OTG: The Labouré Society: Building the Church one vocation at a time
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 aspirant loan debt is $45,000. To tackle the problem, aspirants are 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 student loans. 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 remaining award to the aspirant’s loan agency to be used for student loan retirement.
You can see the advantages. The Society does not 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 loan is being properly managed, and will not become a burden for the religious community or diocese.
The Labouré Society has its apostolic roots in the spirituality of Saint Catherine Labouré, a member of the Daughters of Charity who in 1830 received visions of Our Lady instructing her to create the Miraculous Medal. The medal itself commemorates the Immaculate Conception, which was not formally defined until 1854. The devotion surrounding the Miraculous Medal is widespread throughout the Church. As Mary promised, many miracles of grace are attributed to its use.
Since its founding, Labouré has assisted 260 vocational aspirants by awarding over $3.8 million for student debt reduction. In addition, the Society keeps a calendar of events around the country which are aimed at vocational discernment, and its website links to solid resources which can assist in the discernment process. The spiritual focus is sound.
I should add that there are ways to become involved in the work of the Labouré Society that go far beyond donating. As hinted above, the Society actively seeks knowledgeable and experienced lay men and women who can serve as mentors to the aspirants in raising funds and working out debt reduction strategies. Perhaps it goes without saying that this approach also fosters the ongoing discernment process. The Society also maintains a large network of bishops, priests, religious and laity who either contribute, or pray regularly for the work of the Society, or both.
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