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 Click Here for 2014-15 Joliet Diocese Seminarians

Fr. Victor Ivers was celebrating Mass one Sunday in 2007 at St. Joseph Parish in Libertyville. It was his final mass before retiring after more than sixty years as a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The church was packed because Fr. Ivers was well-loved. Something odd happened as Fr. Ivers was processing out of Mass. A strange look came across his face. He stopped about halfway down the center aisle and returned to the altar. He bent over, took off his shoes, laid his shoes at the foot of the altar, turned to the assembly and asked the stunned congregation a very simple question, “Who will fill these shoes?” He then walked out of the church (in his socks!).

It really is a simple question, “Who will fill these shoes?” More importantly, it’s a shocking image, the image of empty shoes, a priest’s shoes, laying there by the altar. It is a sharp reminder to all of us that without priests there will be no Eucharist.

Fr. Ivers has ties to the Diocese of Joliet as he served at St. Mary Nativity Parish in Joliet from 1945-1948 before the Diocese of Joliet was formed. Unfortunately, Fr. Ivers passed away this past January, but his legacy lives on.

Fr. Francis Bitterman, the vocation director for the Archdiocese of Chicago, told a group of us vocations directors what Fr. Ivers inspired in the Archdiocese of Chicago. They began a new initiative in 2013 entitled “Who Will Fill These Shoes?”

The initiative began in November of that year with an event the day after Thanksgiving – aka Black Friday. Naturally, the event was called, “Who Will Fill These Shoes?” Fr. Robert Barron, rector of Mundelein Seminary, recorded a homily about vocations based on Fr. Ivers’ story. Cardinal George asked every parish in the archdiocese to play the homily in early November and to invite young men between the ages of 18 and 40 to come with their pastors to Mundelein Seminary on Black Friday to learn more about the priesthood.

The Cardinal, Fr. Bitterman and Fr. Barron thought that the initiative would start small. They were shocked when 140 young men arrived that Friday morning along 80 priests! They celebrated Mass together and then priests and seminarians spoke to the young men about the joy of following the Lord’s call. Several of these young men have already entered the seminary to study for the priesthood while many more of them are now seriously discerning a vocation.

Inspired by this story and encouraged by the response it generated in promoting vocations, both the Diocese of Joliet and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will host a similar event this year, with the hope of offering it as a national vocation promotion program the following year.

Parents are welcome to accompany their sons on November 28th. Parents of our current seminarians will be available to speak about what it is like to have a son answer God’s call.

In promoting priestly vocations, our efforts in the Diocese of Joliet for the 2014-2015 year will be guided by the theme “Who Will Fill These Shoes?” This theme will be featured on our seminarian poster and other promotional materials. As I have shared this idea with our Vocation Team, priests, seminarians and others, everyone is impacted by the story. The Church needs priests and we hope that our efforts this year will inspire many more young men to respond generously to God’s call. I firmly believe that God has not stopped calling; we have stopped listening.

Last fall at our priest convocation, Fr. Bill Dewan, our Vicar for Clergy, reported that we can expect the number of our priests to shrink by about 20 over the next ten years. Many of our parishes have already felt, or will soon experience, the shortage of priests.

The good news, however, is that the number of our seminarians continues to increase. This year we have 36 seminarians studying for the priesthood and numerous other young men actively discerning a vocation. The future of the Church is filled with much hope!

What can you do? Please continue to pray for vocations and especially for the young men that God is calling to the priesthood. Also, invite young men personally to attend this event and to consider priesthood. You can also suggest names of young men to your pastor to attend this event. Your prayers, support, and encouragement is very important in promoting vocations.

And to young men who are considering the priesthood, I ask you to pray about the call God has placed on your heart and answer Him with courage and generosity… “Who Will Fill These Shoes?”

For more information or to register go to www.whowillfilltheseshoes.com