- What is the purpose of the Fund for Vocations?
The Fund for Vocations is a 501(c)3 whose charitable purpose is to support priestly and religious vocations by eliminating one particular kind of financial obstacle: student debt. That is, loans that have been used to pay for a college education. The Fund for Vocations issues grants that cover student debts, allowing men and women, who otherwise could not, to enter Catholic religious life or begin formation for the Catholic priesthood.
- Where does the Fund for Vocations find the funds to make grants?
The Fund for Vocations raises funds each year to meet its commitments for grants issued. We do not currently have an endowment fund, and we do not have committed funds before issuing grants.We rely on the Catholic faithful to fund vocation-enabling grants.
Foundations also support the Fund as we seek to accept more applicants and increase our individual donor base.
We do not make requests of our applicants or grant recipients to actively help us raise funds.
- Do you make partial grants to defray part of a person’s debt, so they can remain in the secular world and continue to work and fundraise for the remainder?
No. We only make grants in cases where our funding is the difference between entering and not entering. We do not issue partial grants with the idea that the recipient will remain in the secular world to continue fundraising. Rather, the Fund for Vocations provides grants for “last mile” debt relief.
- How are grant decisions made?
In January, the Fund for Vocations board of directors meets to review the previous year’s financial performance. They then decide how much new annual cost should be authorized for the issuance of new grants. To understand this, it is helpful to know that when considering the issuance of a grant, the Fund for Vocations considers the annual cost of the grant, as well as the total loan balance. More detail is provided in our For Grant Applicants section.
In February, applications are reviewed and grant decisions are made.
- How are we sure that the orders we help are faithful?
Our full policy on religious institutes may be found here.
- How are a grant recipient’s loans paid?
The Fund for Vocations makes no lump sum payments. We begin making the minimum monthly payments required by grant recipients’ lenders when they begin formation. We continue making monthly payments until the grant recipients make final vows and then we begin accelerating payments (as needed) so that the recipients’ debt will be fully paid no later than the 5th anniversary of final vows. If at any time the grant recipient leaves formation, we immediately stop loan payments. More detail is available at our Grant Information page.
- Can I restrict my gift for the benefit of someone in particular?
If you desire that your gift be tax-deductible, you cannot restrict your gift for the benefit of an individual. This policy is required by IRS rules concerning tax-deductible gifts. We are happy to receive gifts restricted to individuals if you indicate that you do not intend to take a tax deduction for the gift.
- Can I restrict my gift for the benefit of a particular order?
Yes! You may restrict your gift for the benefit of any order approved for participation in the Fund for Vocations’ grant programs. Just let us know when you make the gift which order you wish it to benefit. We will then use those funds only to pay grants made to individuals who enter that order.
- Can I restrict my gift for the benefit of a particular diocese?
We do not provide grants to men in formation for the diocesan priesthood. While many of our grants are helping men who will be serving as priests in parishes, their superiors have the authority to assign them wherever the order has parishes. We cannot predict where that will be.
- I have other, non-student debts. Can you help me with them?
No. Our grant programs are only for student loan debt.
- I borrowed from my parents (brother, sister, uncle, etc.) to go to school. Can I apply for a grant to pay them back?
In almost all cases: No. We need documentary proof that ties the debt to payments made for education. Family lending situations do not generally result in the kind of documentation we would require.
- My parents borrowed to pay for my school costs. Can a Fund for Vocations grant pay my parent’s debt?
No. A Fund for Vocations grant pays only the student loan debts incurred by the grant recipient.
- I’m in a seminary and having a hard time paying tuition, books and room and board. Can you help me?
No. The Fund for Vocations only helps men who are prevented from beginning their formation for the priesthood because of their pre-existing student loans. If you are experiencing difficulty with seminary costs and are in the United States, consider contacting your local Knights of Columbus council or a local chapter of the Serra Club.
- The order I’m entering requires that I pay for my health insurance and other costs in the first few years. Can I apply to the Fund for Vocations for help in paying those costs?
