.- A five-day conference held at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio earlier this month brought together over 180 priests from across the country to receive support and practical help in order to be "Strengthened in Hope."
The 35th annual Priests, Deacons, and Seminarians Conference was held from June 15 to 19. Participants spent time with other priests, deacons, and seminarians, while finding renewal in the sacraments and attending talks and workshops helping them learn how to turn obstacles and challenges into opportunities for hope and witness.
The conference was co-hosted by Father Michael Scanlan and Father David Pivonka, TOR, director of Post-novitiate Formation for the Sacred Heart Province of the Third Order Regular and superior at St. Louis Friary in Washington, D.C.
Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Alabama received Franciscan University’s Shepherd’s Award at the conference. The award was given to Bishop Baker "in recognition of the ways he has helped God strengthen and raise up faithful loving shepherds for his flock."
University Chancellor Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, presented the award in front of an enthusiastic crowd, saying, "Bishop Baker has a real heart for the people and a great pastoral care for his priests, and places a priority on the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life."
Baker was appointed as bishop of Charleston in 1999 and then as bishop of Birmingham in 2007. He is the author of the recent book, The Questioner’s Prayer, and also worked with Father Benedict J. Groeshel, CFR, to write When Did We See you, Lord?
Addressing the gathered crowd, Bishop Baker encouraged his fellow priests to offer their intentions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus every day and consecrate themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus every month. In addition, he strongly recommended that they never miss daily Mass and that they schedule a holy hour at least once a week, if not once a day.
The bishop expressed his hope that during this newly-begun Year for Priests, the lay faithful would "engage themselves in prayer and action for our priests," helping to renew the love and devotion of priests around the world. "The priesthood is the love, the heart, of Jesus," he said.
In addition to the award ceremony, other highlights of the conference included enriching talks and workshops on a variety of theological and pastoral topics, as well as testimonies and opportunities for confession, Eucharistic adoration, daily Mass, and praise and worship.
Father David Toups, associate director for the U.S. Bishops’ Office of Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations celebrated the 12th anniversary of his vows during the conference. Father Toups conducted a workshop, "Character Produces Hope," in which he called on fellow priests to live moral lives of virtue, striving to "be credible witnesses so the people may believe in Jesus Christ."
Encouraging annual retreats and spiritual direction, Father Toups emphasized the dangers that come from priests failing to comprehend their identity. "The future of the Church is jeopardized when we don’t live in accordance with the great calling we have received," he said. Toups suggested prayers for both priests and laity in support of the priesthood.
Another of the workshops, "Mary: Star of Hope," emphasized the importance of Mary in today’s world as a guiding "Star" pointing towards Christ. Father Leo Patalinghug, director of Pastoral Field Education at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, conducted the workshop, saying, "The Blessed Mother is more than a statue and more to us than a simple set of prayers we say on a bunch of beads." Explaining that every saint had a devotion to the Blessed Mother, he continued, "Mary is the great sign of hope. She points to our salvation at the foot of the cross."
Father Patalinghug urged priests to make their everyday lives a reflection of Marian virtues, including humility, obedience, and compassion. "We’re in an age where disobedience is popular and obedience is irrelevant," he said. Yet despite these obstacles, he encouraged priests to persist in the spiritual works of mercy. "Be proud of your Catholic identity," he said.
The final talk, "A Royal Priesthood: Hope for the Church and the World," featured University trustee Diane Brown explaining that without priests, there would be no sacraments, no Church, and no salvation. Brown expressed her gratitude to priests, who are "of more value to mankind than the entire material universe."
Brown spoke about the importance of prayer and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to preach the truth faithfully. "Pray and don’t stop praying," she said, encouraging the gathered priests to boldly carry out their missions on earth. "A world without God is a world without hope. You, my brother priests, are what the world needs."
The Priests, Deacons, Seminarians Conference is one of six summer conferences for adults offered at Franciscan University. Those interested in upcoming conferences can find information at www.franciscanconferences.com.