By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published September 13, 2012
A group of 13 men will formally continue the process of discernment to the priesthood by entering the seminary for the Archdiocese of Atlanta this fall.
They range from recent graduates of the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Georgia College and State University, to several men from Colombia, South America, and a candidate from Cameroon.
This year’s group of 13 is larger than the Vocations Office has seen recently. Last year they accepted two men as seminarians, and the average number is usually five or six, said Michael Ferrin, associate director of vocations for the archdiocese.
The process of discernment typically takes several years, beginning with a candidate’s personal prayer and private discernment. For some, the call comes as adults and for others it begins at a much younger age.
Avery Daniel, 19, one of the new group of seminarians, said he began considering it in sixth grade at St. Thomas More School in Decatur and was encouraged while at St. Pius X High School in Atlanta. He is now attending Pontifical College Josephinum, in Columbus, Ohio, after spending a year at Virginia Tech.
“That thought grew louder throughout the years, cultivated by my pastor, Father Eric Hill, and was accentuated by the shining priesthood of Msgr. (Richard) Lopez, whom I was privileged to have as a teacher during my senior year at St. Pius,” Daniel wrote by email.
“I began my official period of discernment after I graduated from high school. Being in college (as strange as it sounds) was the impetus for me to apply formally,” Daniel wrote. “I finally had the time to develop a mature, regular prayer life, which was instrumental. I also saw many things that put into focus what things were really important to me, which, of course, is following the will of God.”
Usually men contact the Vocations Office after discerning on their own, after spiritual direction, or after attending a discernment event. A candidate will meet with Father Tim Hepburn, vocations director, to continue the process and see if he is being called.
The Vocations Office discerns along with prospective seminarians. Their interest must be recognized as a response to God’s call as opposed to other reasons why one might be interested in the work of a priest.
“We want to make sure that God is indeed calling them and that it really comes from a desire of their own heart that God has placed there for them to pursue,” Ferrin said.
The application process includes psychological and physical evaluations and interviews with an archdiocesan vocations panel made up of lay Catholics and clergy. When all the steps have been completed, the candidate applies to seminary. Since the archdiocese is affiliated with several seminaries, a candidate is typically placed where the Vocations Office and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory believe their strengths will be encouraged.
Ferrin said that seminary is not a fast track to the priesthood. Rather it is a period of continuing discernment, where a man learns what his role is in the life of the Church. For some it ends up being the priesthood, for others it is not.
“The great thing about seminary is that it’s a place where you can be formed to be the guy that God is calling you to be,” said Ferrin, who believes that even if a candidate discerns the priesthood is not for him, he will come out of the experience with a clearer vision of his calling.
Seminarians say the process of discernment is arduous but rewarding. Carlos Ortega, 33, another of the new group of seminarians, is attending Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Ill.
“This process of discernment is by far the best experience I have ever had,” Ortega wrote by email. “It helps you understand and recognize how God has worked in your life. It is a path that every person should take, whether it leads you to a religious or lay vocation; you will find the purpose of your life. It is a quest to be who God intended you to be.”
Ortega, a native of Venezuela, remembers a desire for the priesthood as a young child, but as he grew older he began to distance himself from the Catholic Church and explore other religions. After answering a spiritual prompt to return to the Church, Ortega began to study the faith more closely and attended a retreat sponsored by the Vocations Office, where he met then vocations director Father Luke Ballman and Father Hepburn.
“One day, as I was passing by St. Patrick’s (Church, Norcross), I felt called to fully return to the Church. Once there, I took some Bible/apologetics classes and over the course of six or seven months I became more integrated with my parish and her activities,” Ortega recalled.
“I started to attend daily Mass and to go to confession more often and joined some groups,” he continued. “During daily Mass, I felt an intimate connection with God that I never felt before and daily Mass became a moment of peace, prayer and meditation. One day, during a Mass … I felt God’s call to give him and his people all my time and my life. Then, I researched online vocations sites and came across a retreat that was being organized by the Archdiocese of Atlanta. I attended and after hearing the talks and having more time to pray, I talked to Father Ballman and Father Hepburn.”
As the men continue their journey in seminary, they have found strength and encouragement from each other.
“As of now, I can say that the change in my routine is the biggest challenge,” said Ortega. “I used to organize my days in my own way, but here I need to abide to a schedule for classes, meals, prayer, exercise and other activities.”
“I had never found people more willing to help you and support you,” he continued. “Although we have different backgrounds, we share a common goal: to respond to God’s call.”
His fellow seminarian agreed.
“By no means is a vocation to the priesthood easy. I think all of us experience unique challenges,” wrote Daniel. “But we have such a close-knit brotherhood of seminarians in this archdiocese, that is hardly an issue!”
“I feel infinitely blessed that God has called me to study and work toward his holy priesthood,” said Daniel. “It is such a wonderful life that we lead as seminarians and future priests. My brother seminarians are all inspiring men; I couldn’t ask for a better group of brothers.”
Valery Akoh, from Cameroon, is attending Mundelein Seminary. firstname.lastname@example.org
Christopher Berger, Georgia Tech graduate, is attending Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. email@example.com
Michael Bremer, recent UGA graduate, is attending Mundelein Seminary. firstname.lastname@example.org
Jose Caudillo, from Gainesville, is attending St. Joseph’s Seminary. email@example.com
Michael Clendenning, a businessman, is attending Blessed John XXIII Seminary. firstname.lastname@example.org
Avery Daniel, Virginia Tech student, is attending Pontifical College Josephinum. email@example.com
Brian Lee, graduate of Georgia College and State University, is attending Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Metz, graduate of Christian Brothers University, is attending Mundelein Seminary. email@example.com
Carlos Ortega, from Venezuela, is attending Mundelein Seminary. firstname.lastname@example.org
Juan Pacheco, Lipscomb University student, is attending St. Joseph Seminary. email@example.com
Pablo Rodriguez, from Colombia, is studying English at Georgia State University. firstname.lastname@example.org
Luis Valencia, from Colombia, is studying English at Georgia State University. email@example.com
David Villa, from Colombia, is studying English at Georgia State University. firstname.lastname@example.org