Eliminating the obstacle an aspirant’s student loans present to answering his vocation.
Our fund addresses a specific challenge:
As part of the vow of poverty, a person who enters religious life must be debt-free. Without financial assets, religious have no way to make monthly payments on any kind of loan. Most vibrant religious orders have no assets to spare for assisting their aspirants with their debts. What little they have must be allocated to feeding and housing their members. Many religious orders are mendicant and beg for their daily sustenance.
Most aspirants to religious life have no trouble clearing their personal debt: selling a car to pay off the car loan, working to pay down credit card debt. But the average student loan runs in the tens of thousands of dollars and presents a greater obstacle.
The average aspirant to religious life who has attended college faces a student loan balance of $30,000, which must be paid in just months rather than the 10 – 20 years originally intended.
As a result, an aspirant’s entrance is delayed, sometimes for many years. Consider the impoverishment to the Church in terms of years of lost consecration and sacrifice for our Lord.
We have carefully designed our grant program to provide support to men and women who seek to answer God’s call without interfering with the proper discernment of their vocations. When a grant recipient enters his order, we take over the monthly payments of his student loans (and only his student loans). If discernment leads elsewhere, responsibility for loan payments returns to him and there is no obligation to repay us. If he perseveres, we guarantee full payment of his loans on the 5th anniversary of his final vows.
“It is a tragic irony that when the heavens are being stormed for vocations and God generously answers, that the response can be hindered by something as minor in comparison as a student loan. Yet, sadly more and more vocations are being put on hold for this very reason. That’s why vocation directors exclaim: ‘Thank God for the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations!”
Fr. Andrew-Carl Wisdom, O.P.; Promoter of Vocations Director of the Society for Vocational Support; Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great
My wife, Katherine, and I started the original Mater Ecclesiae Debt Relief Grant Program in 2004 through a private foundation we had established three years earlier upon my retirement from America Online. Our pastor, knowing that we operated the foundation, told us about a man he knew who wanted to enter religious life.
The man was within six months of the upper age limit for entering his religious order and had about $40,000 in outstanding student loans, which would have to be eliminated before he could enter religious life. How was he going to repay $40,000 in six months?
We told our pastor that the foundation was prohibited from giving money to individuals outside of an approved grant program. At the same time, we were interested and sympathetic to the man’s plight, so we told him and the prior of the order that we would work out something to cover the debt.
So, we went to our lawyers and explained the problem to them. They searched for a solution and found an IRS ruling that denied a tax exemption to a similar program operated by a group of Protestants who wanted to encourage men to stay in ministry. Using this ruling, the lawyers were able to design our program to meet all of the objections the IRS had to the program that failed. We like to say that our program was designed in a collaboration between the Holy Spirit and the Internal Revenue Service.
Soon after we had the program designed, filed the paperwork with the IRS and received approval, we learned that the man had tried religious life for about a month and discerned that his vocation was elsewhere. It was as if we were all dressed up with nowhere to go. The foundation had a fully approved grant program, but no one that we knew needed such a grant.
Very soon after that, I attended a dinner given by the diocesan vocations office for seminarians and men considering the diocesan priesthood. Chatting with the young man beside me, I happened to tell him about the grant program. He told me that he knew a young woman in this very situation and asked if he could tell her about our program. She was our very first applicant, and we have grown from there.
We issued our first grant in the summer of 2004 to a young woman entering the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville. As the word spread, we received more inquiries and applications. From 2004 through 2006 we issued thirty-one grants to young men and women entering a variety of different religious institutes and orders. Twenty-two of those grants remain effective. Eight of our grant recipients from that period have left formation, and one had a benefactor who paid her debt in full.
Over the summer of 2006, as we continued to receive applications, we realized that the funds for issuing grants were not unlimited. As a private foundation, we attempt to preserve the assets of the foundation like an endowment and make grants out of the income on those assets. Each grant entails a commitment to make payments over a period of ten to fifteen years. We need to make sure that the commitments we make do not exceed our ability to meet them.
Thus, in August of 2006, at the final meeting of the foundation’s application review board, we had ten applications to review, but the capacity to issue only five grants. That was a tough meeting!
That was when we, in consultation with the review board, decided to launch a new charitable organization to give the public the opportunity to share this great work with us. The Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations (MEFV) was incorporated in November, 2006 and received its tax exemption from the IRS in February, 2007.
With help from the foundation, the MEFV continues to pay the original twenty-two grants, most of which have now reached completion. For ten years now, we have been receiving the financial assistance of the Catholic faithful and expanding our support of vocations by issuing new grants each year.
As of the spring of 2017, the MEFV has issued over 150 grants and is responsible for over 100 religious being in some stage of formation or finally professed.
You can help us to assist these wonderful young men and women in three ways:
- Pray for us. First, last, and always, pray. Pray that God’s will be done in our work.
- Please consider making a financial contribution. Any amount, large or small will be a great help and blessing to all those who need the MEFV’s assistance to follow God’s call.
- If you know anyone who might be interested in this effort, tell them about us.
“I am deeply grateful to the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations for their support and encouragement of vocations. I am aware of many students who, upon graduation, wish to enter religious communities or seminaries but are not eligible because of college loan debt. In some cases, these students never pursue their vocations. The Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations will greatly aid these students and strengthen our Church.”
