Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Debt, the Vocation Killer

~from National Catholic Register by Tim Drake

You think you know what factors pose a barrier to religious vocations? Think again. A group met in Chicago last month to discuss an emerging and growing barrier to vocations — financial debt, particularly that acquired from student loans.

The Chicago-based Institute on Religious Life organized — and the Arlington, Va.-based Fraser Family Foundation sponsored — a diverse gathering of grant-makers, college presidents and vocation directors at Marytown Feb. 20-22 to examine the growing problem. As most religious orders will not accept someone with debt, it places many vocations in jeopardy.

Brother Matthew Ball of the Franciscans of the Immaculate at St. Francis Hermitage in Maine, N.Y., said that his debt nearly led him to abandon his vocation. A graduate of Ohio University, Brother Matthew had educational debts totaling $30,000 when he approached various religious orders inquiring about the possibility of entering. Debt prevented him.

“I was ready to drop my vocation because of the debt. I figured that if too many huge walls were in the way that maybe God wasn’t calling me,” said Brother Matthew. “I was ready to give it up, but had one more phone call to make.”

Before giving up his vocation, Matthew Ball’s final call was to the Franciscan Friars in December 2005.

“I spoke with the vocation director, Father Joseph,” said Brother Matthew. “Near the end of the call I said, ‘Everything sounds great, but I have one more thing for you. I have an education debt of $30,000.’”

“Father Joseph responded, ‘Is that all? You’ve got to have faith! Our Lady has all the money you need for your vocation,’” said Brother Matthew. Father Joseph put the young man in touch with the Fraser Family Foundation, a private foundation set up to help aspirants relieve their educational debt. Ball received the foundation’s final grant, enabling him to enter the community last summer.

The need is great. “One of every two aspirants will have had student debt at one time,” said Corey Huber, executive director of the Fraser Family Foundation. “One of every four aspirants will have debt in excess of $25,000.”

That’s a problem particularly for religious orders.

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