After Brother Peter Rogers completed his visitation of the friars and ministries in our Mid-America Province, he remarked to me about the large number of vocations from Ellis County in Kansas. Being from Hays myself, I was glad to talk about the presence and influence of the Capuchins in western Kansas. I told him that I was baptized at St. Joseph’s Parish, received my first communion at St. Joseph’s, was confirmed there, and was ordained by Capuchin Bishop Firmin Schmidt at St. Joseph’s. I went to St. Joseph’s Military Academy and later to St. Francis Seminary, and all I knew when I grew up was “Capuchins.”
Brother Peter, who hales from Ireland and who was an official representative of our Minister General in Rome, was impressed. St. Joseph’s, St. Catherine’s in Catherine, KS; St. Fidelis in Victoria, KS, and so many surrounding parishes have been wonderful sources of vocations to the Capuchins as well as to the Secular Franciscans and the Sisters of St. Agnes who in their own way live the spirit of St. Francis. From Fr. Fidelis Meier (professed as a Capuchin in 1893) and Brother Wendelyn Wiesner (professed in 1896) to Frs. John Schmeidler (1990) and John Toepfer (1993), the Capuchin parishes and schools have been a wonderful sources of Capuchin vocations.
Why? I can think of a lot of reasons. Certainly the Capuchin presence over the years has inspired young people to listen for a calling. Frs. Fidelis McManus and Paulinus Karlin vigorously promoted vocations with their vocation clubs. If you grew up in Ellis County it was hard to “not” think about a vocation to be a Capuchin. If one of the Capuchins didn’t call you to think about it, then one of the Sisters of St. Agnes would make sure you were called. Parents, by and large, were open to having their child called. They encouraged their child to listen to the call.
The words of Jesus make so much sense to me in view of the fewer numbers that are entering the religious life and priesthood. Jesus said: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” When fewer numbers are “called,” it stands to reason that there is a smaller pool of people to be “chosen.” All of us – Capuchins and other religious, Secular Franciscans, and lay people in our parishes and schools and other ministries – are the reason why fewer are called today. We’re just not “calling.”
The Capuchin Province of Mid-America has opened a full time Vocation Office. Our brother, Fr. John Lager, is not only “beating the bushes” and “calling” young men, but he is also working with FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) to put our Capuchin way of life into the minds and thoughts of college-age men. His efforts are bearing fruit already. Five young men are accepted for postulancy this August. This is the largest number that we have ever accepted into one class since the beginning of our province in 1977. Coupled with the six we have in formation right now, this almost doubles our number of students. I’ve challenged Fr. John to double that number again for next year. It’s a reasonable challenge, IF people who know the Capuchins and our way of life are also willing to give the call and put Fr. John in touch with those they call. Then we can once again identify the “many,” so that the “few” may be chosen from the many.