Says ‘future is bright’ as Church undergoes ‘time of purification’
BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
If Bishop Anthony B. Taylor were to summarize in one word the keynote address he will give at Vocare 2019, it would be about “believing.”
In the 11 years that Bishop Taylor has led the Diocese of Little Rock – comprising all of Arkansas – the median age of diocesan priests has changed from 69 to 45. He has ordained half of the diocesan priests who are currently in active ministry.
“We succeeded in creating a broad-based culture of vocations in our diocese,” said Bishop Taylor in an Aug. 9 interview with the WKC.
“The bottom line is that we’ve gotten people to start believing again,” he said, adding that, “our priests are united – the priests in our diocese are very positive about promoting vocations.”
The sixth annual vocations-affirming Vocare gala will be held at the Owensboro Convention Center on Sept. 20, 2019. (Vocare is Latin for “to call.”)
Funds raised at Vocare contribute to the education and formation of diocesan seminarians – which the diocese covers – and to any person from the diocese seeking to enter consecrated life.
Bishop Taylor credits his diocese’s vocations boom to many positive changes, including having seven priests working in the vocations office, and support from the Serra Club and the Knights of Columbus.
Little Rock also built a House of Formation within the diocese, so that undergraduate seminarians would not need to travel and live out of the diocese for their studies. Bishop Taylor himself sold the diocese’s bishop’s residence, and lives at the House of Formation too.
A favorite vocations-promoting tradition in their diocese is the Taste of Faith dinners, which are held four times a year. The seminarians serve guests and two seminarians at each dinner share their vocation stories.
The original purpose was to raise more funds for their constantly-growing body of seminarians, but Bishop Taylor admitted that the Taste of Faith dinner “ends up being a pep rally for the Church!”
He explained that much of his diocese’s population is Spanish-speaking, and so several vocations initiatives are geared toward Spanish-speakers.
The diocese’s vocations office also offers spiritual direction to high schoolers and other young people discerning a call to the priesthood to “proactively help them out,” said Bishop Taylor.
His advice for fostering a culture of vocations in one’s diocese?
“Positive events – like your Vocare will be; embracing our priests with love; people seeing the joy of the seminarians,” said Bishop Taylor.
Another beloved Little Rock tradition takes place when a young man from their local all-boys Catholic high school is accepted to the seminary. Just as an upcoming college athlete would have their “signing” ceremony, the school hosts the young man’s signing of his letter of intent for joining the seminary.
If a young man attends public school, or has been out of high school for some time, his home parish will host the signing of his letter of intent.
The bishop said this also helps other young men, who may be discerning, see there is a culture that will encourage and support them if they follow this same path.
Bishop Taylor also addressed what vocations promotion is not.
“It is not talking someone into something God’s not called them to,” he explained. Additionally, someone should not become a priest to avoid life’s other obligations.
“If someone is not flourishing in the seminary,” he’s not forced to continue, said Bishop Taylor, “because it must be of the Lord.”
Bishop Taylor said the Catholic Church “has a bright future” and believes it is going through a “time of purification.”
He said his seminarians see themselves as part of the solution to the problems plaguing the Church, and he is “confident” that this is the case for seminarians nationwide.
“They really are swimming against the current of public opinion,” he said. “I have a lot of respect and admiration for them. There are challenges for sure, but the future is bright.”
Originally printed in the September 2019 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
Copyright © 2019 Diocese of Owensboro/The Western Kentucky Catholic