January 25, 2013

Smooth transition expected in archdiocesan vocations office

Father Eric Johnson ritually lays hands on transitional Deacon Jerry Byrd during a June 1, 2012, Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Deacon Byrd was ordained a priest during the liturgy. Father Johnson was at the time archdiocesan vocations director. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father Eric Johnson ritually lays hands on transitional Deacon Jerry Byrd during a June 1, 2012, Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Deacon Byrd was ordained a priest during the liturgy. Father Johnson was at the time archdiocesan vocations director. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

For the past seven and a half years, Father Eric Johnson worked hard to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life in central and southern Indiana.

As seminarian Danny Bedel tells it, not even a tornado could stop him from helping men hear God’s call.

Father Johnson was scheduled to meet Bedel, a high school senior at the time, and his family in their rural Decatur County home to talk with them about Bedel enrolling at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis. Father Johnson showed up nearly an hour late.

“He explained that on his way down from Indianapolis, a great storm had sprung up and he had to pull off the interstate at Shelbyville until a couple of tornados passed over,” said Bedel, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Enochsburg. “That was how dedicated Father Eric Johnson was to vocations for the archdiocese.”

In that dedicated ministry, Father Johnson was given the chance to meditate often on his own priestly call.

“Being involved so much in contemplating the priesthood, discerning it and journeying with others who are finding their own way to that,” Father Johnson said, “provides a lot of fruit for prayer and a lot of fruit for self-reflection on what the priesthood is, what that means in a personal way and how I myself am called to live that out.”

Earlier this month, Father Johnson’s tenure as archdiocesan vocations director came to an end as he became administrator of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany.

At the same time, his predecessor as the leader of that faith community, Father Eric Augenstein, began his ministry as the archdiocese’s new vocations director.

“All of us as Catholics at some point in our lives need to be able to think about who God is calling us to be, and to be open to whatever that is,” Father Augenstein said. “As vocations director, one of the things that I can help do is to help people to be open to listening to God, learning how to listen to God and to be open to whatever God is calling us to do with our lives.”

As Father Augenstein begins his ministry in promoting priestly and religious vocations in the archdiocese, he hopes to emulate Father Johnson’s ministry in that position in a particular way.

“I especially appreciate his ability to form and nurture relationships and to be attentive to individual people as they’re discerning God’s call and working through the formation process,” Father Augenstein said.

For his part, Father Johnson sees his successor bringing his own gifts and talents to this important ministry.

“I’m very pleased that Father Eric has said yes to this particular ministry,” Father Johnson said. “I think Father Eric is gifted at recognizing the needs of the community which he serves and drawing other people into sharing that particular vision. I think he’ll be good at inviting communities to more deeply engage their own role at calling people forward.”

Bedel, in his third year of priestly formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, continued to see the commitment that Father Johnson showed in his first meeting with him six and a half years ago.

“That same resilient dedication never stopped,” said Bedel, who is scheduled to be ordained a transitional deacon in the spring. “Both in recruiting new guys and in supporting those of us in our seventh year, he has been a helpful mentor, a charitable teacher and a true friend.”

Father Johnson has also been a role model for Bedel for how to live out the call to the priesthood.

“I have always been impressed with both his humility and his work ethic,” Bedel said. “A tireless servant who ministered at both the Office of Vocations and at St. Agnes Parish [in Nashville], Father Johnson was never a priest to hide behind the mantra, ‘I’m too busy.’

“He made it very clear to all the seminarians that we should never hesitate to call him if we needed help or advice, and to my knowledge, he never let any of us down. … That commitment to selfless service inspired me during these many years of seminary, and I won’t soon forget it as I enter the priesthood next year.”

As vocations director, Father Johnson has seen many men enter the priesthood. Each ordination has been a fulfilling moment for him.

“You know what the questions were and the path that they’ve taken,” Father Johnson said. “And, in some small way, you’ve contributed in journeying with them. There’s a real joy when you see somebody get to the end of that and freely take up that vocation.”
 

(For more information about a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, log on to www.HearGodsCall.com.)

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