TEMPE — Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish is celebrating a much larger than average blossoming of vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life. Fr. John Bonavitacola, pastor of the East Valley parish, said it’s all God’s work.
“Obviously something is in the water here at Mount Carmel,” Fr. Bonavitacola said jokingly. “While I would love to take credit for all these vocations, I know I can’t and that it is God’s doing.”
November saw parishioner Rob Bonura ordained to the permanent diaconate. In May, Andrew Brinkman, son of Ron and Christine Brinkman, was ordained to the priesthood for the Emmanuel Community of Priests. Scott Sperry, another Our Lady of Mount Carmel parishioner, was ordained to the transitional diaconate and will be ordained to the priesthood in June of 2014.
On June 30, Sr. Maria Kim Bui will make her final vows as a Daughter of St. Paul. Her close friend, Sr. Sydney Moss, another parishioner, is now completing her novitiate with the Salesian Sisters.
So how did vocations come to flourish at this suburban parish?
“I do think that our part is to cultivate the soil,” Fr. Bonavitacola said. One way the parish does that is by holding a vocations fair each year. Representatives from various religious communities of priests and sisters are invited to participate in the event.
“This provides some exposure of the possibilities that are out there for anyone considering what to do with their life,” Fr. Bonavitacola said. Another factor, he said, is making sure vocations are always being prayed for and encouraged at Mass and at the parish school.
“Since I have been here for over 12 years, it has helped me get to know lots of families,” Fr. Bonavitacola said. “That personal interaction gives me a chance to encourage vocations.”
Sr. Sydney Moss said that a big factor for her was the parish youth program, Life Teen.
“I was very blessed when I was in high school — we had an amazing youth group and music ministry,” Sr. Sydney said. “From that, there have been several of us that have pursued the religious life. It’s a very vibrant community.”
Sr. Maria Kim also has fond memories of the youth group and said that’s where she fell in love with Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith.
“I just remember being completely impressed by the quality of the young people I met at youth group the first time I came to the youth Mass,” Sr. Maria Kim said. “People who were genuinely happy and welcoming and I remember feeling really supported. Everybody was there to cheer everyone else on their discipleship.”
Both Sr. Sydney and Sr. Maria Kim said that the former youth minister, Bill Marcotte, was a role model for them.
“We would go down on missions to Mexico and that really opened my eyes,” Sr. Sydney said. “It helped me see how much I had and how much I didn’t need.”
Marcotte, who has since become the parish manager at St. Andrew the Apostle in Chandler, affected a number of people in the Tempe community it seems.
Deacon Rob Bonura remembers standing on the altar at the first Mass Deacon Scott Sperry served May 26.
“I was looking out and I saw this beaming face and it was Bill Marcotte,” Deacon Bonura said. It took him back in time to when Fr. Greg Menegay — who was a seminarian 15 years ago at Our Lady of Mount Carmel — first came to the Valley and was in a Bible study with Marcotte. Deacon Bonura’s two sons and Deacon Sperry were all in Life Teen with Marcotte. There was also a parents’ group and Deacon Bonura and his wife, Victoria, were part of that.
“To me, the vocations at Mount Carmel are because we have so many people who are saying yes to the Holy Spirit working in their lives,” Deacon Rob said. “They’re witnessing to the rest of the community.”
Marcotte, Deacon Bonura said, is representative of the Tempe community at large.
“As I was going through the diaconate formation program, I knew I was lifted up in prayer by the whole community, and I was able to pull strength from that,” Deacon Bonura said.
Deacon Sperry said it helped a lot to be part of the parish school and that being part of the wider parish community has been a great blessing. He credits the example of Fr. David Kelash, who served at the parish in those years.
“Fr. David gave me a positive, joyful, always welcoming vision of a priest who loves his priesthood,” Deacon Sperry said. “We were blessed to have Fr. Tim Davern who was so full of knowledge and love for the priesthood.”
Deacon Sperry said he worked in the parish office and got to know the priests when he was in high school. But it was Chris Muglia, the parish music director at the time, who asked him a crucial question that he said got him thinking about his vocation.
“Chris asked me if I’d ever thought about the priesthood. And it came at a time when I needed to be asked that question,” Deacon Sperry said. “That’s when I started praying seriously about it and discerning.”