Skip to comments.Debt, the Vocation Killer [Catholic Caucus]
Posted on 08/07/2007 10:10:52 AM PDT by fr maximilian mary
You think you know what factors pose a barrier to religious vocations? Think again. A group met in Chicago last month to discuss an emerging and growing barrier to vocations financial debt, particularly that acquired from student loans.
The Chicago-based Institute on Religious Life organized and the Arlington, Va.-based Fraser Family Foundation sponsored a diverse gathering of grant-makers, college presidents and vocation directors at Marytown Feb. 20-22 to examine the growing problem. As most religious orders will not accept someone with debt, it places many vocations in jeopardy.
Brother Matthew Ball of the Franciscans of the Immaculate at St. Francis Hermitage in Maine, N.Y., said that his debt nearly led him to abandon his vocation. A graduate of Ohio University, Brother Matthew had educational debts totaling $30,000 when he approached various religious orders inquiring about the possibility of entering. Debt prevented him.
I was ready to drop my vocation because of the debt. I figured that if too many huge walls were in the way that maybe God wasnt calling me, said Brother Matthew. I was ready to give it up, but had one more phone call to make.
Before giving up his vocation, Matthew Balls final call was to the Franciscan Friars in December 2005.
I spoke with the vocation director, Father Joseph, said Brother Matthew. Near the end of the call I said, Everything sounds great, but I have one more thing for you. I have an education debt of $30,000.
Father Joseph responded, Is that all? Youve got to have faith! Our Lady has all the money you need for your vocation, said Brother Matthew. Father Joseph put the young man in touch with the Fraser Family Foundation, a private foundation set up to help aspirants relieve their educational debt. Ball received the foundations final grant, enabling him to enter the community last summer.
The need is great. One of every two aspirants will have had student debt at one time, said Corey Huber, executive director of the Fraser Family Foundation. One of every four aspirants will have debt in excess of $25,000.
Thats a problem particularly for religious orders.
Its a very real problem. As more and more girls come out of college and seek religious life, it will become more of an issue for them, said Sister Mary Emily Knapp, vocation director of the Nashville Dominicans. For some young women it delays entrance. Of the orders 13 postulants this year, debt was an issue for two of them.
This is an important and challenging problem emerging in the Church, said Michael Wick, executive director of the Institute on Religious Life. He likens the problem to the rich young man in the Gospel who couldnt follow Christ. Instead, its the debt-laden young person who cant follow Christ.
At least two Catholic colleges have programs in place to provide debt relief for those pursuing religious life Christendom College, in Front Royal, Va., and Magdalen College in Warner, N.H.
At Christendom, the college has always had a policy that if a graduate takes final vows with an order that has canonical status with the Catholic Church, his loan will be canceled. Magdalens policy, while not official, has helped to defer and forgive loans on a case-by-case basis. Both Christendom and Magdalen are able to do so because they do not receive federal funds and are able to make their own loans.
As a lay organization, weve been tithing our 10% through our vocations, said Tom McFadden, director of admissions at Christendom. Its the idea that if we take care of God, he will take care of us.
To date, approximately 60 men and 40 women alumni of Christendom have entered religious life. Magdalen has seen approximately 30 religious vocations among its graduates.
Leaders agreed that more universities need to come to the table to develop ways to address this crisis.
Attendees also agreed that another response, of last resort, includes creating charitable funds that can assist aspirants with significant debt. Two such funds have already been created in recent years to address the issue.
Corey and Katherine Huber of Alexandria, Va., began issuing grants to aspirants in 2004, following Coreys retirement from America Online.
I had a lot of extra money floating around and our pastor told us of a young man who was interested in religious life but had a huge debt-load, said Huber. Our pastor asked if we could help this guy out.
The obstacles they faced in providing that help eventually led the Hubers to create the Fraser Family Fund and Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations. As a public charitable organization, the program allows individuals to make charitable contributions for the purpose of tackling the debt problem.
The Eagan, Minn.-based Laboure Society, founded by entrepreneur and management consultant Cy Laurent, is similar, yet has a unique difference.
Laurent shares the vocation story of aspirants they help. Laurent then works with the aspirants to help them develop lists of family, friends and others from whom they can solicit charitable contributions. The Laboure Society then acts as the intermediary, allowing individuals to make tax deductible donations to a central pool of funds that are used to help candidates reduce their debt before entry into religious life. To date, Laurent has assisted 82 candidates who are currently in formation 16 to the priesthood, 59 sisters and seven religious brothers.
While the need is great, professional fundraisers dont see the barrier as a significant problem.
Michael Browne is managing partner of Lincoln, Neb.-based Labadie Communications, a database marketing group. Browne is convinced that the money is there, its just a matter of communicating the need to benefactors.
Over the next 45 years, older generations will leave $41 trillion to their heirs, government and charities, said Browne. If donors knew that potential vocations were being turned away because of money, they would react. Theres never been a better time to face a problem such as this.
Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.
If you know anyone who wants to do something concrete about vocations, the young men and women are waiting. Check out the website of Mater Ecclesiae. I just went to the profession of one of their grantees, Sr. Marianna, O.P. ("Nashville Dominicans") and one of our Brothers, Br. Matthew Ball, is one of their grantees and is about to enter Novitiate Sept. 7th.
God blessed me very richly even before I began discerning a call to the priesthood; because of the circumstances He put me into, I have no debts going into seminary. That said, some dioceses are willing to work with seminarians to deal with debt; a friend of mine is also discerning, but his dad has insisted that he work to pay off his debt before applying to the diocese.
I think one important thing that can be done is to impress upon young people that debt does not need to be an impediment to discerning a vocation. Thank you for posting this and getting the word out.
Do the Knights of Columbus help? I know that our local chapter has an account called a Seminary Burse but they’ve never used any of the money for anything in 7 years.
In my former council in Indiana, we had two seminarians from our parish that we made sure to raise money for.
They had a State program named S.O.S. (save our seminarians) that money was available from.
Our council picks one or two seminarians from the local area every year and provides a cash donation to help cover out-of-pocket expenses, but nothing substantial enough to completely cancel college loans, etc.
My son is in his 2nd year at Franciscan U. in Steubenville OH, (he’s a pre-theologate, discerning the priesthood. diocesan, most likely) and we are wrestling with this very problem right now! Circumstances (too involved to insert here) are such that he is having trouble qualifying for student loans this year. He is working with the financial aid counselor at FUS on various options, but I thought I might ask here too: Does anyone know of organizations that give student loans specifically to pretheologates? I think the diocese (Manchester NH) will do something once he gets to major seminary, but it’s going to be difficult until then, unless our specific circumstances change. Any ideas are much appreciated. Thanks!
“Do the Knights of Columbus help?”
The Order provides dozens of scholarships each year for seminarians. These are limited to $2,500 per year, and can be renewed for up to four years. Going back a couple of years (the last year for which I could find data), the Knights were supporting about 130 or so seminarians throughout the United States and Canada.
More directly, local Councils often “adopt” seminarians and provide them with small stipends, usually about $500 per year, while they’re in the seminary. I believe that each seminarian is limited to a maximum of $2,000 per year.
It’s not a huge sum, but I know that our former pastor told us that he received these stipends when he was in the seminary, and it helped him out. As well, the seminarians that my own Council has supported have been appreciative.
Sometimes, Councils also provide other gifts to seminarians. I think that one year, our Council bought our seminarian an inexpensive laptop computer (about $750, I think).
Some dioceses will pay some or all of pre-Theologate studies; my home diocese pays the full amount, and asks to be reimbursed half if the seminarian does not go on to be ordained.
I’ve had a loooooong day.
I thought that it said: Debt, the Vacation Killer [Catholic Caucus] and was wondering how Catholic vacations are killed by debt as opposed to the Protestant ones.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be
Do not forget,
Stay out of debt.
I guess my vacations should be alive and well, since as a Franciscan I not only have no money, but no debts! (But our Order doesn't take vacations--there's no vacation from your vocation!)
RE: your local KofC seminary burse and not helping anyone for 7 years... If they have the burse and no one specific to help, maybe they should consider helping the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations (see link in post 1). They are helping concrete individuals and have had to turn some applicants away due to lack of funds.
I graduated from the pre-theologate program at Franciscan University in 1991. Assure your son of my prayers.
If he is considering the Diocesan priesthood, often the Diocese can help and rally behind their vocations. What is more, unlike religious vocations, Diocesan priests can pay off their own loans once ordained, since they have a salary. The trouble with religious vocations is that they make a vow of poverty; therefore, religious orders won't accept candidates with outstanding debt. This is where the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations can be a vocation saver/promoter.
If your son can get through the program, even at a slower pace, I think either a group like Mater Ecclesiae or his future Diocese would help.
Obviously, there is no substitute for prayer. God bless...
You should double check with the Diocese. Boston picks up the bill for the Seminarians, and McCormack being a former Boston guy may do likewise.
He’d still have out of pocket expenses, but if you contact the New Hampshire State Council once he is accepted they’ll “hook him up”, if not and he ends up at St. John Seminary in Boston, let me know, I’ll tell Brighton Council and he’ll have a check in no time.
Very interesting information - thanks!
Thank you, Father, for the ping! According to their web site: We Are Not Accepting Applications.
The Fraser Family Foundation's Mater Ecclesiae grant program is closed and will remain closed to new applicants. The grant program has been transfered to the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations. When the MEFV's St. Joseph Student Debt Relief Grant Program is accepting applications. Please see the MEFV's website for details.
Please continue to pray for the success of the new MEFV. Fiat Dei voluntas.