No. The Fund for Vocations only helps remove the obstacle to religious life presented by pre-existing student loans. If you are experiencing difficulty with dowry expenses and are in the United States, consider contacting your local Knights of Columbus council or a local chapter of the Serra Club.
- Do you already have lots of contacts? Fifty to a hundred, or more? Letter writing campaigns depend on volume because, in the normal course of events, response rate and/or gift size will be low.
- Do you live in a well-to-do parish or does your parish church have difficulties in making ends meet? A parish event can be more personable, which is good, but there still needs to be the capacity to give.
- If your parish will be hard-pressed to help, will a wider reach to the diocese be productive? Are you naturally outgoing? Introverts can raise money successfully, but they must really work at being more outgoing.
- Do you need to spend money before you can begin fundraising? There must be a very good chance that the fundraising activity will produce more in donations than it costs to operate. Don’t forget to include any required travel expenses in your calculations.
- Will the most likely level of proceeds from fundraising make more of an impact than, say, getting another job and lowering your expenses? Everyone has heard of people who have held clever and innovative campaigns and gotten lots of donations. Be honest with yourself about whether you can do the same, even as you must be honest with yourself after entry as you proceed in spiritual formation. In the vast majority of cases we see, results of personal fundraising are a small fraction of the need. Most often your may time be better spent working more hours and cutting more expenses.
- Should I fundraise to enter religious life?
Some fundraising campaigns for this purpose are very successful, many are not. You should honestly evaluate yourself and your situation, and answer these questions:
Because the results of personally fundraising are very uncertain (but most often small), we think you should prioritize your efforts as follows:
- Earn as much as you can (even if that means not working in a ministry for the Church), applying as much of your earnings as possible to your loans.
- Cut your expenses to the bone.
- Fundraise, but only if it does not add to your expenses or distract you from maximizing the income from your “real” job.
- I have been, or intend to, fundraise myself. Can I direct my donors to send their gifts to the Fund for Vocations, restricted to my benefit, so that they can receive a tax deduction for their gift?
No. IRS rules state that a gift directed to the benefit of an individual is not tax deductible. They further state that passing the donation through a tax-exempt organization will not make a non-deductible gift deductible. You can read this portion of IRS publication 526 for details. Note: a donor may restrict their donation to an order and still receive a tax deduction. This should not be construed as tax advice, consult a professional if you need tax advice.
- Can I apply for a Fund for Vocations grant if I am working with the Labouré Society?
You may apply a for Fund for Vocations grant while working on a Labouré Society crew, but your application will not be presented to the Fund for Vocations review board until the work of the crew has come to an end and you have an award letter from the Labouré Society. If you are working with the Labouré Society, or are thinking of doing so, you should contact us to find out how it may affect your particular situation.
- Can I apply for a grant if I’ve already entered my order?
Yes. However, if you are denied, it is very unlikely that you will be allowed to re-apply. Read the answer to the “Why can’t I re-apply if I enter my order?” question to learn why.
- Can I apply for a grant if I’m still in school?
No. We can only issue grants to people who have stopped incurring student debt and are ready to enter. If you know you are going into religious life, please consider leaving school now. See the next Q & A.
- I know I have a vocation to religious life, but I have one or more semesters until I graduate from college. I will have to borrow for tuition and/or other costs to continue my education. What should I do?
We think you should stop your schooling at the end of your current term and discern as soon as possible to find, and be accepted by, the religious community that is right for you. Here are a few things to consider with the assistance of your spiritual director:
- Consider the prudence of increasing your debt burden when you know or suspect that you have a vocation. It will be that much more difficult to pursue your vocation, resulting in a greater delay or a higher dependence on the charity of others, including on the Fund for Vocations.
- If you expect to apply to the Fund for Vocations for a grant, consider the justice of increasing your debt when you do not intend to pay that debt yourself.
- Do not worry, nor let others influence you, with the false concern of having something to “fall back on” if you should later discern you do not have a vocation to religious life. You can easily restart your education should you leave religious life as the credits you have now will be valid for at least another ten years. And should you need to do so, you will have matured and be a better student because of your experience.
