Want to aid vocations? Helping reduce debt is key, this group says

Cardinal OMalley celebrates deacon ordinations for the NAC in St Peters Basilica Sept 29 2016 Credit Daniel Ibanez 10 CNA Ordinandi lay prostrate during the Litany of Saints during an Ordination Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, Sept. 29, 2016. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Personal and student debt can slow down or prevent prospective seminarians and aspirants to religious orders from pursuing their vocations, but one organization with national scope aims to change that.

"The Laboure Society's work is critical because thousands of discerning men and women are seeking to answer the Lord's call to serve his Church, but they are blocked from entering formation because of outstanding student loan debt," said Bill LeMire, director of advancement for the Laboure Society. "These are vocations [in] the Catholic Church that we will lose if they are not helped."

According to LeMire, there are about 4,000 men and women seriously discerning the priesthood or religious life, but they have outstanding student loans.

"Through the Laboure program, five figure debt has been erased in six months, and six figure debt has been eliminated in 12-18 months," LeMire told CNA. "These timelines would be impossible if the aspirants were trying to raise money on their own."

Aspirants accepted to the society's program have an average of about $60,000 in loans. The Laboure Society says it has helped more than 240 men and women enter formation for the priesthood or religious life, raising over $5 million since 2003.

The society works with each aspirant to assure that he or she has used all means to mitigate debt before they are accepted to its program.

They are mentored and trained in ethical fundraising, with the society's staff providing accountability. They raise funds for every aspirant in their class, not individuals. Once an aspirant is in formation, he or she will receive monthly payments towards his or her financial loans and receive a final payment after three years of service.

If they leave formation, they must resume their own debt payments.

The society aims to help aspirants share their vocation stories to help build "a culture of vocations and evangelization."

Among the aspirants is Mallory Deschamp, a 22-year-old from Minnesota. She said her twin sister's discernment of a religious vocation opened her own eyes.

"Jesus gently asked me to devote myself to Him more exclusively to better discern this question, as well as to grow deeper in my love for Him. Throughout this period of discernment, I found myself experiencing profound peace during a time that is often filled with immense stress and anxiety," she said in Laboure Society materials.

Before she had begun to discern, a seminarian had asked her to learn more about Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta, and the Missionaries of Charity. During her discernment, she visited their communities in Minneapolis, Chicago, and Argentina.

"I hope to help satiate Christ's thirst through serving Him in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor; however, I am humbly asking for assistance to make this possible," said Deschamp, who graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in the biology of global health.

Nicholas Martell, 29, is discerning a vocation to the priesthood for the Diocese of San Bernardino.

He said the coverage of procession of the cardinals for the 2013 papal conclave that would elect Pope Francis particularly affected his vocation.

"At that moment, I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, and that God was telling me that he expected more out of me. He wanted me to give myself entirely to Him, to the service of His Church, and to others," he said.

Martell, an attorney, still has debt from law school.

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Patricia Clark, a 58-year-old research assistant from Michigan, grew up in an Anglo-Catholic Episcopal Church, where she first had thoughts of religious life. She was received into the Catholic Church at the 2010 Easter Vigil, and felt a special call from God during Eucharistic Adoration that autumn.

"I had been attracted to the Carmelite Saints since the beginning of my Catholic journey. It seemed that God had been showing me the way all along and He sent a complete stranger to invite me further down the path He had planned for me."

When she left a church after time in prayer specifically asking God about his will, a woman followed her and asked if she had ever considered becoming a Carmelite.

A Carmelite prioress later responded to her concerns about her age by reminding her of St. Elizabeth, who conceived St. John the Baptist at an old age.

The Laboure Society was founded by Minnesota businessman Cy Laurent in 2003, and it is based in Eagan, Minn.

Its website is https://labouresociety.org.

This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 24, 2016.

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