Local Religious life

College debt prevents some from pursuing vocation



by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Parents and students have heard this pitch for decades: A higher education is the best investment you can make in your future.

Maybe that’s true. But here’s one thing that is definitely true: The debt arising from gaining a higher education can cripple your future.

According to an Aug. 7, 2013, article in Forbes magazine, federal student loan debt totals $16.7 trillion. Because of this debt, young adults are delaying important milestones in life: getting married, having children and buying a house.

And here’s another one you probably haven’t thought about: Student loan debt has become a barrier to young adults joining a religious order or going into the seminary.

That’s right — student loan debt is a vocations killer.

In February 2012, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington released a report on educational debt and vocations to religious life.

Included among the findings of the CARA report:

  • One third of serious inquirers had educational debt at the time of their inquiry. This came out to 4,328 serious inquirers with an average debt of $28,000.
  • Seven in 10 religious institutes surveyed — 69 percent — turned away at least some inquirers because of their educational debt.

For Briana Murphy, these aren’t just statistics. They’re her life.

Murphy, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, graduated from Benedictine College in Atchison in December 2014 with a bachelor of arts degree in theology.

Murphy began to sense a call to religious life late during her high school years. Later, while attending Benedictine, she learned about an Argentine- based religious order called the Servidoras — the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara.

“I was accepted in the last semester of my senior year [of college],” said Murphy. “The only thing I need to do before I enter is to account for my student loans.”

That is, pay off $88,000 of college debt (plus interest) or formulate a plan of action for paying off the loan.

Fortunately, she’s found some help from the Labouré Society.

The society, founded in 2003 by a Michigan businessman Cy Laurent, is a merit-based grant program. It has helped more than 257 men and women enter the priesthood or religious life.

Aspirants to the priesthood or religious life are formed into small groups, called “classes.” Members of the class are trained in fundraising and sharing their vocation stories. The funds do not go to the aspirants personally, but to a class fund, with about 10 percent used to train upcoming classes.

“We fundraise as a class together for six months,” said Murphy. “Each of us has a goal of raising $45,000.”

If she can’t meet her goal by the end of June, she will join the next class. If she can make her goal, she will be free to enter the Servidoras.

“The Labouré Society has done a beautiful job in the way they set up the program,” said Murphy. “A lot of people are hesitant to give to an organization rather than me, individually. A lot of people just want to write me a check.

“But the biggest reason I love the program is that it protects both the donor and the aspirant. By going through the Labouré Society, the money is never in my name.”

This gives her the opportunity to discern her vocation free of feelings of obligation or pressure from her loans. The donors are protected, too, because 100 percent of the funds are used for vocations. If an aspirant leaves, the money stays to help other aspirants.

For information about the Labouré Society, call Murphy at (913) 486-1297; send her an email at: briana@laboure aspirant.org; or go to the website at: labouresociety.org. For information about the individual aspirants, click on the “Aspirants” tab on the home page, then scroll down and click on “Meet the Aspirants.”

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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