‘The world needs these heroic young men and women’
The Fund for Vocations, a Catholic charitable organization, helps men and women respond to God’s call to religious life by paying off student loan debt that prevents them from entering the seminary or convent.
The fund was created in 2007 to address the problem of student loans blocking aspiring priests and nuns from pursuing the vocation.
Priests and nuns vow to spend their lives serving God in poverty, chastity and obedience. Upon entering the seminary or convent they must be debt-free because they do not have an income.
Mary Radford, executive director of the Fund for Vocations, told The College Fix that without help aspirants may need to wait two to 10 years to enter before they can pay off their student loan debt. The organization strives to change this through donors who help make it possible, she said.
Radford said the number of applications received per year varies but is usually between 11 to 30, however, they often “must turn away over half of ❲their❳ qualified grant applicants simply for lack of funding.”
“Turning away even one vocation is too many,” she told The Fix. “The fund is working hard to reach a point where we can accept every qualified applicant so as not to lose vocations. The world needs these heroic young men and women.”
This year, the organization launched its Deo Gratias Campaign with the goal of raising $350,000 by the end of the year which will allow every aspirant to enter formation. Applications for this year’s grant program must be submitted by the end of November.
Success stories detailed on the fund’s website include that of Maria Teresa, who was convicted to become the “bride of Christ” while in college. Today she serves at the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary Summit in New Jersey thanks to the fund.
“I‘m entering to offer my entire life as a sacrifice to Christ for the salvation of souls,” she stated. “I‘m entering because nothing else in the world can satisfy my heart more fully than becoming a bride of Christ. I‘m entering because this is what I was created for.”
Another story detailed on the fund’s website is that of Brother Jason of the Holy Spirit Discalced Carmelite Friars in San Jose, California.
While attending Franciscan University of Steubenville, he was challenged by “God’s grace and the wisdom imparted by the faculty and priests.” As time went on, he stated, the calling of the priesthood grew, but he graduated with student debt and no concrete pathway to the altar. That’s where the fund kicked in.
Candidates must get an acceptance letter from a religious order in order to apply for a grant. Upon acceptance, the organization will make student loan payments every month on behalf of the recipient in the religious community.
If the recipient discerns out, he or she would resume making monthly payments as before, without owing the organization any money. This takes the pressure off the discernment process as to not sway people to enter religious life to pay off debt or sway them to stay in religious life though God may be calling them elsewhere, Radford said.
Once the aspirant makes final vows, the debt is completely paid off.
So far, the organization has helped 230 people enter the seminary or convent. Currently, the organization sponsors 106 recipients in formation and 54 who have already made their final vows.
Grant recipients have entered over 80 different religious communities, all over the country, each with different charisms. Priests celebrate the Mass, administer the sacraments and pray for the world. Orders of nuns serve others by praying for them along with teaching in schools, serving as nurses in hospitals, running nursing homes and doing additional volunteer work.
The average age men and women enter religious life in the United States is 23 years old.
Radford encourages young men and women discerning a religious vocation to spend time in the Adoration Chapel and ask God what He wants of their lives. She also encourages them to spend time with priests and get a spiritual director to guide them in the discernment process.
Lay people can also foster religious vocations, she said, by praying for men and women to have the courage to answer God’s call while encouraging, supporting and showing gratitude toward those considering religious life. They can also donate to help those entering religious life pay off their debts.
Radford told The Fix she feels very blessed to work for the fund and enjoys helping aspirants.
“It is an honor to be able to be of service to these generous young people and to support them in any way we can on their journey,” Radford said. “We like to stay in touch with our grant recipients. They know that we pray for them daily and we are grateful for their prayers, as well.”