Father, Where Art Thou?

Ellen Hoffman, Editor-in-Chief

Students who regularly attend mass in the university chapel have become used to welcoming a new priest to campus each week, and they are looking forward to the arrival of a new, full-time Chaplain after the departure of Father Don Williams last year.

Finding one is the challenge.

Father Muldowney, Victor General of the Diocese of Scranton, said recruiting priests is an issue throughout the country, not just within the Scranton Diocese.

“Bottom line is that we need more vocations. Without the priest you can’t have the Eucharist,” he said. “We need to pray for more vocations and encourage others to go out for vocations. I would always say ‘God is calling people to religious vocations. God is calling but we aren’t responding.’ And there are a number of reasons that could be why. We have a responsibility as Roman Catholics to call.”

The arrival of Bishop Bambera to the Scranton Diocese in 2010 brought changes that could help fill some positions. In the past, priests were appointed to a location to serve a parish, a hospital or a university. Bishop Bambera created a process in which priests can apply for positions of their choice when they see job descriptions that interest them.

No one has yet applied for the university Chaplain position, which was posted during the fall 2012 semester.

While the University waits for the position to pique the interest of a Roman Catholic priest, Chris Somers, Director of Campus Ministry scheduled several priests from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area to rotate through the mass schedule. She said she is doing everything she can to secure someone for the position.

“It’s a challenge having to get people, and people who we also think can speak to young adults and sometimes we have to go with who is available and who can help us,” she said. “I think the first goal is can we get a good priest in who is going to have a good liturgy, and are the students are going to respond to him? And sometimes if we can’t get those priests that we would like to have, we may just end up with whoever we could get.”

Somers said she listens to the feedback from the students who attend mass.

“We’re trying to find a priest to come at least like four times a semester so that you get to see them maybe once a month, so there is some consistency,” she said. “We are also trying to get priests that can relate to young adults.”

Somers is expanding the search to religious orders like Holy Cross and the Jesuits as no one in the Diocese is showing interest.

She insists this position is not just about having someone who will say mass. It requires providing a “Catholic presence on campus.”

“We have reconciliation services, we have pastoral counseling where a student would come in and talk to a priest about spiritual issues, or outreach to student for someone who has lost a parent or making themselves available to attend a funeral.”

Somers said with the lack of a full-time priest on campus has not led to a decline in thew number of mass-goers. Sunday evening mass is still as popular as ever, including the Christmas mass, said Somers.

“I think that says a lot for the students.  Even though we don’t have a Chaplin people are still, for the most part, attending Sunday liturgy at 7.”

Campus Ministry also provides students with  masses at local parishes, like Gate of Heaven and the Mercy Center.

President Michael MacDowell understands this process may take some time and supports Somers actions in trying to find someone to fill the position, but he also wishes this Catholic institution would have a full-time Chaplain.

“A Catholic institution, particularly one that is growing in size like ours, needs one and I think they provide not only spiritual leadership but a continual reminder of our allegiance to the Catholic faith and to our charisms,” he said. “We are fortunate to have Sisters of Mercy on campus, and they do an excellent job of keeping us focused on our mission.”

MacDowell believes more people will attend mass if they know the priest. He credits the consistency of the same friendly face week after week.

“The feeling of being comfortable with a priest and knowing that he knows what is going on on campus and being able to confide in someone over time if you have issues, that’s what the clergy is for.”

Somers and MacDowell agree with the process Bishop Bambera put in place. Somers sees a lack of priests within universities and hospitals becoming more common, as many priests intend to work as a full-time Chaplain in a parish after they enter the priesthood.

“I think part of it is lack of priests in the diocese,” Somers said. “We’re probably going to be seeing less priest presence in university and hospital settings just because of the numbers.”

MacDowell strongly credits the Sisters of Mercy with helping the University through this stage. He said he Catholic mission is one of the most important things at the university, something everyone on campus understands.

“Not forgetting that we are a Catholic institution, that’s very, very important. I don’t think we ever forget that. You could talk to freshmen and they can repeat the charisms for you. It’s almost tactile here. People feel it.”

[email protected]