"Sorry, son. You can't be a priest."

His family was once concerned they would not have enough money to send him to the seminary.  Father John Merkelis, O.S.A., is now a beloved friar, seen here meeting Pope Francis.  © 2013 Servizio Fotografico, Citiá del Vaticano

“Sorry, son.  You can’t be a priest.  We don’t have enough money to send you to the seminary.”

Father John Merkelis, O.S.A., recently recounted, “My brother Mark wanted to be a priest.  There wasn’t enough money.  My brother Ernie wanted to be a priest.  There wasn’t enough money.  By the time I came around, my mom and dad got the message and said, ‘We better put some time into this.’”

With his parents determined to help their son discern his vocation, young John found a support system in the local Knights of Columbus chapter, his parish’s women’s group, and several other benevolent family members, friends, and believers who wanted to lend a helping hand.  Shortly afterward, John found himself enrolling at the Augustinians’ minor seminary in Holland, Michigan.

“I now look back and see, there was just this wave of people from the Holy Spirit who wanted to invest in me for a vocation.  Nobody does it alone,” Father Merkelis now reflects.

Father Merkelis is now a beloved friar serving on the campus of Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, Illinois.  In the years that have passed since he first began his formation process to become an Augustinian, much has changed.  The number of priests and religious in the United States has been gradually diminishing.  When Father Merkelis professed his first religious vows in the 1970s, there was one priest for every 830 American Catholics.  Now in the year 2016, according to research at Georgetown University, there is only one priest for every 1,820 American Catholics.  Is it any surprise that our country is in the state it’s in right now?

Father Merkelis is now a beloved priest on the campus of Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, Illinois

When our current Provincial, Father Bernie Scianna, O.S.A., was elected to his first term seven years ago, he asked his fellow friars to take a leap of faith with him to address this problem by proactively asking more young men to discern a vocation with the Augustinians.  He asked believers to donate a gift to support our outreach.  We prayed to the Holy Spirit for guidance and asked for the intercession of the saints.  Here’s what happened …

In 2017, the Midwest Augustinians will have 17 men in formation (seminarians) whereas we only had two when Fr. Bernie first became Provincial in 2010.  Nationwide, the Augustinians have a total of 45 vocations!

Some of this year's Men in Augustinian Formation

We also don’t have to tell you, however, that we still have a long way to go to rebuild our Church in America to what it once was.  Moreover, there are fewer faithful people that pledge to leave a faith-filled society for our children, grandchildren, and future generations.  That’s we are asking our friends and supporters to do something extraordinary this year ...

We are asking our friends and supporters to sponsor one day in the life of one Augustinian man in formation with a commitment of $120.  To pay for one young man’s theological studies and housing, we need to raise a little more than $42,000 each year.  And so, for each donor contributing $120, we can afford to fund one man’s formation for one more day.  Would you please pledge your support of $120 or more this coming year to support the Augustinians’ ongoing daily needs (our “Annual Fund”)?  Consider that for just $10 a month, you would be sponsoring the theological education and spiritual formation of a future Augustinian priest or brother.

If you can’t afford to donate that amount right now, you can still make a commitment today and contribute quarterly or monthly over the course of the following year.  Either way, pledging your support today will help the Augustinian vocations and men in formation.  Supporting Augustinian vocations is currently our greatest need; if you prefer, though, we still need support for our retired friars and our missions in Peru.

Please think about this request prayerfully.  I know it may be significant to ask of some of our supporters. If you have any questions, please click here to email the Advancement Office.  Most of our supporters already give substantially to their parish, their diocese, their alma mater, and several other worthy causes.  If you can make more room in your heart for the future of the Augustinians and the Church, our young men and all the Augustinians would truly appreciate it.


Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy has been working with the Augustinians in fundraising and communications since 2010. He began working with the Augustinian Vocations office in 2015. He also holds a Master of Science in Nonprofit Management.