Skip to main content

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind…”

Lk 4:18

Duc In Altum Strategic Vocations Plan


“Put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch.”

“There is a pressing need to implement an extensive plan of vocational promotion, based on personal contact and involving parishes, schools and families in the effort to foster a more attentive reflection on life's essential values. These reach their fulfilment in the response which each person is invited to give to God's call, particularly when the call implies a total giving of self and of one's energies to the cause of the Kingdom.”  - St. John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte


The Diocese of Portland: A Large and Rural Diocese with a Long and Distinguished History of Priestly Ministry. 

In the first years of the Catholic faith in Maine, small pockets of Catholics were ministered to by religious missionary priests who traveled great distances in order to care for their spiritual needs.  With the great influx of French and Irish Catholics beginning in the mid-1800s, a new era began.  The Diocese of Portland was established and a sizeable presbyterate was built up to minister to the many newly erected parishes throughout the state.  Priests enjoyed a great deal of social privilege and respect and hundreds were ordained in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. 

In the 1970s, two major challenges began to confront the Church in Maine: the economic vitality of the largest Catholic population centers throughout the state was dealt a severe blow as mills closed and military bases were shuttered, and religious orders who had staffed Catholic schools throughout the state began to pull back from rural areas due to decreased numbers within their orders.  Catholic schools were closed by the dozen and Catholic young people and young families began to move out of state to find work. Over the next two decades, the number of Catholics in Maine, which had rapidly risen until 1970, flat lined.  In addition to these socio-economic factors, there was a great deal of post conciliar confusion as to the role and ministry of the priest in the 80s and 90s, which made discernment more challenging.  The number of men entering the seminary dropped to barely a trickle. 

The true seriousness of the situation began to manifest itself in the 90s.  The abnormally large ordination classes of the 40s, 50s, and 60s began to retire and were not being replaced.  In January of 2005, the diocese embarked on a 10 year pastoral plan, “Telling Anew the Story of Jesus,” working to consolidate parishes and absorb priestly retirements while maintaining critical sacramental ministry.    

“Telling Anew the Story of Jesus” projected that the number of priests in active ministry would bottom out at about 60 in 2010, and would stabilize at between 60 and 65 active diocesan priests.  This projection was based on what was considered the reasonable expectation of two men being ordained each year for the diocese.


The Challenging Future of Priestly Ministry in Maine

Unfortunately, the last 10 years have not seen the stabilization in the number of active priests that “Telling Anew the Story of Jesus” predicted.  Only half the projected number of men have been ordained during the last 10 years, and currently there are only 4 men in formation for the diocese of Portland, meaning that the number of ordinations over the next 5 years will fall well short of what is needed to sustain a presbyterate of 60 active priests. 

The very low number of men in formation presents an incredibly serious pastoral problem to our diocese.  It can be very accurately predicted that the number of active priests in our diocese will drop below 50 in the next five years (2020).  Further, if the number of men entering the seminary continues at current levels, the number of active priests will likely drop below 35 in the next fifteen years (2030). 

If, however, an immediate and fruitful intervention were able to return the diocese to the goal of two ordinations per year by 2020, it would be possible to prevent the total number of active priests from dropping below 45.  While this diminished number of active priests would still mean a weakening of priestly ministry in the diocese compared to the present, it would probably not require the complete restructuring of priestly ministry along a missionary model that would be necessitated if the number of active priests were to fall below 35.  Further, the additional numbers of young priests would likely help return the diocese to more healthy numbers of men in formation during the coming decades, providing for long term stability of priestly ministry in the diocese.


Current Obstacles to Promoting Vocations

While every vocation is a gift from God, in recent years the Church has been able to identify key factors that help men and women hear and respond to the call to the priesthood and religious life.  Many of these factors lie beyond the ability of a vocations office to address, such as the Catholicity of the culture, the health of the family, the socio-economic environment, or other demographic and spiritual factors.  Yet it is critical that the vocations office accurately take account of the current pastoral reality, so that it can accurately identify the specific areas where efforts to foster vocations can be fruitful.

