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Vocations: More than a road trip - For many, Vianney Visit is a life-changing experience

by Father Stephen Durkee
Image: Vianney Visit September 2018In the fall of 2009, I was gearing up for my own Vianney Visit. I remember I was filled with both nerves and excitement because visiting the seminary confronted me with making a life-changing decision: Should I go to the seminary? Many other questions followed: Would I like it? Would I be able to play sports in the seminary? Are these guys normal? Would I fit in? Is this really what God wants? Do I really want to go?
Since I had all these questions, I called a buddy who had gone on a Vianney Visit. He assured me it would be a life-changing experience. I told him that I wasn’t sure, and that I was worried about leaving the friendships I had created at Central Michigan University and starting over again at another university. He spoke with such great enthusiasm about his visit. “Durkee,” as most of my friends called me, “SJV is such a rocking place, man. These men are trying to grow in their faith. These men encourage one another in holiness. These men are open to the priesthood.” Then he said, “But the best part is that these men are brothers.” Finally, he said, “Durkee, you will love SJV, and I am confident that you and I will begin studying to be priests as seminarians for the Grand Rapids Diocese next fall.”
He was right. This trip was such an important step for me. Every experience I had that weekend confirmed for me that I needed to be there. I felt peace in the Holy Hours with all of the seminarians. I heard vocation stories from the seminarians that resonated with me. Finally, I had a one-on-one meeting with a priest on the faculty who said to me, “Stephen, you’re focusing so much on what you want in
life. Maybe you will find more clarity in prayer if you start asking what God wants.” It was a challenging statement, but one I needed to hear.
The Vianney Visit does this and more for young men who take the courageous step to visit the seminary. During the visit, Father Michael Becker, rector, told vocation directors that “of the 29 new men at SJV this fall, 26 of them came on Vianney Visit and said it had a major impact on their discernment.”
Our diocese has seen the fruit of these visits. Over the past two years alone, Grand Rapids has brought more than 50 men on these visits. We have 15 seminarians at St. John Vianney, making us the second-most represented diocese at SJV, behind only the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. This is not a coincidence. Thanks to the generosity of donors in our diocese, we have been able to offer this trip annually at no cost.
So I ask you to continue to pray for the success of these visits. Please also continue to pray for vocations. God is raising up a new generation of priests in our diocese and we should be proud of the many young people opening their hearts to God’s call and trusting in his providence.
Image: Father Stephen DurkeeFather Stephen Durkee is the associate director of priestly vocations for the Diocese of Grand Rapids. He also serves as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Consolation Church in Rockford. Contact Father Durkee at