- Finally, should your spiritual director advise that you continue your education, ask him or her to help you develop a plan for the timely payment of your resulting debt so that your vocation is not delayed.
- Why must I agree to release some personal information to be able to apply for a grant?
There are two reasons:
- The IRS requires non-profits to report the identity of individuals receiving grant money and the amount of funds received to their benefit, if that amount is over a certain annual limit. Thus, if you receive a grant, we may be required to report your identity in our annual public IRS filing.
- We raise the money we use to pay grants by reaching out to the Catholic faithful and asking for donations. To be effective, this fundraising work must quantify the actual need. The minimum release of information we require helps to do so. However, to be truly effective, we need to tell your whole story. So we ask that you also sign the more complete release.
- My order will not issue a letter of acceptance until my debts are paid. What should I do?
Ask the superior to write the letter stating that your acceptance is contingent on your debt being cleared or covered by third party. Acceptance letters with contingencies for debt qualify as the acceptance letter needed with your application.
- Why should I not request a signature to confirm you have received my application?
The Fund for Vocations is a radically lean operation. It is not uncommon that no one is available to sign at the moment an application arrives. The Post Office will send the application back if repeated attempts to get a signature were unsuccessful.
- Then how can I be sure that you have received my application?
We acknowledge all incoming applications by email or US Mail, if you do not use email. If you are concerned about being sure we receive your application, send us an email to let us know it is coming.
- My entrance date is coming up for this spring (or summer or fall). If I have to wait to apply in the winter, I will have to wait a whole year for another chance to enter. Can you make an exception for me?
No. We have developed our procedures and schedules with the aim of keeping our grant-making fair for all applicants and workable for our volunteer application review board members. Our resources are limited to the funds that we can raise, and we have to proceed in an orderly way.We are aware that spring is a common time to come to a fuller understanding of one’s vocation and that yearly entrance dates are usually in the late summer and fall. We did not choose our application schedule without reflection. We invite you to consider that any time spent waiting to apply will give you a chance to restructure and/or work off some of your debt so as to lower your required monthly payments—and thereby increase your chances of eventual success with the Fund for Vocations.
- I have applied for a grant, but I will enter my order before the Fund for Vocations’ yearly award announcements. What should I do about my student loans?
You need to have a plan for keeping your student loans current, that is, for making the minimum monthly payments while you are in religious life. You must inform us what that plan is in response to the application question: If you enter religious life BEFORE the grant date of March 15 next year, how do you intend to pay your loans after your entry? By signing the application, you certify that you understand you will not be able to reapply for a grant if you stop making payments on your student loans.
- I have received a grant, but I will not enter my order for some months. What should I do about my student loans?
Fund for Vocations grant payments do not begin until you enter, so you must keep making payments on your student loans. Make at least the minimum monthly payment. If you were successful at making pre-payments, keep doing whatever made that possible (such as working) for as long as you can so that you can continue to overpay. This is a good way to thank the Fund for Vocations while you wait for entry.
- If I’m denied a grant can I reapply next year?
Yes. If you are denied a grant and you continue to make good faith efforts to pay your student loans, you can reapply. In the year between applications, you should work to pay down your debt as aggressively as you can. Doing so will improve your chance of receiving a grant next time. If you are able, you should pay more than the minimum monthly payments on your loans. See this answer to learn how best to structure extra payments. If you cannot afford to make the minimum payments, you need to find a way to change your situation so that you can.
- If I enter my order, can I reapply?
The primary reason is because after entry to most religious institutes and seminary formation programs you will no longer be able to earn money to pay down your debt. We permit reapplication because we expect that in the intervening time you will have been working to pay down your debt. With a lower debt balance, you improve your chances of receiving a grant. With no improvement in your debt balance, there is no reason for the review board to reevaluate your request for a grant. If your formation program allows you to work or if some other source of making your debt payments is available, then you may be able to reapply after entrance. The key thing is to continue to make at least the minimum payments on your debt while you wait to reapply. Secondarily, from our perspective, by allowing you to enter while you still have debt, your order is implicitly accepting responsibility for the eventual payment of your debt. Currently, the Fund’s resources are very limited: we turn down over half of our applicants. If your order is willing to take responsibility for your debt, we will direct our limited resources to other applicants who have no such support.
