By Dr. Jeff Mirus
Did you know that nearly half of all Catholic Americans who are actively discerning a priestly or religious vocation are prevented from entering a seminary or a novitiate because they have educational loans?
I was not aware of this until a friend of one of my sons called it to my attention. His solution was to go to work for an outstanding organization which exists primarily to pay off these loans, so that vocational aspirants will be free to take the next step. This organization is the Labouré Society.
Most of us are familiar with the adverse impact of educational debt on young families, but it can be even worse for future priests and religious. Founded in 2003 by Cy Laurent after assisting a young woman to enter into religious life by paying off her student debt, the Labouré Society has an unusual but commendable approach to this growing problem. Instead of merely erasing the debt, Labouré accepts vocational “aspirants” (as they are called) into its own program of coordinated debt reduction.
The average debt is $45,000. To tackle the problem, aspirants are typically trained by the Society and then work directly in Labouré’s mentored fundraising program for one or more periods of six months to increase the pool of funds available and to earn merit-based awards to retire their own debt. After the fund-raising stint is completed, the aspirant can proceed with his or her vocation. After three years (usually around the time of first vows), the Society will pay out the entire award to the aspirant to be used for debt retirement.
You can see the advantages. The Society does award all funds until the aspirant has made substantial progress along the vocational path. Yet the aspirant is free to make that progress (toward vows or ordination) precisely because all parties know that the debt is being properly managed, and will not become a burden for the religious community or diocese.
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