The current situation in Maine is today presents a number of challenges to the promotion of a culture of vocations:

  • The fallout from sexual abuse scandals continues negatively impact the social and moral standing of the priesthood in society.
  • In our post – sexual revolution society, celibacy is often viewed as an unhealthy mandate imposed on priests by the Church, instead of as a gift to the Church and a blessing to those who voluntarily embrace it.
  • Certain forms of modern feminism have given rise to a hesitancy among many about the reservation of the ministerial priesthood to men, strong opposition to the favoring of boys and young men in liturgical ministries that have traditionally nurtured vocations to the priesthood, and a suspicion and scorn for women’s religious life.
  • The individualism prevalent in our culture has made it more difficult for men and women to consider a lifelong commitment, such as the commitment of the priesthood or married life.
  • Many Catholic families are smaller or are afflicted by divorce and therefore less capable of fostering and nurturing a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.
  • Due to a lack of higher education and employment opportunities in Maine, the overwhelming majority of young men and women move out of the state after graduating from high school or college.
  • Enrollment in Catholic schools has plummeted in the last 30 years, and the number of Catholic children in faith formation has also drastically decreased.
  • Young educated men and women often carry heavy amounts of student loan debt, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to enter into formation for the priesthood or religious life.
  • The prevalence of pornography, promiscuity, drug use, consumerism, and unhealthy consumption of internet, tv, and video games means that many young men and women are struggling with demons that would have been unheard of 50 years ago.
  • As priests and diocesan religious age, it is more difficult for young men and women to see themselves following in their footsteps, since they are more parental or grandparent figures to them than peers.
  • The small number and older age of current seminarians can make it difficult for prospective candidates to see themselves as seminarians and to find common ground with those currently studying for the priesthood for our diocese.
  • The decline in the number of priests has meant that many now minister in various churches and parishes where they are stretched thin, making it difficult to dedicate extensive time to fostering and encouraging vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
  • Being a large, rural diocese, men and women discerning a religious vocation are often long distances from the Bishop, priests, and others who are essential in helping them discern.


Potential for a Strong Vocations Program

Despite the daunting challenges presented by our time, there is reason to be hopeful about vocations in Maine as we look to the future.  In a small diocese, only a relatively small number of men in formation is needed.  As we look toward the future, there is great potential to build up a strong culture of vocations and to gradually increase the number of men in formation for the diocese.  This potential is manifest in:

  • The life and action of the Holy Spirit, who continues to call men and women to leave behind everything and follow Christ.
  • A bishop and many priests who are happy in ministry and who actively support and encourage those who are discerning a religious vocation.
  • Strong counter-cultural pockets of Catholics who have embraced an intentionally Christian way of life and who are raising children in larger families that have a lively faith.
  • Catholic schools in Maine that, despite their decreased number, continue to provide a unique opportunity for the fostering of religious vocations among young people.
  • A small but growing number of Catholic universities that have developed departments and programs in recent decades that provide a strong theological foundation to many lay Catholics who are discerning their future.
  • The near-universal recognition among all in the Church that there is a great need to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
  • A slowing of the pace of clustering in the diocese, alleviating the strain on parishes and priests.
  • Advances in vocations-related research and best practices spearheaded by many dioceses and religious communities throughout the United States that have had great success in recent years in fostering native vocations.
  • The ability to use the internet as a platform to provide resources and tools that foster, encourage, and support vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
  • A great willingness among the faithful to pray for and contribute the financial resources necessary to sustain a robust vocations effort and the training of large numbers of seminarians.
  • Discontentment with the secular pathways of advancement in society among many young people who are seeking alternative lifestyles that are more authentic and spiritually grounded.


Recognized Best Practices in Promoting Vocations

Looking at the current pastoral environment, it is clear that immediate and aggressive efforts are needed on multiple fronts with regard to the promotion of religious vocations.  No two religious vocations are the same, but recent studies by the NCDVD and CARA, among others, have helped identify best practices in promoting vocations today.

Prayer: Though there are not specific studies, it has been observed in the life of the Church that where there is a culture of prayer for vocations and great devotion to the Eucharist, there are strong numbers of men who enter the seminary or religious life.

Specific Age Groups:  There are particular stages in life when boys and young men are most open to considering a vocation to the priesthood: 11 years old, 11th grade, 3rd year of college, and 3rd year after college. 

Personal Relationships: Certain relationships are critical in determining whether a young man will be able to discern and respond to the call to the priesthood or religious life.  Most important are relationships with:

  • Parents
  • Parish priests
  • Vocation director
  • The local bishop
  • Seminarians
  • Other boys or men who are discerning a religious vocation
  • Vowed religious
  • Youth ministers and campus ministers

Formative Experiences: A vocation is discerned within a community and must be supported and nurtured through various experiences of God that are shared with others.  There are particular experiences that have been identified through studies as beneficial to a young person’s ability to discern a call to the priesthood or religious life:

  • Altar serving
  • Catholic school education or faith-based homeschooling
  • Youth ministry involvement
  • Discernment retreats and camps
  • Involvement in campus ministry or young adult groups.

