“Something good is happening,” smiles Father Steve Davoren, “in our seminaries and our vocations outreach.”And the numbers support what the new archdiocesan director of the Office of Vocations is saying. There are 20 new seminarians for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles this year — 12 at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, and eight at Juan Diego House of Formation in Gardena.St. John’s — which trains and educates priests for Los Angeles and a number of other dioceses — has its highest enrollment in years at the start of the 2013-14 academic period, with 92 seminarians, 25 of them new (including the 12 for L.A.). The total enrollment figure represents a one-third increase from five years ago, and the third straight year in which enrollment is up, says Msgr. Craig Cox, St. John’s president and rector.Also encouraging, says vocations and seminary leaders, is the diversity of men entering seminary life. The age range of the new St. John’s seminarians is 22-45, representing six countries (U.S., Mexico, Philippines, Vietnam, Guatemala and Uganda).“Such great diversity is definitely indicative of the meaning of Catholic — both big and small c, meaning universal,” smiles Msgr. Cox. “Our seminaries reflect a wide demographic, and that is very encouraging.”A variety of factors have helped lead to the increase in numbers: —Los Angeles (and other dioceses) have made more concerted efforts to invite and recruit men to consider the priesthood, whether through personal invitation or suggestion, or offering days of recollection and opportunities to gather. Discernment groups meet regularly in all five pastoral regions, and the Vocations Office offers priestly discernment weekends at St. John’s and “Come and See” meetings at Juan Diego House.—Cultural attitudes have changed. “Many people,” Msgr. Cox says, “are questioning whether success ought to be measured by income and houses and cars and job status, and are looking for something more fulfilling and meaningful, something deeper in their lives.”—The climate is, admittedly, more favorable than it was a decade or so ago for active priests to extend invitation and make known the positive aspects of priesthood. “Priests are more eager to share the joys of their ministry than they were for a while when the sexual abuse suits were in the headlines,” Msgr. Cox says. Father Davoren and Father Sam Ward, associate director of Vocations, point in particular to the support factor as key in encouraging men to consider priesthood (or, for that matter, women to consider religious life), noting that community is at the root of Catholic faith.“That’s why discernment groups are so helpful,” says Father Ward. “When you bond as a group, in community, that’s an important area of support. You don’t feel so much like a lone ranger. And if you have two or three from your own parish, it’s not as daunting to take that step.”“The men who have entered the seminary,” adds Father Davoren, “are regular guys, ordinary guys with extraordinary gifts — holy men, grounded in their faith. People want to be part of something special, part of something that has positive momentum and energy. And we are encouraging these men to be part of a community that is connected to serving our Lord Jesus Christ in a special way.”Both Father Davoren and Father Ward had been parish priests since their ordinations (in 1996 and 2003, respectively), and are happy to share their experiences with those considering priesthood. They also have made it a point to involve new seminarians in a variety of activities — a recent day of reflection and recreation in Catalina, a barbecue at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, meetings with priests who currently serve, and attendance at recent ordinations to the priesthood.“Being with people,” says Father Davoren, “has a great effect, because some fellows feel like the priesthood can be a very lonely life. So we want to encourage them, let them know that there is a great support system available to them — and that they are part of that support system for others as well.”The Vocations Office has made available free copies of the book “To Save A Thousand Souls: A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood,” by Father Brett Brannen, a diocesan vocations director, in English and Spanish. If desired, “we can put them in touch with a spiritual director,” says Father Ward.“We also ask priests to give us the names of men who they feel ought to be called, contacted and encouraged to consider the priesthood” says Father Davoren. “And it also takes laypeople, tapping the shoulders of young men asking, ‘Have you considered priesthood?’”Officials now want to keep the momentum going, and keep the seminary and priesthood in people’s minds.“But it takes a real call and invitation,” stresses Father Davoren. “If there is something, a restless feeling in your heart and soul that is seeking a closer connection to God, maybe it is worth pursuing with the help of a priest or spiritual director.”Msgr. Cox is hopeful that the increase in seminary enrollment over the last six years can continue. “We are still not ordaining the number of new priests we need to keep pace with deaths and retirements,” he notes. “But the upward trend is encouraging, and we have great confidence it will continue. It is certainly a blessing.”For information on Vocations in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, visit www.la-archdiocese.org/org/vocations, www.stjohnsem.edu, or www.Juandiegohouse.org.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/1004/seminarians/{/gallery}