- If I receive a grant but later discern the order is not right for me, can you hold my grant until I find a new order?
No. Grants are issued for the unique combination of a person, a religious institute, and a particular entry to that institute. If you determine that your vocation is not with the institute for which the grant was issued and you therefore leave formation, the grant terminates. We cannot hold the grant open while you discern for another religious institute. You must reapply, according to the regular application schedule, if you later wish to receive assistance to enter a different institute. Having previously received a grant is neither detrimental nor beneficial to your chances of receiving a subsequent grant. You must reapply even if you discern that you should return to your original institute.
- I do not live in the United States. Can I apply for a grant?
There are several geographic related requirements to be eligible to apply for a grant from the Fund for Vocations:
- You must be a citizen of either the United States or Canada or your future religious institute must have some of its formation or apostolate in the United States and/or Canada.
- The formators and/or superiors with whom we interact to administer a grant must be able to speak, read, and write English well enough to understand and be understood.
- Your debts must be payable in US dollars.
- If I can make more than the required monthly payments, what is the best way to apply the extra payments to improve my chances of getting a grant?
To improve your chances of getting a Fund for Vocations grant, your goal in pre-paying your loans should be to lower the monthly cost of keeping your loans current, that is, the sum of all the monthly payments for your loans. The cost of keeping your loans current is the cost to the Fund for Vocations of issuing you a grant. A lower cost to issue the grant means a higher chance of getting a grant. Lowering the monthly cost of your loans can be done in one of two ways:
- Completely pay off one or more loans. Doing so will eliminate the monthly payment for that loan, so that when you apply to the Fund for Vocations, the monthly cost of keeping your debt current will be reduced. Begin by making the minimum payments on all your loans and then put whatever additional payment you can possibly afford towards the loan with the lowest balance. (If multiple loans are included in one payment, you will probably have to instruct your lender how you want the additional payment applied.) When you get the lowest one paid off, you will have that much more each month to apply to the next lowest, and so on.
- As you proceed with step 1, direct the lender to use extra payments to push the due date into the future. This is important to do, because if you don’t specify, a lender can choose either of the following when you make extra payments:
- Advance the due date of the next payment into the future. As you make additional payments, you will be paying the current month, as well as some or all of future months. The lender will then see that those future months are paid, and your next monthly statement will show that a lower amount (even zero!) is due for that month. Ignore the lower amount shown on the statement and keep making payments, and this will put the due date further and further into the future. When we issue a grant for loans in this condition, we can effectively re-amortize the loan to derive a smaller monthly payment, which we will make even though no payment is currently due. This is the choice to make if you would like to increase your chances of receiving a grant from the Fund for Vocations. Again, you may need to contact your lender to make sure that the payments are being applied correctly.
- Shorten the term of the loan. That is, the lender will require the same monthly payment, but the loan will be fully paid sooner. For the purpose of improving your chances in getting a Fund for Vocations grant, this is a poor choice, because it would not lower the annual cost to the Fund for Vocations of issuing a grant to “carry you” while you are in formation.
- My loan is eligible for a grace period or other deferral. Should I take advantage of that?
Not if you can make payments.
Because of the interest that will accrue during the grace period and/or deferral (which means the loan amount will increase), we recommend that you start making payments as soon as you are able, in as big amounts as you can. This will serve to minimize the amount of interest that is added to your loan and will help to keep your monthly payments as low as possible.
- Can the Fund for Vocations issue me a partial grant to defray some of my debt, so I can remain in the secular world to fundraise and work to pay down a smaller balance?
No. The Fund for Vocations provides grants for “last mile” debt relief. We only make grants in cases where our funding is the difference between entering and not entering. Our objective is to get as many eligible applicants into formation as quickly as possible. Grant-making that still requires recipients to delay formation would not advance that objective.
Prospective applicants should read all the pages available under the menu “For Grant Applicants” to fully inform themselves about the requirements for application.