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The Power of Witness: Building a Culture of Vocations

An Interview with Fr. Jason Wallace, Vocations Director

In a world where consumerism runs rampant and career is king, young men are still finding heavenly success in listening to the “still, small voice” of the Father. Their mission, which they have chosen to accept, is to draw nearer to God the Father and to emulate God the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit for the good of his beloved Church.

With eight men ordained to the priesthood two summers ago, six men ordained to the transitional diaconate last summer, and twelve men received into their propaedeutic (or spirituality) year this fall, that mission is spreading like wildfire in the Archdiocese of Denver.

What is making that difference? The power of witness, says Father Jason Wallace, Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Denver.

“What drew me to be a priest is what’s drawing a lot of men in our archdiocese to be priests,” Father Wallace said, recalling his involvement in the Church as he grew up. Beginning with the example of his parents and their getting him involved in the church community, Father Wallace ended up serving Mass and spending time with his parish priests.

“They became my biggest role models. I said my priest loved us more than we loved ourselves, and when you experience that kind of love, it makes you realize what God’s love is like.”

Their spiritual fatherhood was pivotal in Father Wallace’s life, leading him to become even more involved in the parish, developing his prayer life, and coming to know the Good Shepherd who called him into service of the sheep.

One such spiritual father was Father Robert Dabrowski, a Polish priest freed from the Dachau concentration camp by the Oklahoma Thunderbirds at the conclusion of World War II. Looking for a way to honor and thank those brave soldiers, Father Dabrowski became a missionary, serving in a small Oklahoma parish where the Wallace family first met him.

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Though he had experienced profound atrocity and suffering, Father Dabrowski’s witness of holiness, pastoral care, and dedicated service struck young men in the parish.

“Because one man was faithful to his calling, six of us from my parish went to the seminary around the same time I did. It was a beautiful testimony to what a good priest can do,” Father Wallace shared of Fr. Dabrowski, as well as the priests that followed him.

In his work as vocations director, Father Wallace said he sees that his experience of spiritual fatherhood is not uncommon.

“A lot of men here, they’re inspired to be priests by the priests of the Archdiocese of Denver,” he said. “I call it a virtuous circle. They see a good priest, and they identify with them, and they say, ‘I can do that.’”

“One of my main goals is to build a culture of vocations in our archdiocese,” Father Wallace added, “that priests, deacons, and laypeople are promoting the priesthood. We still have a way to go, but there is a natural love of the priesthood here.”

Father Wallace said that even though he is the vocations director, a lot of the fostering of a culture of vocations is done by the faithful priests throughout the Denver archdiocese.

“They became my biggest role models. I said my priest loved us more than we loved ourselves, and when you experience that kind of love, it makes you realize what God’s love is like.”

“A lot of young men in our archdiocese here are inspired by so many good priests. I mean, we have a lot of great priests all over the place, in parishes, universities, high schools. So, the young men see that,” he said, celebrating the dedication of so many archdiocesan priests who shepherd their parish communities so well.

“They’re doing the heavy lifting,” he added. “They’re hearing their confessions; they’re giving the spiritual direction. They’re walking with them, smiling with them, crying with them, celebrating with them.”

Through his many conversations with young men discerning priestly vocations, one thing is clear: the daily example of parish priests across the archdiocese, living their vocations faithfully, joyfully, and generously, inspires through its radical, countercultural witness.

That witness starts in prayer and worship, but extends beyond, Father Wallace said.

“God called his priests in their humanity to elevate that, to be a priest. So, they didn’t leave behind what they loved,” he says, recounting the various hobbies of the presbyterate, from hiking to biking, from fishing to music and the symphony.

“They take it and it’s almost enhanced in a certain way. They appreciate it more.”

To show the men who are discerning priesthood that very truth, Father Wallace and other priest mentors invite them into these hobbies — on hikes, to sports games and to ski trips. The goal of these invitations is simple, he says: “to show them that you become a priest and you don’t give up all of this, but you see it and appreciate it a different way.”

While the presbyterate plays a crucial role in building and fostering a culture of vocations through their witness and presence, the onus does not fall solely on them, Father Wallace adds. Every lay person is responsible for participating in the holy effort.

So how can we, the laity, help?

First Step: Prayer

Father Wallace shared: “Prayer is obviously one, making prayer what it’s supposed to be, a real relationship with Jesus, not just saying ten Hail Marys. No, it’s a personal encounter with Christ where you become his disciple.”

By talking with Jesus and coming to know and love him, you will want to follow him, he said.

Second Step: Service

“Jesus says, I know you love me if you do what I command you. So, any time there’s a relationship, God’s going to command us to do something. He’s going to inspire you to go out and serve his church,” Father Wallace says, acknowledging the many service options in northern Colorado, from Annunciation Heights to Christ in the City, from FOCUS to Totus Tuus to Prayer and Action.

As families and individuals get to know the Lord Jesus more intimately, they will serve the Church more intentionally, and get to know their priests.

Third step: Encounter Priests

“Have seminarians and priests over, have them around your family,” Father Wallace said, reflecting on the gift it is to be invited into others’ lives as a priest and the gift it was in his own life to have priests as mentors and role models. Otherwise, everyone creates in their own mind what a priest is. Guys who want to join seminary create in their minds what seminary is. Jesus says, ‘Come and see.’ So come and see what he has in store for you.”

While there is undoubtedly a “vocations shortage” across the country, there are signs of hope. Men are heroically answering the Father’s call to serve him and his Church despite legion reasons not to. Priests give holy witness to their flocks through their joyful, dedicated service. As that flock draws closer to the Good Shepherd, they contribute to a culture of vocations.

Indeed, in the Archdiocese of Denver, a culture of vocations is brewing. Our mission as laity, should we choose to accept it, is to foster it through prayer, witness, and service.

André Escaleira, Jr.
André Escaleira, Jr.
André Escaleira is the Managing Editor of the Denver Catholic and El Pueblo Católico. Originally from Connecticut, André moved to Denver in 2018 to work as a missionary with Christ in the City, where he served for two years.
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