By NANCY SCHWERIN
The Vocations Office in the Diocese of Charleston is hard at work spreading the word about the priesthood. The promotional campaign, Imagine, was initiated last year. An 11-minute video and a 10-foot-long-by-7-foot-wide poster with an image of a priest and “Imagine … being a priest” written on it has drawn attention at career fairs and recruitment days at colleges across the state. Time will tell the campaign’s success, but the word is spreading about vocations.
Deacon Joe Cahill and Katie Ramsey staff the booths at college fairs, but they try to include a good representation of vocations. At Career Day at The Citadel in Charleston, the Vocations Office staff had a priest from the local area, a sister, and an order priest join them.
The Imagine campaign was presented to the U.S. bishops at their meeting in Atlanta last October. Since then, the ball’s been rolling quickly for the vocations initiative.
Deacon Cahill and Ramsey have distributed the campaign material to every diocese in the country, to all Catholic colleges in the country, to all Catholic schools in the state, and to all colleges in the state. Along with a letter from Bishop Robert Baker, the material included two posters of the Imagine image in English and one in Spanish, a key chain with the same image, and a diocesan coin.
The priest in the Imagine campaign is a younger looking figure who is standing with his arms folded across his chest. He looks strong and kind and content. The image has drawn attention across the nation from dioceses. Many have asked to use it in conjunction with their own vocations promotions. The diocesan Vocations Office has a trademark pending on the image, but is lending others permission to use it in order to gain more widespread vocations recognition.
The entire campaign, video, image, accessories and setup cost about $75,000 and was funded by donations from the Burtschy family of Charleston.
Deacon Cahill said, “It’s not yet worth the money we spent, but it’s a time-lasting image that we’ll be using in 20 years. It’s serving the people well so far.”
The deacon said he wanted to take the vocations show on the road last year, but Father Dennis Willey, director of the Vocations Office, said they should wait until they had a first-class presentation. This year the project was ready to hit the road, traveling to educational and job fairs.
The impressive display is on par with top businesses’ recruiting campaigns.
“It was as nice as anything I saw there,” said the deacon of their visit to the Citadel’s Career Day.
They’ve also attended a Theological Day at Furman University in Greenville. Future engagements include High School Recruitment Day at the North Charleston Coliseum Feb. 26, Career Day at the University of South Carolina in Columbia on Feb. 28, and the Career Fair at the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium in Charleston for the College of Charleston, The Citadel and Charleston Southern March 13.
Curious students have wandered by the booth to check out the display. Deacon Cahill said some are surprised to see the setup. They have been drawing a mix of intrigued Catholics and non-Catholics, men and women.
The focus of the campaign is on the priesthood, but inquiries for religious orders are certainly welcome. The vocations team will do their best to answer all questions.
“Things are looking good, and vocations are on the rise,” said the deacon.
There are currently 18 men in priestly formation for the Diocese of Charleston, compared to eight in 1999. And according to Deacon Cahill, two more were recently accepted.
“The campaign is something that keeps our name out there,” the deacon said.
God is the ultimate recruiter and cultivator of vocations, but the campaign may plant the seed. It may also attract a curious personality to consider a heaven-sent vocation.