By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published July 7, 2011
Father Luke Ballman is returning to Rome and to his alma mater where he studied to be a priest.
This time he’ll be a working at the Pontifical North American College, which is home to nearly 240 seminarians from dioceses across the United States.
“They will teach me a lot about my priesthood,” he said.
Father Ballman has been the vocations director for the Archdiocese of Atlanta for the past four years. He starts his new position in August. He sat recently sat down for an interview with The Georgia Bulletin.
What is your new position and what will you be doing?
The position is the director of apostolic formation at the North American College. I will be helping the seminarians have good experiences during the year with their pastoral assignments, from visiting the sick in hospitals to leading pilgrimage tours of St. Peter’s and serving as chaplains with some American universities with study-abroad programs in Rome.
In addition, I’ll serve as a formation advisor to students, which is sort of like a mentor to them. And I’ll be teaching theology courses in a weekly seminar for students on topics that mirror their lectures.
You studied at the North American College? And what’s it like there?
I was a member of the class of 2000. I attended it for five years and finished my advanced degree, called the licentiate, in sacred theology/spiritual theology.
The gift of the North American College is living and studying in the heart of the church, and students and staff get exposure to the universality of the church. And since the college hosts seminarians from nearly every diocese in the country, students get to sit down with visiting bishops and talk to them and learn about the church from their perspective too.
What were your experiences like for your pastoral assignments? What did you learn?
I had three different experiences. I gave tours of St. Peter’s Basilica, I helped at a retirement home for Little Sisters of the Poor, and during my year as a deacon, I assisted at Mass at the U.S. Navy base in Naples. The assignments are the link between training for the priesthood and being the priest. It puts flesh on what the men learn in the classroom and practical experience.
How did you get the job at the college? Does one apply for it?
I did not apply. I became familiar with the rector, Msgr. James Checchio, at the college since I’ve been visiting twice a year for the past four years. He asked Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory for my assistance, and the archbishop told me.
As a priest, I take a vow of obedience and I believe taking on this ministry is part of fulfilling the vow. I will be away for between three to five years, returning to the United States once during the summers.
What is the state of the Atlanta Archdiocese vocations?
We have a strong vocations system, with good seminarians and a good staff here in the office.
There are some 40 seminarians. I’m very proud of our seminarians. They are some of the best in the country. They have hearts of service. It’s very humbling and an honor to work with them.
You’ve been in this position (with the archdiocese) for four years. From your experience, what are some challenges as you see them for vocations?
Social media is very important, more important than ever. And we’ve developed a program that uses Facebook and YouTube to reach people.
But the all-important personal relationships between a man thinking about priesthood and the parish priest still matter. That relationship can spur or deter a potential candidate.
It’s not rocket science. The best promotion is a happy priest.
Another challenge is drawing the seminarians together with their multicultural backgrounds. People come from around the world to serve in the archdiocese, and they need to be close as seminarians so they are close and united as priests.
We need to reach men with the message that love and service lead to a happy life, not driving the latest car or the biggest house.