Maria Pimentel, Fr. Ted Prentice, Janice Donahue and Pat Egsieker enjoy talking before the annual Serra Club priest appreciation dinner in 2017. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Maria Pimentel, Fr. Ted Prentice, Janice Donahue and Pat Egsieker enjoy talking before the annual Serra Club priest appreciation dinner in 2017. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Fostering vocations to priesthood and religious life is not the job of bishops, priests and nuns alone. Serra Club proves that laity have a crucial role.

“It makes a lot of sense to have people in the pews come up to some young man or woman and ask, ‘Have you ever considered this? I see something in you,’” said Msgr. Don Buxman, who served as chaplain of the Serra Club of Portland for 33 years.

World Day for Consecrated Life is set for Feb. 2.

Begun in Seattle in 1935, Serra Club opened a chapter in Portland in 1937 to encourage young men and women to serve God and God’s people. The organization was named for St. Junipero Serra, the 18th-century Franciscan pioneer who opened missions along the Pacific coast. Through the decades, local Serrans have prayed for vocations, held large vocation rallies for middle schoolers, thrown dinners for priests and religious and done kindnesses for Archdiocese of Portland seminarians. Members have issued thousands of personal vocation invitations to young people.

Jim O’Hanlon, the longest serving Portland Serran, joined in 1961. Among the most gratifying Serra activities for O’Hanlon and his wife, Terry, has been sponsoring seminarians like Deacon Randy Hoang. To be ordained in the spring, Deacon Hoang receives not only tuition aid from the O’Hanlons but gets encouraging letters and friendship. The young deacon phones the couple and shares meals with them.

“It is not a chore, it is a pleasure,” Jim O’Hanlon, 92, said of Serra Club. When he joined almost 60 years ago, Serra was for men only. Club leaders also made sure there was a proper balance of professions. For example, O’Hanlon had to wait lest there be too many lawyers.

O’Hanlon held officer positions not only at the local Serra Club but on the national council, where he became national president in 1998.

Many Serrans yearn for a boost in membership and leadership from the next generation. The club now counts about 90 souls, most of them retired.

“The more people we have thinking and praying about vocations, the better,” said Jeff Eirvin Sr., current president of the Serra Club of Portland. “We need to consider the alternative: not having enough priests.”

Eirvin points to other parts of the nation and state where churches are closing and priests are spread thin, covering multiple parishes. He fears that soon, the priest shortage will mean people can’t have the Eucharist.

Eirvin said the best method for promoting membership in the club is the personal ask. He urges all Serrans to invite others to join.

The club meets on the first and third Wednesdays of each month at St. Pius X Parish in the Cedar Mill District of Northwest Portland. There is prayer, a talk and lunch.

Members help with an annual summer camp for young men considering priesthood. Quo Vadis Days takes place at Camp Howard, and the club funds a bus that brings boys from other parts of western Oregon to the camp in the Mount Hood foothills.

Recently, the club began praying a rosary at St. Mary Cathedral just before ordinations begin. Worshippers arriving join in.

Serra funded vocations kiosks at St. Pius X and in Northeast Portland at The Madeleine. The kiosks include vocations literature.

Dan Jones, a member of St. Pius X Parish, has been a member of Serra Club for 40 years. For a time, he served as president of Serra International and is still on that global board. He and his wife, Lynn, who also is highly active, have sponsored seminarians, including Father Peter Julia.

“I thank God every day for Serra. I have become a better Catholic for it,” said Jones. “I stay because of the people and I think it’s a great need of our church, especially in this time of troubles.”

Jones hopes the club helps create a culture of vocations in the church, one where people invite promising youths to consider priesthood and religious life. Part of the plan is having each parish launch a vocations committee that encourages prayer and activities for vocations.

Many members come to the club to help with vocations and then are pleasantly surprised at the personal spiritual growth and the joy of fellowship with fellow Serrans.

“They are such good people and they want to see the Catholic Church continue with good priests,” said Eirvin, whose son is Father Jeff Eirvin, current chaplain of Serra Club and vocations director of the Archdiocese of Portland.

“We grow together because we come together,” said Art Diederich, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton and a former Serra Club of Portland president. Diederich said that spiritual growth of members is an important part of the mission.

Serra is at its best, he explained, when it supports other organizations in the church, like the archdiocesan vocations office, religious communities and Mount Angel Seminary.

“It’s a community with other Catholics in support of the church,” said Paul Harris, a former local Serra president. “Being with a bunch of Catholics who are so devoted to the church, and have been for 30, 40 or 50 years, that inspires us to do so much more. Serra Club has a great mission and a path to holiness.”

Harris and his wife, Monique, intend to begin bringing their children and grandchildren to Serra events to spread inspiration to the next generation.

Msgr. Don Buxman, the club’s longtime chaplain, often told members that vocations come from families and so efforts should be directed at households. “There is something more tangible,” Msgr. Buxman said, “when you have someone who is married encouraging young men and women to become priests or religious.”