There have always been priests for every major moment in religious life, from baptisms to weddings to funerals. But that’s a luxury we soon won’t be able to take for granted, said Deacon David Flynn, who serves at St. Jude Parish in Monroe.
“We have to be aware of our role in encouraging vocations,” Deacon Flynn said. “It’s not someone else’s role. Our fellow Catholics need to be aware of the need for priests.”
Deacon Flynn is the founder of the Serra Club in Bridgeport, a chapter of the USA Council of Serra International. The first Serra Club was founded in 1935 to encourage vocations. Serrans are lay Catholics, men and women of all ages and from all walks of life. They take their name from Father Junípero Serra, a Franciscan missionary who founded the first Spanish missions in California. Father Serra was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015.
Serra International has worked closely with every pope since Pope Pius XII. Their international convention will take place in Rome in June, including a private audience with Pope Francis.
Deacon Flynn founded the local Serra Club chapter in 2015 as a project for his own ordination as a deacon that year. It celebrated its second anniversary with a Mass and dinner at the St. John Fisher Seminary on April 19, and is looking to grow its membership.
There are three Serra Clubs in Connecticut: in Bridgeport, Hartford, and Norwich. The goal of the Serra Club is to promote vocations to the priesthood and other forms of consecrated religious life in the Catholic Church.
Father John Connaughton, director of vocations for the Diocese of Bridgeport and chaplain for the Serra Club chapter in this diocese, echoed Deacon Flynn’s sentiments of the need for vocations. “Like everywhere else, the need for priests here is great,” he said. “We want to help people who God is calling. The priesthood is a life in which they will be happy.”
He said the Serra Club is all about “cultivating a culture of vocations” because too often when a young man announces his intentions to become a priest, the community is surprised.
“That shouldn’t be something that surprises us,” Father Connaughton said. “It should be seen as a normal thing.”
Support from the Serra Club for those considering the priesthood comes in the form of prayer, meetings for coffee, community meals, attending ordination Masses, and being involved with seminary events, said Thom Field, the current president of the Serra Club chapter in Bridgeport.
Field said the club has hosted picnics for seminarians and their families, members have attended ordination Masses for new priests, and each member has a calendar with names of priests and seminarians who each get their own day of prayer throughout the year.
“We are rooting for them as they go through this,” Field said.
A prayer calendar for seminarians and priests can be found on the Serra Club of Bridgeport website or on their Facebook and Twitter pages.
Field has big dreams for the group’s future. “It’s my goal as president to increase the size of the club by 50 percent this year,” he said. The group began with about 30 members. Field would also like to continue to reach out to youth groups and altar servers to talk to them about vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
For someone whose own vocation came later in life, Deacon Flynn feels he can be empathetic with those discerning religious life and the priesthood. Being a member of the Serra Club is just being willing to walk with someone on their journey, he said.
“It’s as simple as mentoring to a young man or woman as they think about the priesthood or religious life,” he said. “We’ve been working hard to make an impact on creating an understanding of the need for vocations in the Church.”