In three days, 91-year-old Kathleen Gannon prayed 120 prayers for vocations to the priesthood.
“You have to pray, and God will answer,” said Ms. Gannon, formerly of St. Mary Star of the Sea parish in the Bronx.
Ms. Gannon was speaking from her room at Amsterdam House in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan.
Her prayers were in preparation for the Vocation Prayer Apostolate the archdiocesan Office of Vocations is launching Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the Church’s World Day of the Sick.
The initiative seeks to increase vocations to the priesthood.
The apostolate is comprised of a “spiritual army” of women and men, many of whom are homebound, in hospitals and nursing homes, who offer up their suffering for an increase in priestly vocations.
Father Enrique Salvo, director of the vocations office, said the practice of asking for the prayers of the sick and the elderly can be traced to an ancient tradition of the Church. Their redemptive suffering, he said, makes them among the most powerful intercessors.
“They are in union with Jesus on the cross. In that union, they are more like him,” Father Salvo said. “It’s in this union with Jesus they ask the Heavenly Father for all the needs of the Church.”
Knowing the need to pray for vocations and for future priests themselves, “I can’t think of anyone better to offer up those prayers on a daily basis…Everyone in the priesthood needs those prayers,” Father Salvo said.
In crafting the prayer apostolate for the archdiocese, Father Salvo cited as an inspiration the instruction on redemptive suffering as taught by the late Msgr. William Smith, a revered professor of moral theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, when Father Salvo was a student there.
Father Salvo also noted a nursing home resident named Dilia he befriended as a seminarian, “a centenarian who became a close friend, and who prayed for me daily.” She died at age 104 during Father Salvo’s first year of priesthood. “I know that the graces attained through her prayers were extremely helpful during my years in formation,” said Father Salvo who was ordained in 2010.
As a practical matter, the eligible sick and homebound will be given a brochure, in English or Spanish, that easily guides them “to join the mission right from your room.” Parish pastors, parochial vicars and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, among others, will distribute the brochures to the sick and homebound they regularly visit.
After they “spiritually enroll in their hearts” in the vocation prayer apostolate, the participants are asked to walk with Jesus in their pain and sorrow, just as he suffered and died for their salvation. They are to offer their suffering for the men Jesus is calling to be his priests, praying that they hear and respond to his call.
For convenience and continuity, prayers for the cause are provided in the brochure.
A depiction of Our Lady of Lourdes, patroness of the sick, is prominently displayed. “Surely Mary, our Blessed Mother, in the same way that she is at the bedside of everyone that is suffering, we trust she will combine their prayers with her prayers, in asking our Lord for more laborers in the vineyard, as Jesus asks us to do,” Father Salvo said.
Pope Francis is pictured in the brochure comforting a man with a disability. St. Therese of Lisieux, a French Discalced Carmelite nun who died of tuberculosis at age 24, is featured as one among the communion of saints who offered the suffering from her illness for priestly vocations.
“This is much more than a pious tradition,” Father Salvo said of asking the ill to pray for others. “It has concrete evidence throughout the history of the Church by the very fact that so many of our saints have, through these prayers of offering their suffering, brought out great fruits and miracles through this practice of offering their suffering with prayer.”
The homebound, elderly and sick to whom Father Salvo has explained the program are enthusiastically counting the days until the apostolate is launched, he said. And young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood are grateful for the project, and expecting a lot of graces to come their way, he added.
There is also a quid pro quo component to the apostolate. “It’s beautiful,” Father Salvo said, “that these young men that are being called by Jesus to serve those suffering in our society would be helped first by the most suffering to receive the necessary graces to say ‘yes’ to their vocation. They’re both serving each other.”
The prayers provided in the brochure are a guide, not a formula that must be followed by rote. “Any prayer, like an ‘Our Father’ or ‘Hail Mary’ offered for vocations would be powerful,” Father Salvo said.
The homebound, ill and elderly “are being invited by our Lord at this time to offer up their suffering as a way to attain much grace—not only for vocations but for all types of needs, including their own families and friends that need their prayers,” the priest said.
Ms. Gannon, who took it upon herself to pray 40 times a day for three consecutive days for vocations to the priesthood, is among those who can’t wait for the apostolate’s official start.
“We’ve got to have priests. We can’t just go without them. They’re so important.”
She equips herself for the task by turning to her trusted Rosary. “I say the Rosary in the morning, I say the Rosary at night,” Ms. Gannon said. “I want those priests to multiply.”
Her specific prayer is that those men who are called to serve contact the seminary for further direction. “They’ve got to go in and make a move on it,” Ms. Gannon said. “Give it a try,” she suggests.
And she has no plans to stop praying for the men after they are accepted to St. Joseph’s. “I will pray that they don’t ever leave the seminary, that they stay on and become priests.”