Published March 4, 2004
Father Brian Higgins loves being a priest. And he hopes that in his role as vocations director for the archdiocese, he can lead others to love what they are called by God to do.
“I just want them to love their vocation as much as I love mine,” he said.
Creating a deeper awareness of vocations is the goal of Vocations Week, March 14-21. During the week, Father Higgins will speak at several Catholic high schools. Promotional materials have been sent to Catholic school principals and youth ministers at each parish, and the highlight of the week is a vocations fair on March 20, when priests and Religious sisters from several orders will be on hand to answer questions at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
“Our focus is just pure awareness on priestly and Religious vocations,” Father Higgins said. “Kids are always being asked what they want to be when they grow up. It’s time we start encouraging them that there is something else—that God is calling them.”
The Serra Club of Northwest Atlanta is sponsoring a poster contest among elementary students. The winners in two age categories (grades one through four and grades five through eight) will be announced at the vocations fair and receive monetary prizes. Their posters will also be reproduced and turned into posters used by the vocations office, Father Higgins said.
Father Higgins has sent letters to priests in the archdiocese, encouraging them to preach on vocations during that week.
Though Vocations Week focuses on vocations, Father Higgins hopes that the awareness will be evident throughout the year.
“Vocations are fostered in the family,” he said. “Parents have to understand that their children are a gift from God, and he has a plan for them. As long as they are fulfilling God’s plan for their life, they will be happy. Parents have to be willing to let go and let God.”
Father Higgins knows well the task of letting God draw the map in his own life. Before he became a priest, he said, he was “walking around with a hole in the middle of my soul. I had to stop asking what am I supposed to do, and say ‘Lord, what do you want me to do?’”
And as vocations director, Father Higgins hopes to cultivate others’ vocations and forever erase that hole in their hearts.
In the Archdiocese of Atlanta there are currently 43 men in formation for the priesthood at six seminaries across the country and at Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy. The largest delegation of seminarians study at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and seminarians still in their collegiate years study at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, or at St. Joseph’s Minor Seminary College in Saint Benedict, La.
“I become their surrogate parent,” Father Higgins said of the seminarians. “I share their sorrows and their joys. I get their grades. I get their bills.”
Twice a year, he travels to visit each man in formation and meets with them and faculty of the seminary.
“That’s the toughest part for me because I really hate flying.”
Having served as director of vocations for nearly two years, there are joys in his job of which he never tires, Father Higgins said.
“I love being able to tell someone that they have been accepted into our program. I love it,” he said. “I love meeting people and talking to young people who are enthusiastic about their faith. I really enjoy talking to teens and college students.”
But Father Higgins knows that he isn’t the ultimate vocations director.
“The Holy Spirit really speaks through people,” he said. “When someone goes up to a young man or a young woman and tells them they might have a Religious vocation, I truly believe that that is the Holy Spirit talking.”
So what kind of man does make a good priest?
“Somebody who has a desire to marry,” Father Higgins said. “If someone says to me that they can see themselves as married, then they have an open, loving and generous heart, and they can give that same devotion to Christ and the Blessed Mother.”
When men or women approach Father Higgins with a desire to fulfill a Religious vocation, the vocations director will encourage them to speak to other priests and Religious sisters if they believe they are called to live the life of a priest or sister in a Religious order. Father Higgins, depending on the person’s age, may also send him or her to the discernment group. Led by assistant vocations director Father Tim Hepburn, the discernment group meets the first Saturday of every month at 9 a.m. at the Catholic Center at Emory University in Atlanta.
In addition, the Vianney Club for high-school-aged young men meets the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta. A club for girls in high school called the St. Theresa Club is in the works.
There is a long process for young men who indeed feel called to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. They must go through a long, thorough application, an FBI criminal background check and psychological tests. They must write an autobiography, first describing why they are called to the priesthood and then what celibacy means to them.
“We are very particular about who we accept. We have to be,” Father Higgins said. “I look at it like this. My family lives here. I think to myself ‘is this a person I can see ministering to my family? Is this a person that will bring, not just my brothers and sisters in Christ, but my actual brothers and sisters and parents closer to Christ and the Eucharist?’”
Father Higgins encourages young people to discern their calling from God. Pope John Paul II, he said, is constantly telling young people to “Be not afraid of what God wants you to do.”
“We don’t have a vocations crisis. Our crisis is people not listening. We live in the best diocese on earth. I truly believe that. Our parishes are on fire,” he said. “Because of the prayers of our people and eucharistic adoration, we have vocations. But people have to listen and not be afraid to live out their calling.”
The vocations office has a Web site for information about discernment located at www.archatl.com/offices/vocations/home.html.
For more information call the vocations office at (404) 888-7844.