ALLEGANY, N.Y. — St. Bonaventure University is offering men a new way to explore a vocation with the creation of an on-campus residential discernment community.
This program will allow St. Bonaventure students thinking about a religious vocation to live with others who are discerning God’s call. In addition to being in the same dormitory, the men will share common prayer and have access to spiritual direction and ministry opportunities, while also enjoying a typical college experience, by pursuing a degree of their choosing.
To be accepted to the program, men need to be sponsored by a religious organization, such as Holy Name Province or the Diocese of Buffalo. While a successful applicant would not necessarily be a member of a vocation program, he would need to show a willingness to work throughout his discernment process with the organization sponsoring him.
Men accepted to St. Bonaventure’s program will receive a substantial discount for tuition and living expenses, according to Ross.
The discernment community is organized by SBU’s Lateran Center for Catholic Identity and Formation, directed by Ross Chamberland, OFM, who has been stationed at the Western New York campus since 2013. This newly created center provides programs to “relate the university’s Catholic-Franciscan mission with the themes of renewal and inclusion that Pope Francis is being hailed for worldwide,” according to SBU’s website.
Members of the discernment community will take part in several of the university’s existing activities.
“Many of the programs that we want to include are things that already happen at the university,” Ross explained. “We already have sacramental life, ministry and retreat opportunities, and spiritual direction. What we plan to do is develop a program that would support and foster a vocation, but would also be flexible enough to allow the men to integrate themselves into life at the university.”
The program is inspired by the “Decree on Priestly Training (Optatam Totius),” a document from the Second Vatican Council that focuses on formation.
“When speaking about formation at the college level, this decree calls for an environment that allows the man to identify with his age group,” noted Ross. “It also allows him to pursue a course of study that, should he discern this life is not for him, would allow him to continue in his professional life without being halted by an impractical degree.”
This experience is meant to foster the seeds of vocations, according to the decree.
“We don’t need to be a seminary at the college level,” Ross said. “There are plenty of those, but not many Catholic universities offer residential discernment programs. Vocation trends show that men at the college level are discerning religious life and priesthood, but that does not mean they are at the point where they would be interested in living in a college seminary.”
Several students have already expressed interest in joining the discernment community. Ross hopes to accept the first group for the fall 2015 semester.
“The goal is to provide this program as a service to the Church,” said Ross, who is also speaking about the center with the Diocese of Buffalo’s vocation team. “We have a campus that supports this culture. With the Franciscan presence, as well as Bonaventure’s history of educating formation students, it’s hard to imagine that people wouldn’t do well here.”
In addition to the formation of the discernment community, Ross, who is regional vocation director for Western New York, and James Vacco, OFM, assistant director, are holding a vocation event on Wednesday, Nov. 19. Students interested in learning more about Franciscan life are invited to the SBU friary for prayer, dinner and conversation. The friars expect seven men to attend.
“This is not an event that is overbearing in programming,” Ross said. “We are trying to identify guys on campus who have any interest at all in learning about friar life. They might not be ready to sign up for something more intense. The best way to get to know the friars is by plugging into the life of the friars.”
Vocation director Basil Valente, OFM, spoke highly of the programs being created at colleges around the Province.
“It’s inspiring to see what the regional vocation directors are accomplishing, at the college level, to promote a deeper understanding of vocation and formation to the priesthood and religious life,” he said. “Ross, through the Lateran Center, has created an engaging and formative way for students to experience our love for the consecrated life, while providing a shared living experience in an on-campus discernment community. With that wonderful opportunity, combined with the upcoming vocation event at the St. Bonaventure Friary, we can all be truly grateful to Ross, James and the friars there, for inviting our students to experience the Franciscan way of life as we continue to joyfully proclaim the Gospel of our lord, Jesus Christ.”
Information about the Lateran Center, named for St. John Lateran, is available on the university’s website.
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.