Strong participation in discernment retreat inspires hope for the future
By Michael Lehnertz
In March of this year, I approached Father Kyle Ingels, Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Colorado Springs and Director of Campus Ministry at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (UCCS), and offered my services to help organize a discernment retreat for the single men and boys of the diocese. Father Ingels was very receptive and, during a series of planning meetings, we decided to hold the retreat on July 22 at the St. John Henry Newman Center located near UCCS.
When Father Ingels asked why I wanted to support the Vocations Ministry, I answered, “I felt called to serve our Lord in a ministry and so I started praying about which ministry.” Then I read a disheartening statistic from Jamie Crane, Director of Stewardship and Development for the Diocese of Colorado Springs. She diligently researched the number of current priests in the diocese as of 2021, the number of seminarians already in formation, and the number of projected priest retirements through 2026.
The results of her research were sobering. Even working on the assumption that all of the current seminarians continue through ordination, the Diocese of Colorado Springs could go from having 51 active priests to 38 priests by 2026. That’s when the Holy Spirit led me to the Vocations Ministry and Father Ingels.
On a more uplifting note, July 22 turned out to be a special day, because we had 33 men and boys register for the discernment retreat. Father Ingels had a simple yet effective plan: “Let’s start small and build on it in the coming years.”
Bishop James Golka opened the half-day retreat with remarks about his own calling to the priesthood. He recalled how his first-grade teacher, a religious sister, had written his name on a black board because she thought he would make a good priest. That meant a great deal to the future priest and bishop.
Bishop Golka also answered the discerners’ questions, and there was an excellent dialogue that lasted for about 30 minutes. It was evident to me that the discerners clearly connected with the bishop.
Father Ingels was impressed with the number of men and boys who registered and attended. He stated “It is so important for the future of our diocese that we host frequent events like this. Giving men a chance to better understand how to hear God’s call and discover his plan for their lives is a great way to support future vocations. I’m thankful to everyone who helped organize the day.”
Father Ingels gave the first presentation and recounted the story of his calling to the priesthood. After he finished his presentation, there was a breakout session for men who were 18 years and older. Of the 33 retreat participants, only eight were above the age of 18, and Father Ingels wanted to initiate a dialogue with them since they were closer in age to actively pursuing the seminary.
Another unique aspect of the retreat was the assistance of six of our current seminarians from the Diocese of Colorado Springs. They assisted Sandy Lehnertz with registration and then started mingling with the discerners while waiting for the retreat to begin. They all did a great job of connecting with the discerners and sharing their calling and seminary experiences.
One of the seminarians, Vincent Smith, was the second presenter. He spoke about his calling and the path he took to the seminary. He also answered questions and there was a robust discussion regarding his discernment about applying and subsequently entering the seminary, as well as priesthood in general.
The final presentation was by me, a proud parent of a priest. I spoke of how I had discerned the priesthood when I was in my twenties — and turned down my bishop’s offer to sponsor me into the seminary. I felt very guilty for saying “no” to the Lord but hoped he would make me a better dad than a “Father.” Little did I know that by pursuing the vocation of a Catholic husband and dad, my oldest son would one day become a priest. I discovered that God’s plan is absolutely perfect.
At 4 p.m., a holy hour with eucharistic adoration and the rosary began in the chapel. Father Ingels was assisted by Father Brian Roeseler, pastor of Corpus Christi Parish, in offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation to the discerners. Parents of the discerners joined their sons for Mass at 5 p.m., which was concelebrated by Father Roeseler.
Another highlight of the day was when every discerner was presented with a handmade rosary that from a parishioner at Our Lady of the Pines. Father Ingels blessed the rosaries in the chapel just prior to the start of adoration and asked for five volunteers to lead one decade of the rosary. The discerners were only too willing to assist.
After Mass, the discerners and their parents were treated to a barbecue dinner of hamburgers and brats, potato salad, potato chips, lemonade and iced tea. Rod and Jeannie McNeill, parishioners of Our Lady of the Pines, were the grill masters and did a wonderful job with the brats and hamburgers.
“The retreat went very well and I’m so pleased,” Father Ingels said.
Planning for the Second Annual Discernment Retreat has already begun. It is tentatively scheduled for July 13, 2024, with Bishop Golka as the keynote speaker. Please watch for more information in your parish bulletins/newsletters and the The Colorado Catholic Herald.
Statistics show that seminarians who receive good, solid support from parents, their families and their parishes, are more likely to remain in the seminary and be ordained.
If your son or grandson inquires about the priesthood, please call Father Ingels. If you know of a young, middle-aged, or perhaps even a widowed man who would make a good priest, talk to them and see if they have ever discerned the priesthood. Contact Father Ingels at the St. John Henry Newman Center at 719- 434-3019 with any questions. As Father Ingels stated at a recent gathering, “We can never have too many seminarians.”
Also, a special Adoration for Vocations will take place at the Newman Center on Nov. 6 from 7-8 p.m. All are invited to attend.
(Michael Lehnertz is a member of Our Lady of the Pines Parish. His son is a priest in the Diocese of Orlando.)