BY TERRY DICKSON
DIOCESE OF BILOXI – Since 2011, three Polish men, including Father Adam Urbaniak, have been ordained priests for the Diocese of Biloxi and three more are currently in formation.
However, Father Adam, who was recently appointed diocesan director of Vocations, said that while he will continue to recruit men from his homeland and other foreign countries for the Diocese of Biloxi, his main emphasis will be fostering native vocations.
“I think it’s very important that we have American priests, that the majority of seminarians will be American seminarians,” he said. “It’s also important that we continue to look for vocations from Poland and Mexico as well.”
Bishop Roger Morin has appointed Father Dominic Pham to serve as assistant director of vocations. Together, the two priests aim to come up with initiatives designed to nurture American vocations. Father Adam realizes that this will require a team effort.
“A big part of my job, as I see it, is to support the call of the Holy Spirit and, of course, being available to the seminarians. A vocations director is there for them. He has to be available. He has to be in a close relationship with the seminarians. He also has to be available to the seminary authorities and the seminary formation team,” he said.
Father Adam, who became pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Vancleave and Christ the King Mission in Latimer on July 1, said he is very grateful to have Father Pham’s assistance.
“He has already agreed to put his focus on looking for vocations and he’s going to do a lot for the diocese,” Father Adam said.
Addressing the need for vocations with programming, dialogue and discernment – above the din
The Diocese of Biloxi is comprised of 43 parishes and nine missions. There are currently 79 priests in the diocese, 38 are active diocesan priests (nine of whom are nearing retirement age) and the rest are already retired, members of a religious order or extern priests from another diocese or religious order who have diocesan faculties but are not assigned to a specific parish.
These numbers underscore the dire need for more priestly vocations in the Diocese of Biloxi.
“The sacramental life of the Church depends on a body of active clergy who day in and day out serve at the Eucharistic altar, baptismal font and throne of mercy. They witness holy matrimony on behalf of the Church, console the sick at their bedside, and when the time comes, escort them to the Father’s embrace,” said Father Pham. “He is there when someone needs an open ear, a word of encouragement, and just an affirmation. Such is the life of the priest, sometimes overlooked and forgotten, yet so essential to any Catholic faithful.
“If you ask any Catholic priest what he enjoys most about the priesthood, he will tell you just that: Serve the people of God through the sacraments. The shortage of priests today does raise concerns for the Church. God continues to call young men to the priesthood and the seeds of that call are present. Our responsibility as parents and educators is to pray for and nurture those seeds so that they become an acceptance of God’s invitation to work in the vineyard.”
Father Adam admits that he and Father Dominic have their work cut out for them.
“Secularism, relativism, and so much noise that we have in the world – it’s all very challenging in discovering your vocation because you hear God’s voice in silence,” he said. “Yet, I see a lot of people looking for that voice. They’re looking for something else and the only place they can find it is in the community of the Church. It is a big challenge but, at the same time, if God calls, he gives the grace and he leads you. You just have to be available to listen to that call.”
That, said Father Adam, is why it’s so important to implement programs such as vocations retreats for high school and college students, “where people can spend time in silence and look deep into their hearts and listen to the call.”
It’s imperative, he added, that both he and Father Dominic make themselves present to those who are discerning the call to vocations. “That means being present in the parishes and all of the schools and to youth ministry programs,” he said. “We’re thinking of all these things, but, of course, we have to take time to plan and prepare.”
As director of vocations, Father Adam also encourages any woman who is feeling called to religious life to heed the call.
“First of all, we in the Diocese of Biloxi, are grateful for the beautiful service of Catholic nuns, mostly from Ireland, who dedicated their lives to Catholic education and to ministry to the sick and poor,” he said.
“We need that and the Catholic Church needs that and the Diocese of Biloxi needs that. So, if there is a lady who is thinking about this, I am more than happy to help with this process of recognizing the call and providing contact information about different religious communities.”
Recognizing God’s not man’s – call to serve
Again, however, Father Adam stressed that the call to priesthood and religious life comes from God and is nurtured by the Holy Spirit.
“It is very important to understand that it is not me who calls because I’ve seen people in my life who thought they had a vocation to the priesthood because their mom or grandmother told them they did,” he said.
“You can waste your whole life. You can ruin your life. If you don’t have a vocation, if you don’t have the call of the Holy Spirit to be a nun or a priest, you shouldn’t even think about it because it’s too big of a sacrifice. Priesthood is a sacrifice. Like Jesus sacrificed his life on the cross for his people, so a priest sacrifices his life for the good of the Church and the good of the people he serves. The sacrifice is not only celibacy. There’s much more. For me, I’m from Poland and I contact my family only through Skype. I miss lots of family celebrations, lots of family dinners, but it is a needed sacrifice for a priest to leave his family to be with his parishioners, to be with the people of God.”
The upside, Father Adam said, is that “a priest becomes a part of many families.”
“You rejoice with them on the day of their wedding, you rejoice with them on the day of the baptism of their child. You see, you leave your own family to join an even greater family,” he said.
“On one hand, it is a sacrifice, but, on the other, it’s a great blessing to be so close to the lives of so many people. “
Father Adam encourages everyone to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
“God answers our prayers and vocations to the priesthood are, very often the fruits of the prayers of the people,” he said. “Pray for the priests of our diocese. A priest always needs the prayers of his parishioners. I would also encourage everyone to talk to any young person who you may think has a vocation to the priesthood.
“When I was young, I never thought I would become a priest. And then my pastor told me I needed to think about the priesthood. That’s how it began. The first thought in my head came because of the pastor and he didn’t call me. He just helped me to recognize the call.”