Communications Media: Outreach to those who are discerning is critical, providing them with ways to interact with others who are discerning, learn more about discernment, deepen their knowledge of the faith, and be spiritually enriched.  Important areas of outreach include:

  • Websites
  • Facebook and twitter
  • Email
  • Print media

Objectives of A New Strategic Plan to Strengthen Vocations in Maine

Based on identified best practices and taking into account the current challenges and potential areas for growth in our diocese, the Office for Vocations will implement a new strategic plan, titled “Duc In Altum” with the goal of accomplishing the following objectives:

  • Promotion of increased diocesan-wide prayer for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
  • Strengthening of the social and moral standing of the ministerial priesthood among the faithful and clarification of the role and ministry of the diocesan priest.
  • Organization of a group of priest collaborators who participate in regular discernment gatherings and vocations retreats and are committed to being available to those in active discernment for counsel and spiritual direction.
  • Formation of a Diocesan Vocations Council and parish vocations teams to work in collaboration with the Office of Vocations and various lay groups in fostering and supporting religious vocations.
  • Cultivation of a culture of vocations among Catholic families and individuals throughout the diocese that fosters and supports the consideration and discernment of religious vocations at all ages.
  • Reinforcement and strengthening of awareness and support for religious vocations within Catholic schools, faith formation programs, scout troops, altar serving programs, and other organizations that minister to children throughout the diocese.
  • Expansion of opportunities for high school youth and young adults who are active in their faith to receive formation in prayer and discernment and to gather with other Catholic young people who are also discerning.
  • Establishment of quality retreats, events, and programs throughout the year in collaboration with priests, religious, and seminarians geared toward those who are open to or actively discerning the priesthood and religious life.
  • Development of opportunities for young actively discerning men to get know the Bishop, to experience priestly ministry in greater depth, to visit regional seminaries, and to attend ordinations, the Chrism Mass, funerals of priests, and other liturgies and events that shed light on the life and ministry of priests.
  • Procurement and/or creation of clear, helpful, professional vocations promotional material, curriculum, and other resources for parishes, families, teachers, students, and those who are in active discernment.


Exposition of Strategic Plan Objectives

Vocations Director outreach and Ministry Objectives

For Men Actively Discerning a Vocation to the Priesthood:

  • Easy access to the Vocation Director via phone, email, facebook.  Prompt and responsive ministry to inquiries and requests.  Inclusion of those discerning on a diocesan vocations office email distribution list and facebook group.
  • Availability for meetings with the Vocation Director as needed/appropriate at various locations throughout the state.
  • Guidance from the Vocation Director in arranging for monthly individual spiritual direction with a priest prepared to help in discernment.
  • Weekly regional discernment gatherings at parish facilities in Caribou, Orono, Brunswick, and Saco.  Meetings will be hosted by local priests and attended by Vocation Director once a month and by the Bishop and Director of Seminarians as often as possible. 
  • Quarterly diocesan discernment retreats for discerning adults (18+) in various regions of the state.
  • Quarterly diocesan discernment retreats for high school students in the central part of the state.
  • Various Vocations Office pilgrimages, holy hours, informal gatherings, and outdoor excursions.
  • Active presence by the Vocations Director on facebook and twitter.
  • Annual diocesan trip in September to visit seminaries.
  • Access to breviaries and spiritual/theological books.
  • Access to helpful diocesan vocations web sites and online material.
  • Access to the Director of Seminarians and application material for the Diocese of Portland.

For Those Who Are Open To Discerning a Religious Vocation:

  • Motivation and support of local priests and laypersons to identify and encourage young people who might be called to a religious vocation and to communicate their names to the Vocations Office.
  • Direct outreach by Vocations Director at parishes throughout the state at weekend Masses and gatherings and through other forms of social communication.
  • Visits, talks, and ongoing engagement by the Vocations Director, priests, and seminarians at the Newman Center and other gatherings of college students, diocesan and parish young adult groups, diocesan and parish youth ministry events, and diocesan and religious high schools.
  • Quarterly diocesan discernment retreats for discerning adults (18+) in various regions of the state.
  • Quarterly diocesan discernment retreats for high school students in the central part of the state.
  • Various Vocations Office pilgrimages, holy hours, informal gatherings, and outdoor excursions.
  • Active presence by the Vocations Director on facebook and twitter.
  • Various outreach efforts by the Vocations Office through posters, parish bulletins, and other electronic and print material.

