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It's Serra, without the 'I'

Club members work, pray to foster vocations to priesthood and religious life

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MIAMI | It’s Serra – without the i. Don’t mistake them for the better-known environmental group.

But within the Church, the Serra Club is doing similar work, striving to protect another vital environment, the one that enables Catholics to receive the Eucharist: Serrans promote vocations, especially to priesthood.

Michael Downey, president of the U.S. Council for Serra, speaks at the 2024 Serra USA Rally, held Jan. 18-21 in Miami. The goal of Serra Club members is to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Michael Downey, president of the U.S. Council for Serra, speaks at the 2024 Serra USA Rally, held Jan. 18-21 in Miami. The goal of Serra Club members is to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

“There is no ‘I’ in Serra. We are a selfless organization that exists to serve the Church,” said John Liston, executive director of Serra International, which held their annual Serra USA Rally in Miami, Jan. 18-21, 2024. (See accompanying story)

The name Serra comes from their patron, St. Junipero Serra, who founded missions throughout California. Begun in Seattle, Washington, in 1935, and initially open only to men, Serra now has a global reach, with 10 councils throughout the world, including nations in Europe, Latin America and Asia. The U.S. Council is the largest.

“We work and we pray” for vocations, said Liston, and “we’re open to all lay people, welcoming to all lay people.”

Helping young men and women hear the call to priesthood and religious life – especially in a world filled with secular distractions – is what Serrans do, always through prayer but also through events in support of seminarians, priests and religious.

“We know that God does the calling. We just provide an assist here and there,” Liston told the Florida Catholic.

The help is sorely needed.

“Everybody wants a parish-to-altar priest. And that is the ideal. Every parish should have one vocation come from it,” said Liston, but most priests today come from only 20% of parishes.

That’s why Serra clubs exist, said Mike Downey, president of the USA Council of Serra International.

“Even the most wonderful vocations director in the world cannot do the work in two hours a week,” he told the Florida Catholic, noting that many dioceses – unlike Miami – do not have a fulltime vocations director. The priest assigned to the task has additional responsibilities in one or more parishes, leaving little time for vocations work.

Items used by the Serra Club to foster vocations are on display at the Jan. 18-21, 2024, Serra USA Rally in Miami.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Items used by the Serra Club to foster vocations are on display at the Jan. 18-21, 2024, Serra USA Rally in Miami.

Serra clubs aim to foster a culture of vocations so that young men and women are open to listening for God’s call.

Miami’s Serra Club, for example, hosts appreciation dinners for men and women religious every December; they help with the annual celebration of the World Day of Consecrated Life, coming up Feb. 3; and they plan events such as Catholic Sisters Week, set for March 8-14.

Members also take part in the Seven Serran initiative, where seven members of a local group pray for a particular vocations director by name for one hour a week. The Miami Serra Club has six teams doing that, said Sharon Utterback, the club’s president.

Having a diocesan Serra Club “is like getting a huge auxiliary vocations office,” Downey said. “That's really important,” because the Church needs priests, especially, “if [we] want to have a future.” 

Serra Club members from the U.S. and Canada spend time in adoration during their Jan. 18-21, 2024, Serra USA Rally in Miami. The monstrance, entrusted to the care of the Serra Club, is one of only six designed for and blessed by St. John Paul II, one for each of the world's continents.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Serra Club members from the U.S. and Canada spend time in adoration during their Jan. 18-21, 2024, Serra USA Rally in Miami. The monstrance, entrusted to the care of the Serra Club, is one of only six designed for and blessed by St. John Paul II, one for each of the world's continents.