Discerning Between Glenmary Priesthood and Diocesan Priesthood

Posted: 4/11/2013

Pat McEntee, associate vocation director, GlenmaryBy Pat McEntee,
Associate Vocation Director

Glenmary priesthood or diocesan priesthood? Which is right for me? Where am I needed most? How can I know for sure?

Only God can answer these questions, but it's up to you to find that answer through prayer and discernment. The fact is, both Glenmary and Catholic dioceses need men to answer God's call to priesthood.

Every diocese in the world has a specific purpose: to serve God's people within the local Church. Each religious order, including Glenmary, has its own specific purpose and charism. Glenmary's uniqueness as a religious society is that we continue to be the only missionary community working exclusively within the United States. Because Glenmary priests work within several different U.S. dioceses, they are similar to diocesan priests, but they work in very different circumstances and have very different roles within a mission community.

"I follow a very specific charism," says Glenmary Father Steve Pawelk. "I know I will serve in many states and areas, but always in a small rural mission setting. This situation allows me to establish a very deep and personal relationship with the people I serve."

Newly ordained Father Aaron Wessman says many diocesan priests have a positive mission identity in their priesthood, but he "wanted a way of life that was specifically missionary—not only in the apostolate, but also in the very way of life and being. It is not that one is better than the other. It is rather that the callings are different because the needs are different."

"When I felt the Lord was calling me to be a priest, I never once investigated a diocese," Father Steve says. "Two things were clear from the beginning: I needed to be a missionary and I desired a community dedicated to Mary."

While Father Steve never considered the possibility of diocesan priesthood, Father Don Tranel actually spent two years studying for his home diocese of Rockford, Ill., before discerning his call to be a Glenmary priest. "After proactive discernment, my peers and supervisor voted unanimously that I should go to Glenmary," he says.

Among the major reasons he chose to leave the diocese's formation program was that he saw many of the young priests moving into ministry as teachers or as "sacramental machines," and he wasn't comfortable with those options for his own ministry.

Glenmary priests (and brothers) profess an oath of poverty, which is a major difference between them and diocesan priests. Diocesan priests do not take such an oath and they draw salaries for the ministry that they do. Glenmarians receive modest monthly stipends for daily living. Father Steve notes that diocesan priests pay taxes and Glenmarians do not.

"I have always been hesitant to want to make money from my ministry," says Father Aaron. "I understand that diocesan priests have to make money and support themselves, and I know many diocesan priests who do so with great generosity and service. I admire them for that. But for myself, I wanted to take a little more extreme position in my way of life."

He adds that, like many Glenmarians, "our oath of simplicity means a lot to me in a world that idolizes money and comfort. I know the temptation of these things, and so I wanted to choose a life that helped me see these temptations in a different light."

Glenmarians also differ from diocesan priests in the aspect of community life. Glenmary is a community of priests and brothers who share a common bond with one another: the mission and the charism of the society. "I liked the idea of being bonded to a community, much like a band of brothers, in order to carry out a task," Father Aaron says. "I felt and experienced this in Glenmary. I knew that I would always have the option of living a certain level of community locally, but that I would also be bonded to the overall community through the sufferings, struggles and joys of our ministry."

Father Steve echoed Father Aaron's sentiments, saying, "In Glenmary, I have a fraternity of priests, brothers and coworkers from around the world. I have other Glenmarians whom I live with who share my values and goals. We have a commitment to prayer and service that binds us together as one big extended family, which I love."

Another major difference between Glenmary priests and diocesan priests is that, while diocesan priests will have various assignments within their own respective dioceses, each will remain in his own diocese for the length of his ministerial life. Glenmary priests also have a variety of assignments, but these assignments could take them to different dioceses and different states.

Perhaps the most profound difference is the general surroundings in which the priests find themselves. In most dioceses, particularly in urban areas, the area served by each pastor is very small geographically. In a Glenmary mission, the area served by the pastor is an entire county.

"We are cultivators of soil," says Father Aaron. "We begin from the very beginning. This is tough, tough work. It requires a lot of patience. It requires persons who can make the best out of what they have been given. It requires persons to see the goodness hidden inside of people, and to find ways to gently invite that goodness to shine."

The differences are significant enough that Father Aaron recommends to those discerning religious vocations that they should follow a process similar to discerning while a person is dating. There are plenty of good options, but you can only choose one. "I thought that somehow as soon as I entered formation, my being a priest was a done deal. It's not like that at all."

Discernment, especially between two good but different options, is an ongoing process. To begin that process and learn more about Glenmary mission ministry, consider attending one of our upcoming Summer Come & See weekends. Contact the Vocation Office at 513-881-7410 for more information, or register today!