The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Why so many seminarians from Christ the King?

Little Rock parish boasts more seminarians, discerners than any other in Arkansas

Published: August 28, 2013   
Bob Ocken
Seminarians and discerners from Christ the King Church in Little Rock pose with pastor Msgr. Francis I. Malone Aug. 3 after the ordination of Father George Sanders. They are Jeff Heeter (back row, from left), Jon Miskin, Alex Booth, Joseph Friend, Ben Riley, Stephen Elser (front row, from left), Joseph de Orbegozo, Stephen Hart and Patrick Friend. Brian Cundall is not pictured.

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.

  • Good parish leaders, including pastor Msgr. Francis Malone, various associate pastors as well as youth ministers and volunteers.
  • Good school principal and teachers.
  • Perpetual adoration. “Our parish had no seminarians until after we inaugurated perpetual adoration,” Msgr. Malone said. “There can be no coincidence that since PEA began, we have had 11 men step forward to begin the process of discernment that leads to the altar, one of whom is now ordained.” 
  • Average age of parishioners. The parish has lots of young families who have high school and college-aged children.
  • Prayers for parish’s seminarians by name during all Masses.
  • Emphasis on mission work such as the annual mission trips to Honduras.
  • Vocations ministry, like the vocations chalice that is taken to different families’ homes and school programs. "Each classroom prays for our seminarians, and their names are also mentioned in the petitions at the children’s liturgies,” Msgr. Malone said. "
  • Active in diocesan youth events like Search and Youth Advisory Council.
  • Weekly holy hour for vocations.
  • Active in scouting.  “Scouting is one of the healthiest experiences for young people,” Msgr. Malone said. “The program at Christ the King has produced an exceptional number of Eagle Scouts and Gold Star Awards over the years.”
  • Attendance at Catholic High School in Little Rock. Father Hart and the nine of the 10 seminarians and discerners attended CHS, which supports and promotes diocesan vocations.

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.”

The Diocese of Little Rock is enjoying a surge in seminarians not seen since the mid 1960s. To read more, please click here.

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