Many of the seminarians are linked by a common factor — their parish. Eight of the seminarians and two others who are “discerners” are from Christ the King Church in Little Rock.
The parish has 5,127 registered parishioners and a school for pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade for 516 students in the growing area of west Little Rock.
Until 2006 the parish didn’t have any seminarians, but with the decision of now-Father Andrew Hart to join the seminary the numbers have steadily increased since then.
Father Hart, who was ordained in 2012, was the parish’s first native son to become a priest.
Msgr. Friend, seminarians and parishioners have cited several reasons they think the parish has been able to draw so many young men to study for the priesthood.
Msgr. Malone also noted that all the seminarians attended the parish school.
“This fact alone should be visible evidence to those who question the value of a Catholic education,” he said. “And while for us this is an anomaly, because most of our 40- plus seminarians did not attend Catholic schools, there cannot be coincidence that one Catholic school and one Catholic high school has had a direct influence upon the receptivity of these young men.”
Father Hart said he appreciated his parish’s support when he attended the North American College in Rome.
“In particular, many of the teachers and school children of Christ the King School were very diligent in praying for me, ‘adopting’ me as it were and letting me know of their support,” he said. “Because I studied so far away from Arkansas, this was all the more meaningful.”
Msgr. Friend said it takes many of these factors working together to produce vocations such as what is happening at Christ the King. Father Hart, agrees. He said the number of Christ the King seminarians could continue to increase as young parishioners see men they know in the seminary.
“I think any time a young man is considering a vocation to the priesthood, it really helps when he can look to others in his community who are also following that path,” he said. “He sees in them what he could be himself and understands that he is not alone in his calling. There is something of a snowball effect to the Lord’s work.”
Msgr. Malone said parents and parishioners should no longer be reluctant to ask a young man to consider a vocation. The pastor said this might be done through a letter or face-to-face.
“No greater encouragement exists than that of one’s parent to think and pray about what the Lord is saying; no greater discouragement exists that in parents who dissuade their sons from listening to God’s voice,” he said.
Msgr. Friend said most of all parents and parishioners need to be good witnesses.
“Christianity demands witness,” he said. “If you don’t, it dies. If you think about the first Christians, the reason they grew was not that they were hiding out in catacombs. If they were hiding out in catacombs, we wouldn’t be here today. They lived their faith among people.”
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