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 CNS Story:

VOCATIONS-FOUNDATION Aug-27-2010 (750 words) xxxn

Virginia couple works to bring people's vocations dreams to fruition

By Adeshina Emmanuel
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- People who choose to enter the religious life often say God called them to their vocation. But student debt sometimes stops them from answering the call.

Religious orders are reluctant to accept candidates who have substantial debt. That means many people are faced with the possibility that their dreams might be put on hold.

Corey Huber and his wife, Katherine, operate the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations, a public charity based in northern Virginia that helps aspiring religious faced with deferring their dreams in the face of debt.

Originally established as a private foundation after Corey Huber retired from America Online, where he had worked as a programmer, the fund issued more than 30 grants between 2004 and 2006. In August 2006, the Hubers morphed the fund into a public charity to increase its granting capacity.

Currently, the fund has 62 active grants at an annual cost of about $120,500. But the Hubers said more donations are needed to make more vocation dreams come true.

"People really need to back off from all the 'gee, what a stupid thing to do' and 'maybe you shouldn't have done that,'" Huber said about some people's views about grant applicants who have accumulated huge debt. "We shouldn't view it as something to complain about; we should view it as, 'This is a way we can help God get this person into religious life.'"

In 2008, one grant recipient, Brother Robert Brajkovich, made his first vows with the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius in Chicago. But before making those vows, he had to address $60,000 in student debt accumulated from undergraduate and graduate study at St. Mary's University of Minnesota.

The prospects of delaying his dream for several years was daunting, especially in a "culture that is so torn by materialism and unwavering doubt," Brother Brajkovich said. "It seems like it couldn't help but to tear an individual, perhaps from pursuing, persevering and entering religious life."

Sister Brigid Ancilla was swimming in $35,000 of student debt in 2006 when she decided to join the Sisters of Life in New York. She was told she couldn't enter a life of poverty while saddled with debt. Reducing the debt might have taken years, and like Brother Brajkovich, she feared the delay could be costly.

"I don't know where I would have gone, but I suspect it's possible I wouldn't have entered anywhere. It would have taken me years to (pay off my debt)," she said. "We live in a world that hardly recognizes the religious sphere so it's very easy to be worn down."

"We live in a world of great distraction," said Dominican Father Andrew-Carl Wisdom, director of the Society of Vocational Support for his order's Chicago-based Province of St. Albert the Great.

He said he has to turn away 40 percent to 50 percent of applicants who express interest in the order because of debt. He describes giving the bad news as "a sobering moment."

"What you don't want to happen is for that to grind them down so that they lose the zeal to take (a vocation) on," said Father Wisdom, who estimated that as many as 20 percent of applicants who are turned away because of debt give up on religious life completely.

Huber said that when he tells someone about this problem, "they go -- 'oh, yeah. That'd be a real problem.'"

"But they wouldn't have ever thought of that on their own," he said. "That's the case with almost everybody we've encountered; you have to bring the problem to their attention."

To be eligible for a grant, applicants must be discerning or have already discerned that God has called them to a consecrated life of service to him and to the church. The institute they want to serve must also have a policy preventing individuals with student debt from completing their formation. Secular and lay institutes are not covered by the grant program.

The Hubers said they are working hard to raise the funds to sustain their efforts and help more people.

"The best-case scenario is that we can help everyone who comes to us," said Katherine Huber. "That would be the very best thing that could possibly happen -- not to have to say no anymore."

"Our current immediate goal is to get more donors," Corey Huber said. "With more donors, we can give more grants."

- - -

Editor's Note: More detailed grant eligibility criteria, donor information and other information about the fund is available at http://fundforvocations.org.


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