Newly chartered club, second in southeast Michigan, aims to foster a 'culture of vocations' in Detroit-area parishes, schools
GROSSE POINTE PARK — Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are at the heart of the Catholic Church. But although the harvest is plentiful, the laborers are few, often due to the fact that men and women don’t recognize the call or possibility of a religious vocation.
Members of the Serra Club seek to change that.
The lay-led apostolate, which is dedicated to helping men and women hear and recognize the call by making vocations visible in parishes and schools, has been supporting vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the Archdiocese of Detroit for more than 70 years through programming, fellowship, and — most importantly — prayer.
Part of Serra International, there are four Serra charters in Michigan, two located within the Archdiocese of Detroit. The Detroit-Oakland charter has existed since the mid-1950s, and, more recently, a Detroit-Northeast charter was founded, based at St. Paul on the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Park. Internationally, the organization has approximately 12,000 members, the majority located in the United States.
“Members can gain an appreciation of what priests and religious do, and it develops our spirituality in a way we can talk about vocations to anybody that we meet and bring forth affirmative feelings about vocations in the parishes and in the regions we work in,” Tom Bewick, current Serra governor for the state of Michigan, told Detroit Catholic.
Named for St. Junipero Serra, Serra International began in 1935 in Seattle as a means to bring men and women of all backgrounds together to “promote and foster” vocations. The Detroit Oakland Serra was founded in the mid-1950s and has since worked hand-in-hand as the Archdiocese of Detroit's vocations office's official lay working apostolate.
Longtime member Bob Barrett, who attends our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Beverly Hills, first joined the club in 1994. Since he joined, Barrett has served in numerous leadership positions, including as vocational vice president, president and governor for the state. At his first meeting, Barrett recalls being struck by how prayerful the group was in its approach.
“I just wanted to give back to the Lord,” Barrett said. “I have had — I say this humbly — a pretty good life.”
The meetings are a little like being on a retreat: it encourages a prayer life supported by a community, which helps members deepen their understanding of the Church. In turn, members are empowered, allowing them to go out and evangelize, Bewick added.
“The Scriptures say we are supposed to promote the Church and Jesus Christ in the world, and I think this is a good way to do it. Because in supporting the priesthood, particularly, we participate in evangelizing the world through the workings of the Church," Bewick said. "For me, that has always been a big factor. It gives me an avenue to more or less indirectly evangelize my community.”
One way the Serrans evangelize is through programs designed to build a culture of vocations in parishes and schools, Barrett said. When he served as governor, Barrett created the Five Star program, an active guide for promoting vocational awareness, which includes a traveling chalice and traveling crucifix program, materials for parish bulletins, and the 31 Club, which promotes prayer for vocations, the celebration of religious and priestly vocations, and holy hours.
“If I can get a parish doing (the program), then we got something,” Barrett added.
The idea behind the traveling crucifix and chalice, which are taken home by members of the parish or school, is to encourage families to pray together for a culture of vocations, Barrett said.
"We’ve gotta build up courage and make it cool to be a priest or a nun,” Barrett said. “These young kids are impressed by seeing that chalice go up the aisle and go into a person's home for a week to pray and talk about vocations. If we can make it exciting to be a priest to be a nun, that is our job.
“We are trying to make it a blessed thing to be a priest, so it's no big surprise when someone asks, ‘How did you get into the priesthood?’ The answer can be, ‘My parish talked about it,’” Barrett added.
In addition to encouraging young people to consider their vocation, the Serrans are dedicated to praying for those in seminary or who have already been ordained. Along with their prayers, the Serrans host bi-annual fundraisers to support seminarians.
In March, the newly chartered Detroit-Northeast Serra Club held its first meeting, an induction of new members and officers at St. Paul on the Lake Church in Grosse Pointe Farms. Barrett first approached Fr. Jim Bilot, who will serve as the charter's chaplain, about creating the charter.
The parish received permission from Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, and was able to rally the 25 people needed to form a charter, including several young men and women who are parents of young children themselves. Although based at St. Paul, the charter is open to anyone in the Northeast Region of the archdiocese. Fr. Bilot is hopeful the new charter will reach young people in particular.
Fr. Bilot, who served as director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Detroit from 2000 to 2007, said it can be difficult to discuss vocations with young people if they haven’t been formed with a concrete understanding of the faith.
“We are asking them to think about this life, but some of them don’t even know what it means to be Catholic or be in the Catholic Church. Some don't even know who Jesus is or have a relationship with him,” Fr. Bilot said. “In our culture today, kids in junior high or high school don’t even know the Hail Mary, the Our Father, because their parents aren’t teaching it.”
As vocations director, Fr. Bilot said he couldn’t do the job of promoting vocations on his own, which is why lay groups such as Serra play such an important role.
“One guy can’t do that, but an organization that is specifically geared toward vocational work (can),” Fr. Bilot said. “As a parish priest, I’m in the trenches. We administer the sacraments; we are in the schools doing the day-to-day, but there are places we can’t get to. As a priest, we can’t get into the house, the domestic church. Lay people can go into places priests can’t necessarily go, and if they are in the Serra Club, they are going to be looking out for vocations wherever they go.”
To learn more about the Detroit-Oakland Serra Club, a lay-led organization promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life, including upcoming meetings, programs and events, visit www.serradetroit.org. To learn more about the newly chartered Detroit-Northeast Serra Club, email [email protected].