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‘Exciting time to become a saint’, says new rector of Pontifical North American College in Rome

October 4, 2022 Catholic News Agency 2
Ordination of deacons of the Pontifical North American College Seminary in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, on Sept. 29, 2022 / Evandro Inetti / CNA

CNA Newsroom, Oct 4, 2022 / 07:03 am (CNA).

“It is really an exciting time to become a saint,” Monsignor Thomas Powers, the new rector of the Pontifical North American College Seminary, told EWTN News ahead of the ordination of 23 deacons from his college on Sept. 29.

“We know from history, from Church history in particular, that the saints were risen up in times of persecution, in difficult times, within and outside the Church,” Powers said. Speaking about the men who would be ordained, he praised their readiness “to step up and to be called to heroic virtue, and to become the saints that that we’re all called to be.”

Monsignor Thomas W. Powers is the twenty-fourth rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome. EWTN Vatican
Monsignor Thomas W. Powers is the twenty-fourth rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome. EWTN Vatican

The 23 men from the North American College ordained to the Diaconate on Sept. 29 were joined for the ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica by over a thousand family members and friends. They prostrated themselves in front of the altar and dedicated their lives in service to God’s Church and to his people.

Monsignor Powers hopes others will follow the same path as these men and become seminarians. “Pray that young men hear God’s voice and decide to become priests,” he said.

According to a 2021 study from Georgetown University, enrollment in seminary programs has been quite steady in the last two decades. Still, Powers believes that the Church needs strong leadership now as much as ever. Speaking of his own students, he explained: “they’re about to embark on a life that’s very joyful. It’s fulfilling, it’s rewarding, but it’s also challenging, because we have challenges within the Church and outside of the Church.”

He praised the faith of his students, saying, “I thank God on my knees every day for the men that are here, because they’re superb, wonderful, joyful men. They want to be good, holy priests, and they want to be formed well in their faith.” 

Ordination of deacons of the Pontifical North American College Seminary in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, on Sept. 29, 2022. Evandro Inetti / CNA
Ordination of deacons of the Pontifical North American College Seminary in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, on Sept. 29, 2022. Evandro Inetti / CNA

This formation, Powers believes, is integral to the development of strong Catholic priests. He recounted his own experience studying in Rome, near the residence of the Holy Father and at the center of the Catholic Church. But the formation vital for his development as a priest was the fraternal formation he gained through friendship and community with his fellow seminarians.

“For two years, we stayed here in Rome,” Powers recalled. “Maybe our families visited, maybe they did not. But, we really had to learn to develop a new relationship with Jesus Christ. Ties back home were cut, and we were formed as a men and as Christians who wanted to give our lives as priests,” Powers said. “I have wonderful friendships from my time here that continue to this day and I know the men being ordained today will say the same thing.”

He spoke of the calling received by each priest and each diaconate candidate: “I think it’s amazing that God’s voice still gets through, that these men still hear God’s voice, and they respond generously, and give that that Marian ‘Yes’ to what God is asking them to do, despite our complicated society and the very difficult and challenging times inside and outside of the Church,” he said. 

He said priests and seminarians “come from different backgrounds, experiences, family life, origins, and yet they all hear that same call. That’s an individual call from God, each one of them. And, so, it’s inspiring that they listen to that call.”

Monsignor Powers hopes that watching the ordination of these men will inspire others to become seminarians. “It’s really all the Church asks,” he said, “that a young man leaves his heart open, just as I did and just as these men about to be ordained did. Leave your heart open to the possibility, and let God surprise you.”



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Taking time to ask, ‘What is God’s will?’

December 24, 2021 Catholic News Agency 0
A nun at the prayer vigil for consecrated life in St. Peter’s Basilica, Jan. 28, 2016. / Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA

Denver, Colo., Dec 24, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Discerning your vocation is about more than pursuing a celibate vocation alone, said Father Ryan O’Neill, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Denver. The purpose, he said, is to “increase the knowledge and possibility of vocation for anybody.”

“It gives us all a moment to be like, ‘Oh yeah, I do have a vocation. God does have a plan for my life, and I can find out what that is,” said O’Neill, who was ordained in 2012.

“We should all take a moment to ask, ‘How is discernment part of my daily Christian experience? How are we seeking the Father’s will?’” he said.

Everyone is created for marriage at the natural level because of their biological identity, O’Neill said, but to have a celibate vocation is “a supernatural vocation.”

“You have to pause, and say, ‘Okay, I know I’m created for marriage, but, Jesus, are you calling me to something different?’” O’Neill said.

For those considering a celibate vocation, O’Neill suggested reaching out to a religious order or a local diocese to go on a discernment retreat at the earliest opportunity. If no retreats are immediately available, meet with a priest or religious to talk about your interest in a celibate vocation.

“The first principle is, you cannot drive a parked car,” O’Neill said. “You’ve got to get in the car and you’ve got to drive somewhere. That means don’t sit in your bedroom asking God what He wants. Do something about it.”

O’Neill compared it with the idea of really liking someone, but never mustering up the courage to ask them on a date.

“You’ll never get an answer unless you drive the car in a direction you think you should go,” he said.

Reaching a “dead end” where the answer is “no” is okay, O’Neill said, especially on the first try. If you encounter a “no,” either from a spiritual director or in your own discernment, it does not mean you are not meant for a celibate vocation—it may mean that you need to try a couple communities before finding the right place.

“We have this pressure to find the right answer and to make sure it’s the exact fit, and that’s just not real,” he said. “The world works by you going out and driving into a dead end, being okay with it, and saying, ‘I found an answer, now I turn around and I go back the direction I came, and I go a different direction.’”

As a practical tip for discerning a celibate vocation, O’Neill suggested increasing the amount of time you spend in prayer and learning the Liturgy of the Hours, both of which, he said, will increase your relationship with Jesus.

“It’s only going to be beneficial if you spend more time in prayer,” he said. “If your life is going to be centered around a relationship with Jesus as a religious sister, as a priest, or as a religious brother, why would you not start working on that relationship now?”

O’Neill also said that it is important to not be actively dating when you are discerning a celibate vocation because it can cause additional stress and confusion.

“Either you are going to direct your heart toward marriage, or you’re going to direct it away from marriage, but to do both is actually torturous for your own heart,” he said. “Allow yourself to focus on one thing at a time. Let your heart relax in whatever direction you are focusing on.”

One of the greatest joys of O’Neill’s vocation as a priest, he said, is the freedom to seek what God wants.

“Our world puts so much pressure on young people to have it all figured out, to have a 5-year plan, a 10-year plan,” O’Neill said. “All those things really bore down upon me when I was in college until I was given permission by a priest to let all those things go, and say, ‘Jesus what do you think?’ and ‘Jesus what do you want?’”

“When I focused on that I felt more free than I ever had before, and I began to understand that that’s really what God wants. God wants us to have an experience of freedom,” he said.

Both marriage and celibate vocations are good things, O’Neill said, and each has a different kind of intimacy, whether that be spiritual intimacy with Christ or physical intimacy with your spouse.

“It’s okay to not get married for the sake of Jesus,” O’Neill said. “Marriage is good, but so is being celibate. What is your heart longing for?”