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Discernment retreats are among the most common vocations-related programs seen today. These retreats can be offered by dioceses or by religious orders—or, at times, a combination of both.
Such events often involve retreatants traveling to a retreat center for a weekend-long program of discernment-related activities. These activities are hosted by diocesan officials, priests, and/or religious community representatives. Such retreats are often held for groups, though they are also offered on a single-individual basis.
In the Internet / social media age, vocations-focused 'online retreats' are now being offered, too. One such retreat comprises a series of vocations-related meditations that are emailed to participants once a day over eight days.
“A discernment retreat is a prayerful visit with a religious community, perhaps for a weekend or even a week. Such a retreat is a good way to test your vocation. You can get to know the community, its charism, and find whether God may be calling you to its way of life.”
-Institute on Religious Life
“Retreats are important moments to listen to God and hear the talks of priests, seminarians or religious. Retreats foster genuine discernment. In the midst of your busy lives, a retreat opportunity affords you time of silence and clarity that cannot be found in the world. Please take advantage of a retreat experience to ask God what He wants for your life – a retreat gives you such an opportunity.”
Discernment retreats have long been one of the primary ways in which people are invited to prayerfully consider vocations to the priesthood, deaconate, and religious life. These retreats can be offered by dioceses or by religious orders.
In perhaps the most familiar of these types of retreats, the retreatants will travel to a retreat center or similar institution for a weekend of discernment-related activities hosted by diocesan officials, priests, and/or religious community representatives. The activities will often include prayer, Mass, reconciliation services, presentations, and group-sharing talks. Retreatants are then encouraged to stay in touch with the host organization to keep them apprised of their vocational discernment journey and to ask any follow-up questions. Such retreats are often held for groups, though they are also offered on a single-individual basis. (Additionally, with some religious orders, individual retreatants or small groups of retreatants are invited to spend an extended period, such as a week, staying with a religious community in a guest house or room; this allows them more time to get a sense of the community's day-to-day living arrangements, prayer, work, and charism.)
Such retreats are common across America—but they are, in the Internet / social media age, being complemented by 'online retreats.' For example, the Institute on Religious Life has begun Vocation Online Retreats. These comprise a series of vocations-related meditations that are emailed to participants once a day over an eight-day period.
In the case of parish groups desiring to plan such retreats, the USCCB's planning guide for its Single Adult Discernment Program (see below) is a recommended resource.
Link to PDF of the planning guide for the USCCB's Single Adult Discernment Program—includes planning and activity schedule and sample agenda:
Link to PDF of a guide to a special retreat for discernment of vocations the priesthood (can be adapted to discernment of vocations to consecrated life, according to its author). Comprehensive, step-by-step guide to this retreat:
Link to PDF of the Good Shepherd Retreat Booklet from the USCCB website; please note the very last page of this PDF document, which features 'Self Evaluation for the Potential Candidates Seeking the Priesthood' and suggested readings for men considering the priesthood:
PDF of Vocation Promotion Toolkit—from the Society of Jesus. This is a well-thought-out planning guide for an integrated vocation promotion program for the religious order; the program is broken down into four 'pillars' (structural ideas, spiritual programs, service events, and social activities) and various levels of focus (middle school, high school, college/university, etc.)—so the reader knows which activities and strategies to use at which times and with which age group of potential candidates. This guide could be used as a model for the creation of a similar guide to be used at the parish or even diocesan level:
Page on the USCCB website which features a basic format for a 'busy person's retreat':
Discernment retreat page from website of Central and Southern Province of Society of Jesus:
Discernment retreat page from Congregation of Holy Cross:
Archdiocese of San Antonio website page with information on men's discernment retreats:
Diocese of Lansing (MI) website page regarding women's discernment retreat:
Priesthood discernment retreat page on website of Archdiocese of St. Louis (MO):
Prayer and discernment resources page on USCCB website:
SPARK: Built by Serrans for Vocation Directors.
A service of Serra International, United States Council, in collaboration with the NCDVD.