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11/29/2013 10:53:00 AM
Vocations group seeks to continue growth
Serra Club photo
Sisters from around Oregon pose for group photo at Serra Club luncheon.
Serra Club photo
Sisters from around Oregon pose for group photo at Serra Club luncheon.

This year, the Serra Club of Portland has kept up a torrent of activity.

That includes a fall golf tournament in which seminarians play and a luncheon for dozens of Sisters. Coming up are a dinner for clergy, a vocations rally for sixth graders and a project to send names of Catholic high school seniors to college campus ministers. In the summer, a weekend for young men interested in priesthood will be held at Camp Howard, and Serra will lend key support, including scholarships.    

The Serra Club gathers on the first and third Wednesdays of each month at St. Patrick Church in Portland to hear talks about faith and life, all in the effort to boost the club's ministry of fostering and supporting vocations to Catholic priesthood and religious life.

All this despite a membership that is getting on in years. The age range runs from 50 to 90.

Not to be confused with the conservationist Sierra Club, the Serra Club is named after Blessed Junipero Serra, the Spanish Franciscan who founded missions stretching from Baja California to San Francisco.

The Serra Club has experienced modest growth. The Portland club has 90 members. A new club in Salem-Keizer is active. There are 11 clubs in Washington state, including eight in the Seattle area. An Idaho club sputtered and one in Bend is trying to survive.

"There is always an effort to get more people when they are younger," says Dan Jones, a Portland club member and president of Serra's USA Council. "But the truth is, the best time to get people is when they are about to retire. That's when they have time and energy." Since the club began admitting women in the 1980s, husbands and wives often join together.  

Cherie Crocker is president of the Salem-Keizer Serra Club, which has been going for five years. Not far from Mount Angel, Salem-Keizer Serrans are building up a social life for seminarians; traditions include a fall pizza and bowling party and a spring barbecue. At Christmas, the Salem club sends each seminarian a card. The students are moved that someone who is not a parent or a formation director is showing interest.

Eugene and Medford are the next places where Serra leaders hope to establish clubs. Statewide, Serrans want to get more Hispanics involved, since the need for Spanish speaking priests is acute.  

Serrans see the membership question as vital because they know the more people in the club, the more the chance they will help a young person discover God's invitation.  

"We have been trying for 15 years to have vocation committee in every parish," says Jim O'Hanlon, a member of The Madeleine Parish who has been part of the Portland Serra Club since 1961. "We hoped those folks would enter Serra."

Ken Harris, a regional Serra leader and a member of St. Pius X Parish, says he is detecting more enthusiasm among pastors for parish vocations committees. That gives him hope for Serra. The most likely Serrans are those found attending daily Mass, Harris explains.  

"You just have to ask," he says, voicing the unofficial Serra mission statement, which describes the effort to invite not only new club members, but new vocations.

One program, "Called by Name," parishioners keep an eye out for young men and women who seem fit for a life of service in the church and give names to the pastor.  

"If you think a kid has all the qualities, you should go up to him and say, 'You might make good priest,' or 'You might make a good sister,'" O'Hanlon adds. Surveys have shown that if a young person is asked like that, he or she is six times more likely to consider priesthood or religious life.

"We have to create a culture of vocation in the parish and the family," says Jones, who wears a rubber wrist band that says, "Pray for Vocations."

Prompted by Serra, parish vocation groups give a cross or a chalice to families who display the articles in their home, praying for vocations for a week.

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