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Glenmary program offers increased options

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

By Mike Dyer

ARCHDIOCESE — Glenmary Father Steve Pawelk understands that young people these days are often all about being equipped with options in their lives.

That’s part of the reason why Father Pawelk, who is director of the Glenmary Home Missioners Vocation Office, believes the recently reinstated aspirancy program is very effective for men who can earn a college degree while also discerning a Glenmary missionary vocation to serve the spiritual and material needs of rural America.

Pat Cottingham (Courtesy photo)

In 2008 the Glenmary Home Missioners, headquartered in Cincinnati, began a college program at Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa. The aspirancy program covers four groups: any man desiring priesthood who doesn’t have a college degree; any man between ages 18-22 interested in advancing his discernment in a religious setting whether he may be pursuing priesthood or brotherhood; any man who needs to more fully develop English language skills before entering a program; and any man living in Mexico or Kenya interested in brotherhood.

Father Pawelk said the aspirancy program is the name for the college program, while candidacy is the first year of formal formation under the Glenmary program. The aspirancy program remains under the direction of the vocation department because men are still in the initial phases of discernment. A man with a college education, but insufficient philosophy studies, would be in the candidacy program. Those pre-theology studies take place at St. Meinrad in Indiana.

The aspirancy program allows men to pursue a degree whether they have recently graduated from high school or are in their 30s. Divine Word College allows for individuals to discern in a focused spiritual environment with advantages of receiving a degree.

“I think it’s been a real plus,” said Father Dan Dorsey, who is president of Glenmary Home Missioners. “It will be interesting to see where (the program) goes.”

Glenmary has two men in the aspirancy program. Father Pawelk said he’s been in contact with two seniors in high school and a 19-year-old post-high school individual — all of whom are considering the program. Father Pawelk said the program has significant promise.

“Young people like the idea that they can gradually assess their vocation,” he said. “The more options, the more young men will explore this option. It is important that they have room to grow, learn and re-decide.”

The student is financially responsible for their schooling, but Glenmary provides a loan for any expenses not covered by other resources. The loan is paid back if the student does not take the final oath. In addition, the student receives a small monthly allowance to help with day to day expenses. Father Pawelk said it’s assumed the student’s family and local parish is also contributing to the individual.

“The partnership between the student and Glenmary vocation department is one of mutual assistance,” Father Pawelk said. “Glenmary is excited that this young man, this aspirant, has the opportunity to pursue the potential of missionary vocation, grow spiritually, and in the end, regardless of the final decision, have a greater commitment to the home mission effort and being a strong man of Catholic faith.”

Glenmary previously had a college program that ended in the 1980s. Prior to 1984 Father Pawelk said the program helped college age men get their degrees. In the final few years of the program, most men had already completed college and very few were obtaining degrees. Father Pawelk explained since the men were older, had more life experience and fewer were of college age, the program closed. The new program was the candidacy program based in Hartford, Ky., which was a Glenmary mission at the time.

Today students in formation spend time in Glenmary missions, including work in the summer, and help provide assistance for Bible schools and special outreach to youth.

Paul Cottingham is one of the individuals in the Glenmary aspirancy program. Cottingham wanted to pursue missionary priesthood with Glenmary at age 33, but lacked a degree. He is now enrolled at Divine Word working toward a degree in philosophy.

“As an aspirant, I feel I have been welcomed into the Glenmary family,” Cottingham says on Glenmary’s website.

Cottingham is not alone in pursuing a vocation. Father Pawelk cited the example of St. John Vianney, the minor seminary in St. Paul, Minn., which has more than 100 men in attendance. There are also several other examples around the tri-state area. “Thanks to the prayer for vocations, the papacy of John Paul II and Benedict, more and more young men are open to at least testing out the vocation to priesthood and brotherhood at a young age,” Father Pawelk said.

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