Father Andrew Lauricella has been named the new director of Vocations of the Diocese of Buffalo. He spoke about his newest assignment, as well as what it will be like to fill the shoes of Father Walter Szczesny, who held the position for nine years.
The diocese named Father Szczesny the pastor of All Saints Parish in Lockport last March. As vocations director, Father Lauricella said he has stepped into a role that involves a combination of promotional work, such as raising awareness of the priestly vocation or the possibility of that vocation for certain individuals, as well as providing guidance to those pursuing the priesthood.
"I remind the public that there may be individuals in the public who are called to priesthood, and to provide everything from personal guidance, support and encouragement, right up to the formal application process," Father Lauricella said. "I guide them through their first thoughts, their initial questions, their initial feelings, right through beginning the application formally."
As vocations director, Father Lauricella is often an initial point of contact for those who are interested in becoming priests. To a limited degree, the vocations director is also supportive of the seminarians at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, but they are not his primary responsibility.
"Once they're in the seminary, they're sort of beyond the Vocations Office, and now they're in what's called the program of priestly formation, so it would be the seminary formation team that handles them from there," he said.
Before being named vocations director, Father Lauricella served the parishioners at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Niagara Falls in a wide variety of situations as parochial vicar. In the process, he experienced and addressed the needs of many people in different circumstances, and he worked with youth and young adults with the sacraments. He also provided guidance and ministered to the bereaved families of his parish in their times of great need.
The responsibility of choosing a successor to Father Szczesny fell to the diocesan Priest Personnel Board, an advisory committee to Bishop Richard J. Malone. The board has extensive knowledge of the priests of the diocese and keeps records of their individual skills, backgrounds and experience. In turn, the board makes recommendations to Bishop Malone regarding assignments.
"One of the key things that the bishop told me the Personnel Board attested to was my happiness as a priest," said Father Lauricella. "They thought that would be a good quality for someone in this office, to use that happiness to encourage other men who have this vocation to pursue it."
Father Lauricella quotes Bishop Edward M. Grosz in regard to what qualities to look for in people who come to him about priestly vocations who says, "There are many things to be considered, but the heart of it is: do they love their God, and do they love their people?"
In addition, Father Lauricella considers if the vocation comes directly from God, and if it is God calling the person to that position. Although he has not yet encountered this during his short time in the position, Father Lauricella said there may be circumstances when, through working with someone, he gets the feeling that a vocation to priesthood or religious life is not right.
"If we get a sense that this is not their vocation, it's not what God is calling them to do, it's not meant to be, we never just leave them hanging," he said. "It's always our job to help them find, or at least help them get set off in a good direction or help them to become more aware of what their skills are and what their talents are, and some other ways those could be put to work."
None of these answers or conclusions comes quickly, and decisions are always made via a long process of talking with people to find out what is right for each situation. Since there has been a shortage of priests, Father Lauricella said in encouraging men to become priests, he would ask them to carefully consider whether a priestly vocation would make them happy.
"If priesthood is what your vocation is, you will not be happier any other way," Father Lauricella said. "Then, I would say, too, society can often present priesthood in a bad light, present a lot of the negative things. In response to that concern, I would say that based on my experience of three years of priesthood, they has been the happiest years of my life. I would definitely emphasize that there is happiness and joy, if it is pursued with the right disposition of heart and if that is God's will for the person."
If the priesthood is not the right choice for an individual, there are also other options, such as the permanent diaconate. Father Lauricella pointed out that if certain aspects of the priesthood, such as not marrying or not being able to have children, make the choice unappealing, there are also other ways lay people can serve God, their parishes and their families as good examples of Catholic life.
Father Lauricella said he often uses an analogy in his homilies of a jigsaw puzzle, and compares each of the people in the community to a piece of the puzzle. Every piece is different, and no matter how many other pieces there are, each has one place no other one can fill. Although the vocations office focuses in a special way on priestly vocations, no one vocation is better than another, and none works in a vacuum.
"Sometimes you can do a great job for the Church, for God's kingdom, even if you're not in a formal ministry," Father Lauricella said. "Sometimes, just by being a good parent raising your kids in the faith, or being a good example for your coworkers, or maybe just by being true to what you believe at work, wherever you work. Even though you might not have a lot of conversations with people about God or about faith, they may just, by watching you, be inspired by that."