“The need for vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life is well known. There is a deep sadness when God is calling young men and women but they are not responding. As there is a sadness when those who do want to respond are hindered by debt or the lack of financial support. This is a sadness that theMater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations aims to remedy, and I urge Catholics to support that goal as their means permit.”
“It is a tragic irony that when the heavens are being stormed for vocations and God generously answers, that the response can be hindered by something as minor in comparison as a student loan. Yet, sadly more and more vocations are being put on hold for this very reason. That's why vocation directors exclaim: ‘ Thank God for the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations! ’ The Fund has taken the lead in spotlighting this problem nationally and in engaging the search for creative solutions.”
“The Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations may well be the answer to the prayers of so many in our country for an increase in vocations. The Lord often asks for our cooperation in manifesting His grace; the more we do, the more He seems to pour out His blessings. A generous response of the faithful to the very real problem of debt among those called to the priesthood and religious life will allow men and women to respond to God in a way otherwise impossible, enable their benefactors to share in the graces those vocations so abundantly produce, and will no doubt facilitate the generous response of future vocations. The Holy Spirit is not wanting – many are being called to give Jesus their all. May the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations open the floodgates for the vocational fruits of the ‘new evangelization’!”
“The Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations is truly a gift of far-reaching proportion. So many young people in our time discover in their college years the riches of the faith and a desire to serve God. Many do not have parental support and face large debts as they consider a life of total poverty. The high cost of tuition can delay entrance beyond what is a healthy wait. Indeed, living in the world can be a challenge to those who find they are being called to live single-heartedly. The Fund is a reasonable way to take the burden of college debt out of the picture so that God's will can be followed. While so many people in the Church talk about the tremendous need for priestly and religious vocations, the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations is doing something constructive to support, in a most practical way, those who feel sincerely called.”
“As the President of a small Catholic college in New Hampshire that has realized nearly 40 vocations to the priesthood and religious life from among the alumni over a 30 year history, I am pleased that the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations is providing awareness and assistance to college students with debts so that they may not be prevented from pursuing God's call. I pledge whatever assistance I or Magdalen College can provide for success in their efforts. May God bless theMater Ecclesiae Fund abundantly.”
“College debt has grown out of control, like a financial cancer, plaguing thousands of Catholic young people. It hinders both those preparing for their married vocation in the domestic church, as well as those seeking to serve the Church in religious or priestly vocations.
“There is no question about the need for religious vocations and thankfully there are zealous and committed young people ready to meet that need except for one obstacle: college debt. A religious vocation affords no opportunity to pay off college debt. The Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations is meeting a vital need by removing the college debt obstacle for those seeking to enter religious life. It is always amazing to see how God raises up fresh new efforts to meet important contemporary needs. May God bless the Fund's efforts to promote vocations and thus build up the Church in our generation.”
“The Church desperately needs the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations. Too many young people are burdened with student loans that impede them from embracing the grace of God's call. As co-workers in the Lord's vineyard, everyone must do their part to support priestly and religious vocations. The Fund is the key to unlocking the shackles of debt so that young men and women can be free to respond to serve Christ's Church.”
“I am convinced that the Lord is raising up many future priests and religious, and He is paving their way with the help of the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations. No unresolved debt should stand in the way of the Lord's calling, especially at a time when the harvest is so plentiful. May the Lord of the harvest make use of this Fund to send His Church many devoted workers!”
“I was delighted to hear about the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations because this is a very real need. Students now unfortunately finish college with large debts and if they wish to enter religious life often need to work for years before they can come. The growing religious orders at the present time are not generally in a position to assume debts because these orders are growing themselves. If you want to help with the reform of the Church, this is a very effective way of doing it.”
“I have found that many young men and women today have been deterred from pursuing a possible religious vocation by daunting educational debt. The Mater Ecclesiae Fund has prayerfully researched this issue and now offers assistance that prudently and effectively meets the needs of discerning applicants. What a wonderful service to the Church!”
“We are blessed to live in a time of unprecedented financial wealth and at the same time challenged by unparalleled spiritual poverty. The Mater Ecclesiae Fund is a powerful tool which allows young people to give their lives to Jesus Christ at the heart of the Church and overcome spiritual poverty with a wealth of divine love and Christian service, which will transform our Church and our world. Your financial investment in this fund will truly pay everlasting dividends.”
"I pray that your organization and the funds you provide will continue to be a great source of blessing in support of many future priests and consecrated religious. I want to express my deep personal gratitude to you and ask the Lord to strengthen you both, spiritually and financially, in your service to Him and His holy people.”
“When our Lord commanded us to beg Him to send laborers into the harvest, He knew that the fruit of those prayers would have a variety of manifestations according to the needs of the times. Indeed, not only does He choose and call individuals to follow Him in religious life and priestly ministry, but He also provides the grace and means to ‘fulfill the good work He has begun’ in their lives. The Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations is a prime example of our Lord's providential care. Many who feel prompted to discern actively their vocation by entering seminary or religious formation are sadly prevented from doing so until most, if not all, of their prior education debts are retired. Through your faith-filled and generous efforts, those with outstanding student debt may now give a more immediate response to the invitation ‘come follow Me.’ Rather than delaying their response, those who benefit from the fund are now free to pursue the exploration of God's call, without the significant burden of financial obstacles.
I pray that your organization and the funds you provide will continue to be a great source of blessing in support of many future priests and consecrated religious. I want to express my deep personal gratitude to you and ask the Lord to strengthen you both, spiritually and financially, in your service to Him and His holy people.”