For Children (K-8):

  • Motivation and support of local priests and laypersons to speak about vocations and to identify and encourage young people who might be called to a religious vocation.
  • Outreach by Vocations Director at parishes throughout the state at weekend Masses and parish K-8 faith formation gatherings when possible.
  • At least semiannual visits by the Vocations Director and seminarians to Catholic parochial schools.
  • Annual diocesan altar server St. Tarcisius Festival and award presentation.
  • Vocations material and curriculum distribution to teachers, faith formation coordinators, scout leaders, parents.
  • Adopt a seminarian program, chalice program, and other vocations promotion programs in schools, faith formation programs, scout troops, families.

For Parents, Grandparents and Other Members of the Catholic Community:

  • Motivation and support of local priests and laypersons to speak about vocations in the parish and to encourage families to be open and supportive of vocations to the religious life.
  • Outreach by Vocations Director at parishes throughout the state at weekend Masses and associated gatherings and talks promoting vocations.
  • Visits and talks by the Vocations Director and seminarians at lay association gatherings, diocesan gatherings, and parish gatherings.
  • Annual Duc In Altum dinner and award presentation.
  • Announcements, articles, posters and other vocations material distribution to parish churches and included in parish bulletins and in the Harvest Magazine.

For the Larger Community:

  • Regular outreach to media outlets in conjunction with the Director of Communications about vocations activities, events and milestones.


Collaboration in Vocations Promotion:

In carrying out the work of promoting vocations in the Diocese of Portland, the Office of Vocations will proactively work to increase collaboration with Catholics from across the state.  Primary areas of collaboration are envisioned as follows:

The Bishop

The Director of Vocations will work to ensure that all efforts to promote vocations within the state are carried out according to the wishes and guidance of the Bishop.  Through regular communication with the Moderator of the Curia and the Bishop’s Office, the Vocation Director will work to ensure that the Bishop is aware of vocations efforts and is as involved as possible in those efforts.  

The Director of Seminarians

The Vocations Director will be in regular (weekly) communication with the Director of Seminarians about ongoing efforts and progress in assisting those in discernment, in addition to any challenges and questions that come up in the course of ministry.  The Director of Seminarians will also determine the involvement of current seminarians in the work of building vocations throughout the year and particularly during the summer, collaborating in carrying out various vocations programs and events.

Priest Collaborators

Priests of the diocese will be asked to serve as spiritual directors for men discerning a vocation and to agree to attend weekly discernment meetings in their region whenever possible, to be present at vocations retreats as time allows, and to nurture a culture of vocations in their pastoral ministry.


Throughout the year and particularly during the summer month, seminarians will be invited to help with the work of promoting vocations by giving talks, writing pieces for bulletins, web page, Harvest, and newsletter, and by working on retreats and discernment gatherings.

Diocesan Vocations Council

A Diocesan Vocations Council will be formed to work with the Director of Vocations to help foster and promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life in Maine, with particular attention to vocations to the priesthood.  Primary task: to advise the Vocation Director in current efforts, to brainstorm new ideas and initiatives, to plan and carry out various Vocations related events and efforts, and to help build diocesan collaboration and financial assistance in the effort to build a culture of vocations.

Quarterly meetings.  Total membership not to exceed 15 and will include:

  • Director of Vocations
  • Director of Seminarians when possible
  • Priest Collaborator(s) when possible
  • Representative(s) from Parish Vocations Promotion Teams
  • Representative from the Knights of Columbus
  • Representative from the Office of Faith Formation, or a Parish Life Coordinator.
  • Representative from Catholic Scouting
  • Representative from the Diocesan Youth Council
  • Other members invited by the Vocations Director

Permanent Deacon Collaborators

Deacons will be asked to take an active role in identifying and encouraging young people to consider a religious vocation, and in inviting them to discernment groups and retreats.

Parish Vocations Promotion Teams

Teams of lay people will be established or built up within local parishes to build and promote a culture of vocations in their area, in collaboration with and in support of the efforts of the Diocesan Vocations Office.

Campus Minsters

The Vocation Director will work closely with campus ministers throughout the state, planning various vocations-related events and gatherings and regularly attending other events and activities on college campuses throughout the state.  Campus ministers will be asked to take an active role in identifying and encouraging young people to consider a religious vocation, and in inviting them to participate in discernment groups and retreats.

