Meeting our diocesan counterparts: a positive joint meeting of NRVC and NCDVD

Meeting our diocesan counterparts: a positive joint meeting of NRVC and NCDVD

By Kathleen Pales S.S.J.

Aware that both national vocation organizations have long recognized the value of collaboration, members of the two groups in the Pennsylvania/New Jersey region decided last year to meet. We felt the time was right to come together to pray, socialize, and talk about how we can work together more effectively. Father Louis Marucci of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors and Zoe Brenner, SBS and Carol Tropiano, RSM of the National Religious Vocation Conference planned and facilitated the two-day conference.

At the opening session, we agreed that the conference would not be about solving problems but would aim at exploring what diocesan and religious community directors need from one another, and how we can better assist each other. We acknowledged early on that we needed to develop a better understanding of how the structures and boundaries set by both bishops and the leadership of religious communities sometimes impact how we carry out our ministries. Given that clarification, we would then investigate the possibility of planning a joint project.

On the first day, we gathered twice for small group discussions. For the first session, participants were asked to share their responses to the question, “How can diocesan vocation directors effectively engage religious vocation directors to assist in their particular dioceses?” These small group discussions were followed by a “sharing of learnings” and further discussion with the whole group.

During the second session, participants talked about the boundaries within which they must operate. Some members talked about the directives they have received from their bishops or leadership teams. “It’s not that anyone sets out to be exclusive, but sometimes a bishop or superior expects the vocation minister to focus on, say, just diocesan priesthood or only college students, for example,” stated Father Louis. “We have to understand and appreciate that, and not misinterpret it.”

Other boundaries were discussed as well. Some participants spoke of financial constraints. Many talked about having other significant responsibilites in their diocese or religious community besides vocation ministry. Several members of NRVC spoke of the challenge of covering a wide geographical area and participating in more than one region. A few NCDVD members explained that their dioceses have an Office for Vocations to Diocesan Priesthood entirely separate from the Office of Vocations to Religious Life. In fact, for several attendees, the opportunity to share these realities with their colleagues in the region proved to be the most helpful part of the conference. As the discussions proceeded, the directors from both conferences gained a clearer picture of the similarities and differences between working for a diocese or a religious community. “We gained deeper insight into the blessings and difficulties each other experiences,” noted Barbara Brigham, MMS.

On the second day, several directors from NCDVD and NRVC presented two models of collaboration that are working well in the Scranton and Camden dioceses. They spoke about how cooperating to plan, carry out and evaluate programs, communicating in a timely fashion, and holding regularly scheduled meetings are enabling very successful vocation awareness programs there. Later in the day, time was given for a general question and answer session. Many participants marveled at how much collaborative work is already being done, and at the quality and variety of school, parish, diocesan and regional activities that are taking place.

In the end, we realized that planning a joint region-wide vocation promotion program was not realistic or necessary. However, we did agree that this gathering had been very stimulating and informative, and that we would continue to hold these joint meetings every other year.

“There was a lot of openness,” observed Sister Zoe. “We got a much broader understanding of what each other is dealing with. I think we all felt very free to say whatever we wanted about our experiences, both positive and negative. We really challenged each other to move forward together.”

Dorothy Aloisio, FMIHM said, “The sharing was so good. I know the Holy Spirit was working here.”

The evening entertainment, a noisy game of Balderdash led by Lisa Valentini, MSC, was great fun. The participants’ vocabularies were greatly increased, a quite unexpected outcome of the meeting!

Kathleen Pales, SSJ is a vocation minister for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia. She recently completed a term of service on the board of directors for National Religious Vocation Conference.


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