When debt cripples a vocation*
By Christina Capecchi
*Reprinted from Tobias
Aspirants with debt can’t enter Religious life. That’s when Cy Laurent and the Labouré Society step in to help.
Growing up, Cy Laurent had a healthy appreciation for religious life. The Minnesota native was trained to be an altar boy by an admirable parish priest. His mom baked pies for nuns and priests and invited them over for dinner. And he recognized the way a vibrant pastor could make a parish thrive.
So as an adult, Laurent was appalled to learn that Catholics can- not enter Religious life or formation if they have debt — and that this has become a roadblock for many faith-filled aspirants.
Laurent decided to do something about it. In 2003 the business consultant launched the Labouré Society, an organization dedicated to the resolution of student loans that keep Catholics from priesthood or Religious life. What began as a one-man operation in his spare bedroom has now assisted more than 200 people into priestly and Religious formation. It’s the only national organization of its kind, eliminating debt while actively promoting vocations.
Last year Laurent, now 72 and a grandfather of eight, began renting an office and hired a full-time administrator. He recently shared the story behind his rapidly-growing organization.
I don’t think some Catholics realize you cannot enter Religious life if you have debt.
They’re totally unaware of it. It just hasn’t dawned on everyone that people could be racking up, in our experience, an average of $40,000 of (college) debt — and that’s undergraduate. That is a surprise to most people I speak with. And it’s a relatively recent problem, dating back a dozen years or so.
By and large, people who have discretionary money are my age and a lot of them never had debt, so it’s a real turnoff. They say, “That guy must be a bum.” So I’m educating them.
And what do you tell them?
It’s canon law. Canon law speaks against debt (among aspirants) for a very good reason: They don’t want people in formation with that distraction. Discernment and formation are extremely important.
At the heart of this, it seems, is a belief that lay people can support the Religious in prayerful and practical ways, beginning even before their formation.
It is. We really walk with these individuals — maybe as a favorite uncle. We pray with them and for each other. We have long conversations about questions and issues. I only get to meet a few because they’re scattered across the country, but over the phone and by e-mail we’re supportive in very important ways.
And that support must be vital. Do you hear stories of family members and friends who oppose their pull toward Religious life?
Oh, yes. You know how in grade school children would gang up on somebody who was unusual?
That’s happening in college. “What? Who do you think you are? You’re no better than I am.” And then there are parents who want grandchildren. It’s not a huge problem, but it does manifest itself.
Are you surprised there aren’t other groups like Labouré?
You would think there could be or will be. We certainly would be very happy to see other organizations because our only interest is in getting these vocations delivered to the Church. We’re losing these precious vocations every single day because there’s not enough activity to meet this need.
It’s an eternal return on investment, you like to say.
It is. The society now numbers tens of thousands of people — every donor, every volunteer, every family member, everyone associated with these vocations promises to pray for each other. And those who have already gone to their eternal reward are praying for us. These (Religious) communities pray for their benefactors every single day. So it is an eternal return on investment opportunity, no doubt.
How do you make the case for a Labouré donation?
It’s never been more important that we have Religious men and women. Our society is just crying out loud for these men and women, and I’m hopeful — I probably won’t see it in my lifetime — but I’m hopeful that we’ll see Catholic schools staffed with Religious men and women again.
So you are optimistic about a surge in vocations?
Vocations to Religious life are just sprouting up everywhere! Truth is so attractive. Look at the whole world’s response to John Paul and Mother Teresa. They went, “Wow, wait a minute! What is this?”
In the past we worked with an average of 30 aspirants a year, but we’re on track right now to do 200 a year. It’s growing exponentially.
How do you share their stories?
For each aspirant we create a marketing plan including a beautiful three- or four-page brochure. It goes to our database of nearly 20,000 people. We work very hard to make sure these vocation stories are filled with the Spirit. It’s not just Jane or John’s vocation story; it’s God’s vocation story that they’re living out.
How else are you marketing Labouré?
We’re on Facebook. We’re concentrating right now on our website. I’m also able to travel and make presentations. Of those who have discretionary funds, women are by far the largest donors, so we’re going to be gearing our marketing to 60- and 70-year-old women.
Do people typically give to one aspirant or to Labouré at large?
Most say, “I’d like this gift to be in honor of ” and dedicate it to someone. But fortunately we’re getting more general donations. The aver- age donation in 2010 was $367.
Does this work completely enthrall you?
It fills me with joy. I’ve learned to live on joy. I have no trouble motivating myself. I get up, on average, at 4:30 in the morning, I go until late, and I can do it.
Why is it called the Labouré Society?
The Labouré Society is named after and dedicated to St. Catherine Labouré, a 19th- century French nun with the Daughters of Charity. In 1830 the Virgin Mary appeared three times to the 24-year-old novice. St. Catherine relayed the Virgin Mary’s request to create a miraculous medal, which is now worn by millions.
You can help!
To learn more about the Labouré Society and to help its ministry, visit labouresociety.org or call 651-452-1160.