Ed Lupton admits that when he gets asked about his longtime involvement in the Serra Club, he is careful to make sure there isn’t a misunderstanding.
“Sometimes they’ll ask: Is this the group of people that climb mountains? No, that’s the Sierra Club,” Lupton said with a laugh. “It’s probably been said so many times, now it’s funny.”
While one of them may be a well-known group with a mission to protect the environment, the Serra Club is a worldwide organization of Catholics whose desire to protect and promote religious vocations comes second nature to them.
Lupton’s 12-year connection to the San Buenaventura chapter of the Serra Club has led to a district governor leadership role. But it all started when he was invited to a meeting at St. John’s Seminary in nearby Camarillo.
“When we would go to Mass, have dinner, and then go to the prayer room to listen to a seminarian talk about his journey, it was a fabulous, quality way to spend an evening,” said Lupton. “We are fortunate to have the seminary in our region and get to know many of the seminarians.”
To Lupton, the Serra Club is critical in the Church because of its call to action for more priests and consecrated religious, which gives the Church a foundation for the future.
“It’s a serious time in our faith, where the entire Church finds it more difficult to get younger people involved, and young people have to be the lifeblood of the Church,” Lupton explained. “The answer is vocations. It is talked about often in Mass, asking those to help with prayers, but there often isn’t enough action. It’s our mission to foster more of that support.”
Father Sam Ward, who with Father Mike Perucho serves as a director for vocations for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (ADLA), said he was first aware of the Serra Club when he attended St. John’s in the late 1990s, leading to his 2003 ordination as a priest.
“The San Buenaventura chapter members loved being there with us,” said Ward, who often speaks at regional meetings. “They’ve always been like our cheerleaders, such a beautiful ministry to promote and support vocations.”
Ward said that in addition to a strong presence at the San Buenaventura and Los Angeles chapters, the Pasadena chapter based at St. Philip the Apostle Church across the street from Pasadena City College has been “a model parish for vocations.”
Chapters in this region also include West LA and the San Fernando Valley, plus one in the South Bay, which has the Juan Diego House of Gardena in its midst. Juan Diego House is a place for the formation of college-age seminarians aspiring for ADLA priesthood.
Residents take classes at El Camino Community College, then earn their bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
George Perez, a third-year seminarian at St. John’s, said the Serra Club has had a special impact on him.
“It’s not what they do for us financially, it is in their willingness to be present in the life of the seminarians,” said Perez, who also belongs to The Congregation of Jesus and Mary, a society of apostolic life founded by St. John Eudes.
“Their prayers for each one of us are a reminder of why we continue to seek Christ’s will for our lives. They journey with us in our studies and genuinely care for our journey toward the Catholic priesthood.”
Perez noted that at St. John’s, as many as 40% of the seminarians are not from Southern California and do not have friends or family nearby to visit. But when Serra Club members come by to attend meetings, it encourages the seminarians to share their vocation stories and create bonds.
“This is a great opportunity for us to know that there are many who care, prayer, and journey with us on this path to holiness,” said Perez. “In our Santa Barbara region, the Serra Club has been a constant reminder of Jesus and Mary in my life here at the seminary, it is with love and patience that we are met with those who serve.”
Serra Club began in the U.S. in Seattle in 1935, and the Los Angeles charter came in 1949. It has clubs in 42 countries and stages annual conferences. A recent conference in Rome included an audience with Pope Francis and a private Mass in the Vatican for the Serrans.
Activities to create more awareness for vocations include rotating a chalice among families for one week, a crucifix program for Catholic schools, an altar service program to recognize those who participate in that sector, and an adopt-a-seminarian program.
For the last 69 years, the Serra Club has put on the annual Ordinati Luncheon each September to honor those recently ordained and hear their stories.
The upcoming U.S. national Serra conference returns to Ventura on Jan. 16-19, 2020, and will again conclude with a pilgrimage that allows participants to visit the missions of St. Junípero Serra in Southern California.
At age 76, Lupton admits he is right around the median age of many local Serra Club members. He wants to make sure the organization has younger leadership going forward. Parents of those in the seminary or newly ordained are considered to be valuable in the membership recruiting process.
Lupton said he would also like to start a calendar program at every parish in Los Angeles, where parishioners sign up and commit to pray for one hour on one day of a month for vocations as well as for those already in the seminary. From that activity, each parish could cultivate their own Serra Club participation.
He thinks of how his journey could have been changed if someone had asked him about considering the priesthood. Lupton gravitated toward the banking business instead, after a baseball career that flourished at the University of Notre Dame and in the minor leagues with the Washington Senators’ system in the 1960s.
For the last 21 years, he has been president of Discover Living, Inc., which helps people overcome life’s challenges. He is also the CEO of Facility 911 Coalition, educating home care administrators in planning for the elderly in emergencies.
Lupton can connect the dots of his professional life mission to what he’s trying to do in helping those discern and navigate their vocational path.
“It’s time to ignite the fire of our faith, as St. Serra said: ‘Step forward’,” said Lupton. “Now is the time. Not tomorrow. We realize we have a fine group of men at the seminary, but we need more. Catholics are a special family and when more get involved, more can be accomplished.”
For more information about Serra Clubs in Southern California, visit www.serraus.org/membership/clubs/#california.