Diocesan and Parish Youth Ministers and Parish Life Coordinators

Youth ministers will be engaged by the director of vocations on parish visits, and at additional youth ministry events over the course of the years.  Information about religious vocations and discernment groups and retreats will be distributed through them to young people throughout the state.  Youth ministers will be asked to take an active role in identifying and encouraging young people to consider a religious vocation, and in inviting them to participate in discernment groups and retreats.

Catholic School Principals and Teachers

During regular visits to Catholic schools in the diocese, the Vocations Director will work closely with principals and teachers in building a culture of vocations.  The Office of Vocations will develop and distribute age appropriate vocations-related curriculum and will be a resource to teachers throughout the year.  Materials will be distributed to help schools observe and celebrate vocations-related days and events throughout the year.

Knights of Columbus Councils and Other Lay Associations

Knights of Columbus councils and other lay associations will be encouraged to commit to financially and spiritually support and encourage a seminarian and to demonstrate a commitment to supporting vocations to the priesthood and the work of the Office of Vocations.

Lay Collaborators

Individual lay faithful will be encouraged to support and collaborate with the Office of Vocations through their dedication in prayer, volunteering of time, and commitment of financial resources.


Annual Diocesan Celebrations and Events Highlighting Vocations:

Over the course of the year, the Office of Vocations will work to highlight vocations to the religious life throughout the diocese by drawing attention to various vocations-related celebrations and events.  These include the following:

  • World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Observed on the 4th Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday.
  • National Vocation Awareness Week, Observed during the week following the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, which falls in early to mid January.
  • World Day for Consecrated Life, Observed on February 2 when that date falls on a Sunday; otherwise the Sunday after February 2.
  • Priesthood Sunday, Observed on the last Sunday of October. 
  • Annual St. Tarcisius Festival and Award Presentation, Observed on a Saturday in mid-August (St. Tarcisius’ feast day is August 15th)
  • The St. Tarcisius Award given to an altar server who demonstrates outstanding dedication and reverence in serving at the altar.  The recipient is nominated by a parish priest, and chosen by the Diocesan Vocations Council.
  • Annual ‘Duc In Altum’ Dinner and Award Presentation, Observed on the Saturday evening of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, which usually falls in mid to late June.
  • The Duc in Altum Award is presented to a layperson, religious, deacon, or priest of the diocese who demonstrates great dedication in promoting religious vocations in the Diocese of Portland.  The recipient is recommended by the Vocations Director, and confirmed by the Bishop.


Communications, Branding, and Resource Material:

Through various forms of electronic and print media, the Office of Vocations will reach out to Catholics throughout the diocese using the following tools:

Diocesan web site

  • Regularly updated with current schedule of events.
  • Information and links to information for those in discernment.

Parish Bulletins and the Harvest Magazine

  • Promotion of upcoming vocations office events and activities.
  • Short pieces and larger articles on the priesthood, discernment, and other vocations-related topics.
  • Seminarian and priest interviews.


  • Active vocations office facebook page that communicates information about upcoming events and links to helpful websites and blogs.
  • Targeted advertising to key demographics on facebook.

The Presence Catholic radio network

  • Seminarian and priest interviews.
  • Messages from the Bishop about vocations.
  • Messages from the Director of Vocations.

Promotional Print Material

  • Prayer cards and other prayer materials.
  • Diocesan brochures/pamphlets containing information about:
  • The vocation, ministry, and identity of the diocesan priest, specifically in Maine.
  • Diocesan discernment groups and opportunities for spiritual direction.
  • Retreats, events, and other annual vocations office programing.
  • The diocesan application process and timeline for candidates to the priesthood.
  • Lay collaboration and the Duc In Altum dinner and award presentation.
  • Altar serving, St. Tarcisius and the St. Tarcisius award presentation.
  • Vocations office business cards.
  • Diocesan vocations office annual posters, and other posters advertising events and programming.
  • NCDVD discernment booklets, other discernment pamphlets.

Curriculum and Resources

  • Breviaries, rosaries, and devotional materials.
  • Books on prayer, discernment, the priesthood, and Church teaching.
  • Vocations curriculum packets to be distributed to:
  • Parents of little children (under age 6).
  • Parochial school teachers and parents of children ages 7 – 14.
  • Boy scout and cub scout leaders.