Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Vocations Director Sees Priesthood As ‘Great Adventure’

By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published April 10, 2008

Father Luke Ballman, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, views the Catholic priesthood as a “great adventure” and has answered God’s call to help others discern if they are ready to accept the task.

As someone who has been through the difficulty of discernment, Father Ballman knows about the process of becoming a diocesan priest and all the struggles that go along with making such an important decision. Despite those struggles, Father Ballman remains certain that he is following God’s will for his life.

“I love being a priest,” he said. “I cannot imagine my life not being a priest.”

Father Ballman, from Dayton, Ohio, was ordained for the Archdiocese of Atlanta in July 2001. A graduate of the University of Dayton with a degree in business administration, he worked in financial management for seven years before he discerned his own priestly vocation.

As a seminarian, he studied in Rome, Italy, receiving a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University and a licentiate in sacred theology from the Angelicum.

Parish ministry was his first responsibility after ordination as he was assigned to Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, as a parochial vicar and then to St. Augustine Church, Covington, as the pastor. However, Father Ballman has assumed a different role in his position as vocations director.

“It is much different than parish ministry,” the priest said. “I’m helping others discern the priesthood and that is such a privilege.”

Father Ballman feels confident about the vocation program currently in place in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He attributes much of this to his predecessor, Father Brian Higgins.

“I inherited a wonderful program,” Father Ballman said. “There are big shoes to fill.”

According to the vocations director, he has two major roles in the archdiocese. The first of these is his responsibility to promote vocations. This is done in a variety of ways, from discernment groups to parish visits to retreats and talks, all of which reach out to those attracted to this particular path of serving the church.

For example, on the last Saturday of the month from September through May, the archdiocesan Office of Vocations sponsors the Pope John Paul II Discernment Group for men. A group of men who are interested in the priesthood meet in St. Mary’s chapel at Holy Spirit Church for Mass, followed by breakfast and discussion.

The Office of Vocations also supports a program for women who are possibly seeking religious life. Through the Our Lady of Grace Discernment Group, which meets at the same time and place as the Pope John Paul II Discernment Group, the office reaches out to women in North Georgia to provide a similar atmosphere for discussion.

The morning meetings, which are a sample of the many avenues through which the church encourages vocations, are meant to provide men and women with an opportunity to ask questions, hear from religious and priests, and learn more about the process of becoming a Catholic priest, brother or sister.

Father Ballman also spends much of his time with the current seminarians, as this is one of the major aspects of his role. The priest visits all of the seminarians twice throughout the year.

“My focus this year has been getting to know the seminarians,” said Father Ballman who became the vocations director last June.

Becoming close to the seminarians is an important step in discerning if they are called to the priesthood. Also, if the applicant and the church choose to move forward, knowing the candidates personally helps Father Ballman in the process of deciding which seminary they will attend, as well as which internships or types of service they will participate in during the process.

“Where would this man best thrive and grow into the priesthood?” is one of the many questions Father Ballman asks himself when deciding where to place a seminarian.

The Archdiocese of Atlanta uses four seminaries, which include Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Ill.; Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.; St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa.; and the North American College in Rome, Italy.

In addition, the archdiocese works in conjunction with two colleges for seminarians who have not completed the necessary pre-theology educational requirements. Those seminarians study at St. Joseph’s Seminary College in St. Benedict, La., or St. Joseph College Seminary in Chicago first before starting four years of graduate study in theology.

If a man feels God may be calling him to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, the first step is to meet with Father Ballman to allow him to assist in the discernment process. According to the vocations director, this first step can take anywhere from a few months to a few years. When the church and the candidate agree that they should move forward, the candidate applies to the diocese.

The application process is another of the important and necessary steps. Applicants are asked to write an autobiography, along with several essays, and also participate in three interviews to determine whether or not to move forward. Once the applicant is accepted, he begins the process of study.

From beginning to end, seminary study takes approximately four years. This assumes that the applicant has completed the necessary educational requirements, with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.

As the Archdiocese of Atlanta becomes more and more diverse culturally, the Office of Vocations finds itself facing another challenge.

“We’re very blessed because of the diversity, but it also presents a challenge,” said Father Ballman.

Since many interested in the priesthood come from other countries, any language barrier is addressed first. Before the men begin their theological studies, they are required to complete a full-time English as a Second Language program at Georgia State University.

Next month, the Archdiocese of Atlanta will ordain eight new priests into the community and seven men will be ordained to the transitional diaconate, bringing them to the final year of preparation for the priesthood.

Overall, the Office of Vocations is taking all the necessary steps to create an atmosphere that appeals to a wide range of men interested in serving the church. Father Ballman encourages parents to continue to foster that support in their homes and to assist their children if they are interested in pursuing the priesthood or the religious life.

“The priesthood is a great adventure,” Father Ballman said with a smile.

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