Could God be calling you to be a priest? If so, Father Eric Cadin is the person you want to see. He’s the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston’s front man when it comes to recruiting candidates for the pulpit. As the number of priests nationwide declines and the ranks of current clergy age, a fresh generation of seminarians is needed to revitalize parishes across Boston. Cadin, 36, is the antithesis of the old stereotypes of the priesthood. Instead of stodgy, sheltered, and dogmatic, he’s young and athletic and open — a surfer who still catches a wave and isn’t afraid to answer questions about celibacy and loneliness. He uses Facebook to dispel misconceptions surrounding what it’s like to be a priest and has been known to wear his collar while playing basketball. His recruiting mantra is: “God calls all kinds of men to the priesthood. And it could be you.” A Harvard University graduate, he served as a vicar at a North Andover congregation before moving to the vocational office for the Archdiocese of Boston. While some archdioceses have used recruitment tactics like filming movie trailers, ad campaigns, and asking parishioners to fill out pew cards with names of suitable young men, the Boston archdiocese has taken a subtler approach. Cadin and two other recruiters organize retreats, attend job fairs, and form relationships with parochial schools. And Cadin says that Pope Francis has been a game changer for priest recruitment, especially following the sex abuse scandal. “It’s helpful for people to see and understand the humanity of the priesthood,” says Cadin, who notes that applications now include background checks, references, and lengthy essays. The Globe spoke with Cadin about doing the Lord’s work.
“As a priest, I get all sorts of questions: Can you have friends? Is it OK for you to play sports? And even, can you go outside the church? Underlying all these questions is: Are you actually human? That’s why I like to wear my collar most of the time — not because it’s magic, but it bears simple witness that a man of prayer can still enjoy life.
“Truth be told, it allows for a lot of opportunities for people to approach me. Some are confused, ‘You’re so young. How can you be a priest?’ The short response is that in college, I came to realize the transformation that comes with knowing that I’m loved unconditionally. Priesthood is not a job, it’s a vocation. I’ve been a priest for five years, and two years ago I got a call saying, ‘The Cardinal is interested in having you work in the vocation office.’ I said, ‘Of course, yes, anything you’d like me to do.’
“Mainly, I try to build friendships with youth groups and college campuses where young men might have an interest in the priesthood in an embryonic, undeveloped form. There is a study that shows that men ordained to the priesthood report that they were, on average, about 17 when they first considered it. In late high school is when you start wondering, ‘What am I going to do with my life? Who am I going to be?’ That’s when I try to place myself on the scene, to help them make a discernment about whether God is calling them or not.
“Sometimes it takes a while. I met one young man whose parents were both engineers. He said to me, ‘I love physics, I think I want to go to college for the sciences.’ I encouraged that, and continued to dialogue with him, and recently he met with me and said, ‘I feel strongly that God is calling me to the priesthood.’
“It’s actually quite a long path, with seminary typically being six years long. The priestly training is based on different pillars, and they include an academic and spiritual pillar, as well as the pillar of human formation, which means being a man of integrity and maturity. I grew up Catholic and did some soul searching as I grew older. The sudden loss of my mother confirmed my call to priesthood. But it’s an ever-changing adventure for me.
“So what is it like to be a priest? A priest is unmarried in order to be an instrument to God. It certainly means a life without physical intimacy, but not a dull life or one that is absent love. It certainly is not a boring life, especially when I am wearing my priest’s collar. I get my hair cut at a barbershop in the North End. Every time I walk in, one barber yells to another, ‘Hey, watch your language, the priest is here.’ Or, two men might joke with me, ‘Father, pray for him, he’s a mess.’ I always laugh [and say], ‘Sure, I’ll say a prayer.’ ”
Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.