By Miramon Nuevo
While many seemed resigned to the fact that it will take a miracle to fix the priest shortage in the Church, Catholics from the organization Serra International are not ready to throw in the towel yet. Serrans are lay Catholics around the world who are steadfastly dedicated to promoting and fostering vocations. They are men and women of all ages and from all walks of life.
This May 27, Bishop Alberto Rojas will bestow the prestigious Amar Es Entregarse Award (“Love is the total giving of oneself”) to local Serra Clubs at the 22nd Annual Bishop’s Dinner to be held in Palm Desert. The other two organizations receiving the Amar Es Entregarse Award this year are the Knights of Columbus and the Italian Catholic Federation.
“A Serran directly relates to the motto ‘Love is the total giving of oneself’ because we are committed to giving of our personal time, talent and financial resources to support the unique needs of seminarians, priests, deacons, sisters, brothers and those discerning a religious life that are not served by others,” said Lorene Sponsler, Governor of Serra USA Council, District 79.
“Our commitment as a Serran is driven by love for the Church. It requires us to open our heart with love to the needs of others, which is a reflection of the motto,” she added. Sponsler joined Serra in 1992. Over the years, she has held many positions including president and district governor.
Local Serrans were instrumental in financially supporting the seminarians. One of their founding members, Joe Hertel, had a dream to start a seminarian education fund. He did so, donating $100,000 to start what was known as the Joe Hertel Fund. Over the years, the fund continued to grow. It has since been combined with other funds for the education and formation of our seminarians.
“Joe was a fine example of what Serra is all about,” said Sponsler.
Serrans in our Diocese work towards vocations not only in our own diocese, but in places across the world as well. “While we are a service organization, we do have a fundraising component which is the Serra Foundation. Clubs donate to the foundation and grants are awarded annually to various projects and needy seminaries around the world,” Sponsler said.
There are about 200 Serra Clubs all over the United States. In the Diocese of San Bernardino, there are four clubs, in San Bernardino, Riverside, Hemet and the High Desert. They hope to form a club in the Diocese’s West End Vicariate and reopen a club in the Low Desert Vicariate so that all six of the Diocese’s vicariates are represented. All clubs in the Diocese collaborate with Father Hau Vu, Director of Vocations. The organization’s roots go back to 1935, when founders Dan Rooney, Leo Sharkey, Richard Ward and Harold Haberle organized luncheon meetings for business and professional men to exchange ideas on Catholic thought. They named the organization after famous Franciscan missionary Father (and now St.) Junipero Serra. From the beginning, the primary goal has always been fostering new vocations, although other objectives include the affirmation of existing vocations and growth in the members’ own spiritual lives.
“I am one of the many beneficiaries of Serra’s generosity,” said Father Jesse Martinez, a priest from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “If it were not for their generous support, I don’t actually know if I would have made it to the priesthood just by myself.”
Since its founding, Serra Club has grown from a small, informal group to an international organization of 20,000 men and women in over 1,200 clubs in 47 countries. Each country has its own council, and worldwide oversight of the clubs is through Serra International. Women were admitted as members in 1986.
One thing is quite clear, whatever the need is to support priests and religious, members of Serra are ready to move ahead and follow the words of St. Junipero Serra: “Always forward, never back!”
Pope St. John Paul II dedicated December 7, 2000 to Serra International as the Vocation Day of the Jubilee, which represents a special recognition for Serra’s significance as a lay organization.
“Serrans accept as their responsibility the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. They possess a deep appreciation of the ministerial priesthood as being essential to the Church. Serra have been generous in offering their support to those who hear the call to serve Christ in the priesthood,” the late Pontiff declared.
Miramon Nuevo is a freelance writer and a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes, Montclair. A retired sports columnist and boxing analyst, he now lives with his wife, Justine, and three children in Fontana.