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Secular Boston University has surge of vocations to the priesthood



John Burger - published on 12/28/21

Vocations director credits university chaplaincy for priest alumni.

The value of a Catholic campus ministry has been emphasized by news recently of a “surge” in priestly vocations among graduates of Boston University. 

Bostonia, the alumni magazine of BU, detailed the surprising trend in a November article. At least five grads over the past decade have become priests, most of them in the Archdiocese of Boston, it said. In addition, Boston Auxiliary Bishop Robert Reed, who was ordained to the priesthood in 1985, earned a master’s degree in television management from BU in 2013. Bishop Reed is president of The Archdiocese of Boston’s Catholic TV.

“Boston University has been very fruitful for vocations over the last decade and a half, which is absolutely the fruit of the chaplains and campus ministers and FOCUS missionaries,” Boston’s director of vocations Fr. Eric Cadin said in a recent interview. “It’s been a real team effort there to bring the Gospel to young people at BU. In particular, the priests have been really exemplary and attractive. They’ve been men who have loved their priesthood. That sincerity is attractive to young Catholic men on the campus. It provides a real viable vocation for their life.”

Fr. Cadin said that the Newman Catholic Center at BU has “always had a good, healthy relationship with the university. That has only helped.”

In addition to the BU grads who have been ordained, Fr. Cadin said there are a few more in seminary.

The Archdiocese of Boston has more than 60 men in various stages of formation for the priesthood, he said.

There are more than 60 colleges and universities in the territory covered by the Archdiocese of Boston, with over 300,000 students. “There’s an enormous pool,” Cadin said. “The Office for Vocations in the Archdiocese of Boston and a culture of vocations is encouraged and supported extraordinarily by Cardinal Sean O’Malley. For example, we have two priests full time in the office, who work primarily in outreach and working with men thinking about their vocations, which is not the norm. It’s a luxury in a sense.”

A good investment

According to Bostonia, Bishop Reed also attributes the unusual number of priestly vocations from BU to the campus ministry program—“one of the largest at any of the colleges and universities in the commonwealth” — and to the “great priest chaplains and great campus ministers who have demonstrated in their own priesthood and ministry a joy to being Catholic and living a full Catholic life.” 

One of the chaplains at BU, Fr. Paul Helfrich, was “highly instrumental” in Fr. Carlos Suarez’s discernment, “both in the example of his holy and joyful priesthood and in being a source of encouragement,” Fr. Suarez told Bostonia. 

Another well-loved chaplain was Mother Olga Yaqob, an Iraqi immigrant who became the second woman to hold the chaplaincy position in BU’s history. Bostonia said she “became a campus icon, famous for her warm hugs for, well, everyone.” But after a year at BU, she left to start a religious community, the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth.

Fr. Michael Zimmerman, who graduated from the university in 2011 and now serves as assistant vocation director for the Boston archdiocese, says Mother Olga was among those who taught him “that God loved us and had good plans for our lives, which inspired us to ask God what those plans were.”

Fr. Cadin told Aleteia that at BU, a secular university, “the Church invests in providing good and faithful university ministry. In the fruit of that are men and women transformed by the Gospel, which leads necessarily to men thinking about the priesthood. … Strong and faithful university ministry programs are very fruitful, because of an intentionality. This is just one story in a pretty secular area. The Gospel is always attractive. Jesus is calling men in every region, every city, and every circumstance to follow after him as a priest.”

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