Archdiocese of Chicago


Catholic Chicago Blog

Hosted by the Archdiocese of Chicago

About the Blogger

Father Joseph Noonan is pastor of St. Damien in Oak Forest. Ordained in 1995, he previously served as Archdiocesan Vocation Director.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Who Will Fill My Shoes?

Recently, a retired priest left his shoes in the sanctuary and processed out of his final Mass of his parish in his stocking feet! In his parting words, he challenged his congregation to invite and encourage vocations to the priesthood and religious life. After decades of loving service, in which he was fulfilled as a priest and Christian man, he asked his congregation, “Who will fill my shoes as a priest for the Archdiocese?”

Today we have faith filled men enrolled in our seminaries who are enthusiastically, joyfully, and courageously answering the call of Christ to be a priest to serve Him and our local Church. We simply need more of these excellent men to answer the call that is there yet being unheard or ignored. The need for more priests stems from the need to outreach and continue to proclaim the gospel, to bring people to a loving faith filled relationship with Jesus Christ, to offer the sacraments and mediate God's grace.

Did you know that we have more priests today per practicing Catholic then we did in the 1960s before any mention of a "shortage"? 80% or more or Catholics practiced their faith then versus 20-25% now. It is quickly apparent why many men simply don't hear their vocational call - they are not in a life giving relationship with Jesus Christ in order to hear it.

In the words of the late Cardinal Bernardin, the "baptized and unconverted Catholics" may hold the key to enlivening our Church and increasing the needed vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Our Catholic culture can nurture vocations to priesthood and religious life in many ways. Reestablishing a Catholic culture supportive of vocations within our families, schools, and parishes would help inspire young men and women to pursue the priesthood or religious life. The Catholic families again can be seedbeds of vocations. Religious Education and Catholic Schools can encourage, promote and educate. Priests and religious can personally invite those within their parishes and ministries that exhibit a potential vocation to priesthood and religious life.

Come Holy Spirit! Many needs, but at the same time, much hope. Young adults, youth and college students are pursuing their faith in edifying ways. They want to serve and they want the sacraments. They desire substantial understanding to what and why we believe what we do. There are stellar young men coming out of these ranks feeling called to the priesthood. As well working men of various ages are discovering something "missing". Into this desire to discover what more their hearts yearn for they have left everything to pursue seminary training in their perceived call to the priesthood. This year those applying or accepted to enter the seminary include: IT specialist, salesman, VP of a major company, medical doctor, family and crisis counselor, US delegate involved in foreign affairs and industrial worker. God is calling. They have answered.

Perhaps you reading this text will be the vehicle of God's grace used to encourage, or invite our future priests and religious life. Perhaps you are being called yourself to the priesthood or religious life. Or maybe you are being inspired to help create a Catholic culture supportive of vocations in your parish or school. For information in these areas and more, please check out or The Spirit initiates, we respond.

Together with much prayer, encouragement and support, we can answer the question, “Who will fill those empty shoes?”

Print RSS


Friday, July 10, 2009 9:21 PM

Regarding your statistic, reproduced below. Could it be that we now have FEWER practising Catholics????

Did you know that we have more priests today per practicing Catholic then we did in the 1960s before any mention of a "shortage"? 80% or more or Catholics practiced their faith then versus 20-25% now. It is quickly apparent why many men simply don't hear their vocational call - they are not in a life giving relationship with Jesus Christ in order to hear it.

Marion O.

Thursday, July 09, 2009 1:39 PM

A vocation is the fruit of Faith, Hope and Charity. We have Faith in Jesus Christ, who expressed His Will regarding how the world of today would be "approached" by entrusting the Church with the Gift of the Holy Spirit. The authentic interpretation of the Will of God is active in the Church today through the Successor of Peter - the Pope - and the Bishops in communion with him. Genuine vocations don't spring up from "deep thinking" that lacks Faith in Christ, His Church and His Vicar on earth.

The same is true of Hope. We have Hope for things that are not yet seen. This is precisely the expression of a celibate vocation - it does not denigrate the call to earthly marriage but rather points, through itself - to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb where Christ will be all in all. Christ promised that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church - the Church that will be presented to Her Bridegroom as a spotless Bride in the consummation of all things. She will not become "extinct" as a consequence of Priesthood which explicitly, through its celibate commitment, declares that Hope concretely in the flesh.

A vocation is also the fruit of Love - a love witnessed in the life of St. John Vianney, declared Universal Patron of all Priests in this Year of Priesthood. He once said that the Priest is the Love of the Heart of Christ. The Heart of Christ was simultaneously exhausted and fecund when pierced with a lance at the Crucifixion in the culminating act of His total Self gift. Pope Benedict's Letter to open the Year of Priesthood should be read by any potential seminarians - and the story of the life of St. John Vianney should be shared with all our young people this year.

The Congregation for the Clergy has put together a beautiful document on Spiritual Maternity, available on their website. Women have a very important role in nurturing and supporting Priestly vocations. If they are too distracted, they will miss the invitation.

Marie P.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009 2:57 PM


I think one of the problems are there are so few role models in the Priesthood for young men to follow. When I was growing up when you called the rectory you talk to a Priest. Now if you get a human and not voice mail you get a response from a "Faith formation Director" Pastoral Associate" or other person.

