BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Pope Francis has spoken frequently on the necessity of Christians to have joy, and two priests from the Diocese of Owensboro are joyfully accepting new roles to promote a greater awareness of vocations.
On Oct. 23, Bishop William F. Medley appointed Fr. Emmanuel Udoh and Fr. Daniel Dillard to the Office of Vocations’ new vocations promotion team.
Fr. Jason McClure, diocesan vocations director, said the goal of this initiative is to have “more priests intentionally promoting vocations throughout the diocese.”
He described the initiative as “a bold new team approach to advance the diocesan vocation plan” and said that each priest will take responsibility for certain tasks, such as coordinating vocation events.
Additionally, “each priest on the team will make himself available to meet with men discerning a vocation and men who are already in the application process,” said Fr. McClure.
The vocations director said the current setup of the Office of Vocations will remain the same – with Fr. McClure as vocations director and Fr. Fred Litke as associate vocations director – but with the addition of Fr. Dillard and Fr. Udoh “to increase the efforts.”
Fr. Dillard and Fr. Udoh look forward to serving in these new positions, which they will carry out while keeping their primary roles as pastors of their respective parishes.
“I love the priesthood because it affords me the opportunity to express my deep love and gratitude to God who chose me in my unworthiness to be his instrument of love and service to humanity,” said Fr. Udoh, who was ordained in 2014.
Fr. Udoh said his parents played a big role in his discernment to the priesthood, which reminded him of the role that Eli played in guiding the future prophet, Samuel, in the Bible.
“My family helped me with their prayers and encouragement to follow where God leads,” said Fr. Udoh. “Similarly, my then-pastor was very present to address my fears and concerns.”
He hopes to mirror that encouragement that he received as a young person, in serving his new role on the team.
“Firstly, I will continue to offer daily prayers for every person out there who might be battling with decision-making regarding their vocation,” said Fr. Udoh, acknowledging that discerning a vocation can be difficult. He added that he will particularly ask the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
He said he will also continue to witness “the joy of the priesthood” to the youth of the diocese, and will continue preaching about vocations in his homilies so as to encourage parents and grandparents to support young people in discernment.
Fr. Dillard, who was ordained in 2009, said he initially did not want to become a priest, but today his vocation fills him with joy.
“I think that my experience of reluctance to being a priest gives me some insight into where some guys are in their discernment,” said Fr. Dillard, who was ordained in 2009. Today he is the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Franklin and Christ the King Parish in Scottsville.
Fr. Dillard said he remembers “quite clearly” what it was like to feel the call of God, and yet to have an equally strong desire “not to listen to that call.”
“My journey to acceptance of my vocation will help me help others see that the path to happiness and fulfillment comes from following God’s call – not our own will,” said Fr. Dillard.
He believes there are “two keys” to promoting vocations.
“First, we as priests must show the people – young men discerning priesthood, their parents, and the community at large – that the life of a priest is a life of joy and fulfillment,” said Fr. Dillard. “If the only example of priesthood that a young man sees is a grumpy, unhappy priest, why would they ever choose to follow in those footsteps, and if that is the experience of a family or a community, why would they encourage their sons to pursue that life?”
He intends to take “every opportunity” to set an example of the “positivity in priesthood,” and hopes to encourage his brother priests “to more openly discuss why they love being a priest.”
Fr. Dillard said the second “key” is to have greater involvement of laypeople in vocations promotion.
“Many times it is the laypeople who first really notice the signs of a vocation in a young man,” said Fr. Dillard, “and we need to empower them to say something to that young man and to encourage him to discern what is God’s call in his life.”
Originally printed in the December 2019 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
Copyright © 2019 Diocese of Owensboro/The Western Kentucky Catholic