Serra Clubs support vocations through building friendships

Greg Schwietz, President of Serra USA, from Omaha, Neb., discusses the possibility of forming a Serra Club in the Diocese of Rapid City, on Nov. 30, at Terra Sancta Retreat Center. (WRC photos by Laurie Hallstrom)


By Laurie Hallstrom

Vocations Director Fr. Mark McCormick first heard of the Serra Club 34 years ago when he was a seminarian in St. John Vianney College Seminary, St. Paul, Minn. “They would have dinners at restaurants and invite us to tell our stories. I always wondered why our diocese never had a Serra Club.”

Last year, Al Wolf, from the Bismarck, N.D. chapter of the Serra Club, met with Bishop Robert Gruss and Father McCormick about chartering a Serra Club in the Diocese of Rapid City.

On November 30, an introductory meeting was held at Terra Sancta Retreat Center. About 60 people came to hear about the club: members of parish vocations committees, parents of seminarians and religious, and others who would like to help foster vocations in the diocese.

Opening the program, Father McCormick said, “Vocations are booming in our diocese, we want to create a culture where it’s normal for young men and women to think about a deeper relationship with Christ in their lives.”

The Serra Club was founded by four Catholic men in Seattle who met in 1934 to discuss ways they could share their faith. They selected supporting seminarians and priests in their diocese. Later they chose Padre Junipero Serra, a Spanish Missionary, as their patron. He was canonized September 23, 2015. They modeled their new club after the service clubs which were popular in the United States. Today the Serra Club has more than 20,000 members in 30 countries.

Speakers included Greg Schwietz, President of Serra USA, from the Diocese of Omaha. “Junipero Serra was known for his zeal, an undying amount of love for his faith and fellow humans, dynamic energy, and drive. His motto was ‘Always forward, never back,’” said Schwietz.

“We walk as friends with young men and women as they discern their calling,” he continued. “We walk through the joy of ministry and the fatigue of ministry.”

Schwietz said the clubs meet bi-weekly and members grow spiritually together. Schwietz said Serrans are known for prayer and action. They pray for vocations and they sponsor dinners and send cards and letters to build relationships with seminarians, priests and religious.

Dianne Breen, from the Diocese of Sioux Falls, said, “We start every meeting with Mass, we have a book of those we want to pray for, and this year we have 24 seminarians.” She said in Sioux Falls they host a spring meeting and luncheon with the bishop to meet the seminarians and religious who are in formation as well as parents, priests, sisters, and deacons and their wives.

Fr. Marvin Klemmer was a chaplain for the Bismarck Club in the early 70s and is now retired. He said the Serrans are good positive people. “At the meetings, I make a point to go to every table and say thank you to them. It’s nice to get that birthday card and one on Priesthood Sunday.” He said the Diocese of Bismark has 28 seminarians.

Al Wolf was glad to see a Catholic high school in Rapid City. “This is where a lot of vocations should be coming from. St. Mary High School in Bismarck has a wall of names of priests and religious who came from that school,” he said.

According to Wolf, St. Junipero Serra was the first person on American soil who sought out from the Mexican government a bill of rights on behalf of the Indian people in Mexico and southern California. “I have great admiration for this man who was a great theologian. He was the head of a large seminary, but he wanted to be a missionary.” said Wolf.

“If you live the life of a Serran, you are living a whole different life, you are living a life of experience, culture, and service. We need a better life for people, a more spiritual life. How would you feel if there was a young man who might be a priest, but he was never asked, no one talked to him about that possibility? What if no one was around to encourage him?” asked Wolf.

Region 8 Director Bill Olmstead, Diocese of Duluth, said the Serra Club’s mission is to foster and promote priestly vocations and encourage and affirm vocations to consecrated religious life. It also assists members in their call to holiness.

“Be confident, the Lord of harvest will never turn away,” said Olmstead.