Thoughts on vocations V: one story
In my local paper this morning I found an interesting profile of a local seminarian which I wanted to share. This complements my earlier posts on vocations, which can be found here, here, here and here. Michael Bovino is 25 and in his first year of seminary studies at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary. He is a candidate for the Diocese of Norwich, CT. If he is ordained, he will be the 19th vocation from his parish in its 150 year history. (Referring back to my original post , this works out to about one every eight years.) He attended a public high school (Stonington) and then a public university (UConn). If he was an altar server it is not mentioned in his profile and did not play an obvious role in his vocation.
His vocation discernment came in two parts: first in a deepening of his faith, and then in a call (or possible call, as he is not completely sure that he has a vocation):
As he grew older, his feelings about his faith began to change, dramatically so during his junior year at UConn. That spring, he joined college students from around the country on a mission trip to Kentucky.
“These students that I encountered, they talked about their faith, and God and Jesus, like they were real people you could know, and I found it kind of weird at first,” he said. “But reflecting back later, I realized that they had this sense of joy, of contentment, that I didn’t have, and their witness really resonated with me.”
Back in Storrs, Bovino couldn’t get them out of his mind.
“For me, it was this kind of awakening to this sense that these people were living their faith, and this realization that there was substance to why they were doing it,” he said.
He had been going to Sunday Mass on campus since starting at Storrs, but after the trip he began attending daily Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel there.
“I was seeking other people like them, and I went looking at church.”
This brought him into contact with FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. This is a lay run organization which sees itself as part of the New Evangelization of Pope John Paul II. I am not very familiar with them—my only contact was a student from UConn making a fundraising appeal at mass to support her work as a FOCUS missionary. On their website they describe themselves as follows:
Recognizing the dire need for Catholic campus outreach, and inspired by Pope John Paul II’s call to a “new evangelization”, Curtis Martin and his wife, Michaelann founded FOCUS – the Fellowship of Catholic University Students – in 1998 at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
Sixteen years since its launch, FOCUS has grown from four missionaries serving one campus to over 400 missionaries serving 99 campuses in 35 states across the nation. Today, FOCUS continues to encourage young men and women to develop and invest in their relationships with Jesus and to go out and share the Good News, transforming the culture for Christ.
Michael Bovino found their outreach to be what he was looking for in his life. After graduation he decided to become a FOCUS missionary. at Monclair State in New Jersey:
here, he and another missionary lived on the third floor of the Newman Catholic Center, one floor above a Catholic priest who also worked on campus.
“I think that helped me to see the priest as a human being,” and to realize the obvious, he said, that a priest has parents and siblings, and does ordinary things like paperwork, shopping and watching television.
“It just expanded my scope of seeing a priest not just as a priest celebrating Mass on Sunday, but all the other things they do.” And as he began to believe that God might be calling him to a vocation, that was eye-opening and appealing.
While, as I have said previously, the plural of anecdote is not data, Michael Bovino’s story does shed some interesting light on the questions that I raised, and that were raised in the commboxes of my previous posts. He comes to the priesthood from an undertapped source: Catholics who went to public schools. His vocation came after college and seemed to be strongly shaped in relationship, both with lay missionaries from FOCUS and (implicitly) with the chaplain at Monclair State. His vocation was born out of a deeper faith experience as a layman, which in turn strengthened by a missionary trip: he found his faith in service to others.
What other lessons can we learn from his experiences? How can we build on them to encourage more young men to discern vocations to to the priesthood?
Please pray for Michael Bovino that God will send forth His Spirit and lead him ever closer to His love and His will.