Father Leo Wehrlin answers questions from potential priests and asks some in return.
By JULIE A. WAGNER
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- In a society that places increasing value on money, sex and fame, leaving that all behind and becoming a priest is a tough decision for a young man.
Yet in the Diocese of Youngstown, 17 men are in the midst of the eight-year process leading to ordination.
"That's very good for us," said the Rev. Leo Wehrlin, diocese vocation director. Six of the seminarians are new this year. Two of those six have just graduated from high school. Three are set to be ordained this May.
Those studying to become priests will work in parishes when they are ordained. The diocese covers Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana, Ashtabula, Portage and Stark counties.
Father Wehrlin's office recruits and counsels young men who are considering a life in the priesthood. He also is part of the Diocesan Vocation Council in which a panel consisting of a priest, a nun, a brother and a deacon, speak at Catholic elementary and high schools about religious life.
What's asked most
The most commonly asked question is whether priests experience loneliness because they take vows of celibacy and don't marry.
"You have a good support network," said Father Wehrlin, who has been a priest for 11 years. There are groups that meet regularly, and priests support one another, he said.
Family support also helps, said Wehrlin, who visits monthly with his own family in the Canton area.
"All that helps to keep one from getting too lonely," Father Wehrlin said, adding that a prayer life also helps tremendously.
"You're not alone. The Lord is always there."
Father Wehrlin said he was surprised to find that the national controversy of sex abuse by priests has not affected recruitment negatively. In fact, he said he has found the opposite.
"They saw it as an opportunity to make a difference," he said. Seminary candidates have said they would do all they could to change peoples' perceptions of priests.
Asked and asking
While he answers questions, Father Wehrlin also has plenty of questions for men who are thinking about the priesthood.
One of the primary questions is, "Does he like people?" because those who become priests have public roles within churches leading services and running programs.
Other questions include things that may seem obvious: "Are they in love with the Lord? Do they like going to Mass? Do they mind getting up in front of people? Do they think they have what it takes?"
"Are they willing to sacrifice?" he asks them, because sometimes being a priest means getting up in the middle of the night to answer emergency calls such as anointing the sick. It also means leaving their family and not having a wife and children.
"Are they willing to lead a simple life?" as an example to others, he asks.
And there are practical concerns. "Are they able to work with people?" Besides promising obedience to the bishop, they must work with lay groups within their assigned parish.
Father Wehrlin said parents of potential seminarians also have questions and concerns.
"They fear children will not be happy. They fear they will be lonely," he said. Families are smaller now, and some may be concerned about having grandchildren. The parents want their child to be successful, and some translate success as being a doctor or a lawyer.
"They don't think a child will be happy in this lifestyle," Father Wehrlin said.
Still, he said, "I do find a number of parents are open to it."
Congregations also are being called to be involved. The Youngstown Diocese hosted a Vocational Congress in March, which drew from three to five delegates from every parish, Father Wehrlin said.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin reminded them that promoting vocations is not just for priests and religious men and women, it is the responsibility of parishioners as well, Father Wehrlin said. The delegates listened to motivational speakers and drew up specific ideas for promoting the priestly vocation, Father Wehrlin said. The responses are being collated.
Some of the ideas included prayer, teaching and encouraging young people to consider a vocation.