When you are in the hospital with few exceptions it's the Deacon or minister of care who comes visits you.

This is not an indictment of all Priest there are some fine gentlemen in the vocation who are wonderful and dedicated Priest. However thy are to few and far between.

Thomas S.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009 12:41 PM

Thank you Fr Joe for bringing this subject to the forefront. It would be interesting to see how Jesus Christ would have approached the people today and how he would have picked his disciples. Would the disciples be all men? Would he embrace married men? Would the youth be part of his plan?

I think the Church is missing the target with the youth and young adults of today. Christ worked hard at including people. Today’s church does not reach out to work with the youth and young people, the belief is if I say it they will come, it takes more. Too often the clergy believes that work is not part of their calling, I say it they will come.
The parents today work, both of them, and one may put 50 or more hours at week, and the other spouse will come home do house work and take care of their children needs, etc. Life requires extra work from all and more from others – Life may not be fair, but this is what we have to work with.

The Church works in one direction and believes others must do things their way and only their way. This thinking must change if the Church wants things to change. People are looking for faith and support and more personal involvement, with out any per judgment... It is hard for individuals to know both sides, lay people are concerned with paying bills, raising children and keeping employed. The clergy have different problems such are the servicing the spiritual needs have people and dealing with problems of individuals. The question is how the two can work together? Who steps up first the clergy or lay people? Some one needs to get it started.

The Church needs to do some deep thinking.

Terry E.

Terry E.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009 11:16 AM

I think that if we focus on vocations as a part of every baptized person's call, we will see a renewal in vocations to religious life - and renewal in the Church as a whole. I think each Catholic needs to discern his/her call from God; and as the Church, we can: 1)share with everyone our powerful "tools" for discernment, and 2) encourage taking time to discern - even children in our classrooms can begin sitting for a few moments to "listen to God." Can we shift the focus from, "Do I have a vocation to religious life?" to "I HAVE a vocation, as a baptized person, to a life in Christ. What form does God want me to take?" To me, the language of vocation is universal - and the fruits of this type of work would benefit the entire Church.

Kathy M.

Monday, July 06, 2009 4:04 PM

That is quite a powerful image - however an image that may not have been in touch with the right target audience. As someone has explored the priesthood through the Catholic Seminary System of Chicago, I feel like our the Catholic Church has to adapt its roles to our current culture. While our Church is built upon the foundations and traditions built by those who have gone before us, we must also realize that species that don't adapt, do not survive. While I would love a life of ministry, I feel like I am called to a family life. Now I find myself ministering to people with the same principles that were taught in the seminary system in a secular environment. I truly feel that if priests could marry and have families, we would see a more diverse pool of candidates to the priesthood.

Jason B.

Monday, July 06, 2009 1:21 PM

Hi Father Joe! I would love to have been at that Mass where the priest removed his shoes-challenging his congregation like that to really meditate on what a gift from God an authentic vocation to the priesthood, sisterhood, brotherhood and the consecrated life in general really is. It's important, I feel, to make sure folks really know that a vocation is a true calling from God that needs to be fostered and nurtured in order to grow and if you feel you might be called to this life--because you do get distinctly divine signals if it's real--you need to drop what you're doing and assume you're being called. Sooner or later, you'll know if you're not!!!! I kind of really believe that I am a good example of someone who may well have been called to the religious life but had so many other commitments and family issues that I thought took precedence---now, I really believe that you must drop whatever else you're doing--and take that plunge head and heart first--the rest of the minutiae will fall in place...It's hard to act on what you don't know.. but if you do know, or kinda know, then go for it...You'll surprise yourself because a true vocation lived to the fullest, will bring peace, serenity and happiness. My mother used to say that God puts us where he wants us to be..... if we can hear him speak..I pray for those courageous women and men who are willing to leave it all behind in order to answer a greater call...there is no greater sacrifice than that....It is especially edifying to see middle aged men and women professionals who yearn for something more in their lives....doctors, lawyers and other talented people you mentioned in your article Fr. Joe. These are fine examples to follow.... We mustn't be complacent and think for one moment that God intends for any established religious community to die out just like that..... I don't believe it for a second... God has always called and will continue to call... sure there will be some changes according to the times we live in, as is evidenced by the middle-age persons being called to serve, but if the charisms of the founders/foundresses are lived out in the spirit intended, with much prayer and supplication, there will be workers for the harvest! I want to thank all the wonderful Sisters, Brothers and Priests I know for witnessing to the grace and beauty that is the Religious Life and Diocesan Priesthood! And thank you Fr. Joe for your work in promoting vocations to the Presbyterate here in Chicago! P.S. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the dedication of all who work in the Office for Religious and the fine organization that is the Institute on Religious Life.
These 2 entities work zealously to promote and tend to all in the Religious Life! God Bless!

Carol B.

Recent Posts

Monday, July 11, 2016 
World Youth Day in Chicago
By Juan Pablo Padilla

Tuesday, July 05, 2016 
Seeking and Living Justice as Neighbors
By Christopher Cox

Monday, June 20, 2016 
Theology of the Body Retreat
By Dawn Fitzpatrick