocations to the priesthood - the Marian Fathers continue to spring to new life. In fact, this year they're harvesting a bumper crop of zealous men willing to give their lives to Christ and His Church.

By God's grace, the community welcomed 11 men into formation this summer - more new vocations than they've accepted at one time in decades. The Marians in the United States now have more than 30 men in formation - bucking both national and worldwide trends. Worldwide, vocations have been in decline since 2012, according to the Vatican.

What's going on here?

Well first, the Marian Fathers have not always enjoyed such growth. After the sexual revolution of the 20th century, vocations to the priesthood plummeted throughout the United States, including for the Marians.

For instance, Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, the director of vocations, joined the Marians in 1993 with three other men. "All of them left," he said. "Just to give you an idea of how things were not going very well for vocations, the last person before me that entered and stayed was Fr. Joseph Roesch, MIC, in 1986. So between 1986 and 1993 - seven years - no guys who entered stayed. None. Not one."

Father Joe, the vicar general, remembers these relatively barren years well. He said, "[When I joined in 1986], I was the only one [to enter novitiate] that year ... I remember one of the older priests saying to me, 'You are the hope of our province.' They looked at me like, 'Finally, God sent us a decent vocation here.' Back then, if just one vocation came along and it was good, it was like they were holding onto some hope."

Throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, new vocations for the Marians
remained stagnant, even after they had established a formation house at Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Ohio.

Father Donald said, "We were getting one, two, maybe three per year. Maybe. Quite a few of them wouldn't even stay. They would end up leaving and sometimes we'd be left with none."

Then Pope John Paul II died.

Phone 'ringing off the hook'

The whole world watched the funeral of that saint on TV in 2005.

"Since then," said Fr. Donald, "my phone at the vocation office has been ringing off the hook, and it hasn't stopped. After 2005, we began to accept three to four per year, then four to five, then six to seven, and now we're averaging between six and nine guys.

"I really think that when John Paul II died, his legacy still lives on. His example of priesthood was so strong and so powerful, and I think that his great love for Divine Mercy and Our Lady has carried over ... and that legacy continues."

Father Donald said that at least 90 percent of the men who join the Marians today have experienced a conversion. "It's very rare to find a man who grew up in the perfect family and never strayed from the faith or dabbled in the things of the world," he said.

Mercy and Mary

Father Donald, who had a radical conversion himself, considers the recent growth of the Marians a testament to Divine Mercy.

Father Donald said, "They've experienced mercy and now they're going to be apostles of mercy. When you share that commonality with other guys, they come in and they talk to each other about their struggles in the past with purity. They talk about their struggles with materialism in the world.

"God is calling men to be apostles of Divine Mercy and to want to promote Our Lady and to want to promote solid teaching. I can honestly say not one man who is joining us has got funky theological ideas. They want to be part of a movement that gives people solid catechesis and theology, because they know themselves that they didn't grow up with it. For most of them, it led to them getting involved in bad stuff and acting out sinfully. Now they want to be in an environment where they don't have to fight that battle."

Father Thaddaeus Lancton, MIC, ordained in 2015, said, "Generally, devotion to Our Lady, Divine Mercy, and fidelity to the Church are the hallmarks of the Marians and are qualities that often attract vocations. The Marians try to be in the heart of the Church - neither ahead nor behind her. That appealed to me."

Father Joe believes the Marians' mission - which includes faithfulness to the Magisterium, promoting and honoring the Immaculate Conception, praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, assisting the Church wherever the need is greatest, and promoting Divine Mercy - addresses many of our culture's biggest problems.

"Our charism is an important one for the world, because our culture is just a 'culture of death,' as John Paul II said, and not of life. And our charism is really tied to life," he said. "Countries all over the world want the old to die because of the cost associated with caring for them and it's easier to just get rid of them. There's a lack of attention to life at conception. They're discarding children because they're not perfect or they're inconvenient. Praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory - people die and everybody forgets about them and they think they don't have to pray for them."

He continued, "The Church today, in all different parts of the world, needs the Marian charism."

Thankfully, the more Marian priests, the further the seeds of their charism can spread, with the hope that the Lord will one day transform our culture into one of life.

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