Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has recently warned that student debt is threatening marriage, but one group is trying keep it from threatening religious vocations, too.
The Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations (MEFV) offers grants that pay the minimum monthly payments of a sister’s or brother’s student loans, with full payment made five years after a final profession or ordination. Should a grantee decide religious life is not for them, responsibility for the payments return to them without penalty.
Corey and Katherine Huber founded MEFV in 2006 when they saw student loans, which average over $30,000, prevent the generous response of men and women to their vocational callings. Their work, which has been endorsed by Cardinal Raymond Burke, the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, has already awarded 150 grants.
While the Hubers regret that they can’t fund everyone who applies for grants, they have haven’t turned many away because of the type of order an applicant wanted to join. “The fund is self-selecting,” said Katherine Huber. “Applicants are going to orders that are vibrant and fruitful.” The MEFV efforts are finally bearing fruit amid these growing orders as 13 have made their final professions in recent years.
Many who come to MEFV have a similar story, Corey Huber explains. “Matthew felt sure that he had a call to the vocation of a priest. He had been discerning with several orders, but each time that the conversation with the vocation director came around to the practical matters, his $26,700 of student debts would stop progress.”
“Thinking that the unwillingness of orders to consider him because of his debts was a sign of discernment,” Huber continues, “Matthew began to consider the possibility of not being called to the priesthood. He resolved to try one more time, but if his debts stopped him again, he would give up. The last religious institute he tried was the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, a relatively new, but very faithful and rather austere branch of the Franciscans. When Matthew called the priest who was the Friar’s vocation director to discuss their charism and apostolates, he liked what he heard. But then he reluctantly brought up his debt: ‘Father, I have a lot of student debt, won’t that prevent me from entering your order?’ To which the vocation director responded: ‘Matthew, you need more faith; Our Lady has all the money in the world!’ And then the vocation director proceeded to tell Matthew about our organization.” Matthew will be ordained in a few months.
Choosing a religious vocation is hard enough without a financial burden. “I was just scared about having to discern and even more scaredabout having to actually respond if I were to conclude that I thought God was indeed calling,” said Daniel Heenan, a deacon with the Fraternity of St. Peter. “Somewhere along the way, once I started thinking about the Fraternity, I realized that debt would be an issue – and I had a lot of it.”
After being accepted to the Fraternity upon the condition that he got rid of his debt, Heenan still had a considerable amount remaining as the academic year approached. “I became very worried. I felt like I had invested too much in the process already. I had quit my job, graduate school, and had begun making preparations to enter the seminary. I was not sure I had the strength to put these plans on hold for another year or several years while I tried to pay down this debt.”
“What it amounted to was a test of my faith and my resolve,” said Heenan. “When I received word that I had been awarded the grant just a few weeks before I was supposed to leave for the seminary, it was a very powerful confirmation of my discernment to that point.”
Sr. Mariana Thayer, a Nashville Dominican, whose vocational story follows a similar line, was encouraged by her parents to pray to God for assistance. “If it was his will that I enter the convent, he would provide the money that I needed. God is never outdone in generosity!”
With Pope Francis’ recent announced that 2015 will be the year of Consecrated Life, Mater Ecclesiae is likely to stay busy.