For many years my Father was the president of a local chapter of Serra International and very often I was invited to attend events in Oak Park, and sometimes in the larger chapter in Chicago. I attended many of the father/daughter dinners and have such a wonderful memories of those events.

There were also father/son dinners, of course. Serra events naturally focused on vocations to the priesthood but also the religious life as a nun, for example. Speakers usually highlighted the importance and the beauty of a vocation but also – and in some ways, more importantly – underscored the contribution that a good, loving, spiritually rich family can make to the creation of and support for a vocation.

During those “Serra years,” I also accompanied my parents to a number of Serra International conventions in the U.S and Canada, and I still have terrific memories of some of those gatherings and the marvelous people working to promote vocations to the priesthood. Obviously I also met a great number of seminarians and priests, in addfition to a number of bishops and cardinals.

Mom, Dad and I usually made the city of the Serra convention our final goal on a long car vacation, driving, for example, from Illinois to Toronto or Vancouver or San Francisco. We never forgot the miles we traveled for the Vancouver convention (Dad always set the odometer for a trip) – 5,280. We probably remembered because that is how many feet there are in a mile. (I cannot explain the reason I remember trivia like this).

I was so hoping to be part of this convention in Rome but at the moment it doesn’t seem possible. Will keep you posted if things change!  In any event, below you’ll find some of the Pope’s words to 600 Serrans whom he received in audience today.


This weekend promises to be, in many places around the world, a very hot weekend, weather-wise. But you can stay cool in your home or car as you listen to this week’s “Vatican Insider” when my special guest in the interview segment is John Schlageter, director of the Bethlehem University Foundation.

In the midst of the violence and conflicts and religious persecution in the Middle East, including, of course, the Holy Land, there is one oasis of peace – Bethlehem University in Bethlehem, Palestine. John and I both know and love this university so tune in as we talk about his work.

In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. Outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:00am (ET). On the SKY satellite feed to the UK and parts of Europe, VI airs on audio channel 0147 at 11:30 am CET on Saturdays, and 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE. Here’s a link to download VI to your iTunes library:   For VI archives:


Serra International,, a Catholic organization designed to help foster vocations to the priesthood, is currently celebrating its 75th annual convention in Rome, and 600 Serrans from around the world were received Friday by Pope Francis.

He urged members to “keep moving forward with courage, creativity and boldness,” and noted that a Serran, “is a special friend whom the Lord has brought into the lives of seminarians and priests.”

Speaking about friendship, the Holy Father said “friends stand at our side, they listen to us closely, and can see beyond mere words; they are merciful when faced with our faults; they are non-judgmental. “This is the kind of friendship that you seek to offer to priests.”  The Serra Club, he added,  “helps foster this beautiful vocation of being laity who are friends to priests.”

“Vocation,” Pope Francis explained, “is an invitation to go forth from ourselves, to rejoice in our relationship with the Lord, and to journey along the ways that he opens up before us. But we cannot make progress unless we take a risk, and have the courage to dare, not to let fear stifle creativity, not to be suspicious of new things, but instead to embrace the challenges which the Spirit sets before us, even when this means changing plans and charting a different course.”




It was announced this morning in Maryland that the Bethlehem University Foundation has a new Executive Director, John Schlageter. I am delighted for many reasons, the first being that he is a good friend, the second that we share a great love for Bethlehem University and the third that we are both members of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher which means our hearts, prayers and many good works by the Order, are in the Holy Land year around.

John, a lawyer, is a friend to countless people in the U.S, Rome and around the world, especially all whom he came across in his nine years of work as General Counsel of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, thus legal assistant to Archbishop Timothy Broglio, head of the Military Ordinariate, a position he lived with great passion.

John Schlageter

Sister Irene O’Neill, CSJ, chair of the Board of Directors of the Bethlehem University Foundation, made the announcement this morning of the unanimous choice, saying, “I am thrilled to announce the appointment of John L. Schlageter as Bethlehem University Foundation’s new Executive Director.  Bethlehem University is a jewel held in the heart of the Holy Land. Peace and excellence are ubiquitous there.  Our Foundation Board members reached for the stars to get the best person to help spread the message and we got him!  Don’t miss any opportunity to meet John.”

I’ve been in touch with John, of course, and asked for his reaction:

We spoke on the phone and in an email exchange. John said, “Joan, as a friend of Bethlehem University, you know what a tremendous difference BU makes in the lives of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. Bethlehem University offers one of the few remaining hopes for a future built on peace and respect.  When Brother Peter Bray, Vice Chancellor of the University, addressed Pope Francis in November of 2015, he called the University ‘an oasis of peace’.  As the new Executive Director of the Bethlehem University Foundation, I look forward to sharing the story of peace, hope, love, and Christian witness that is Bethlehem University with Catholics and people of good will across the United States.

John also reminded me that, “As members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, we know the many challenges that our Christian brothers and sisters living in the Middle East face each and every day.  Bethlehem University offers an opportunity for maintaining and supporting the Christian communities that have lived in the Holy Land since the time of Christ.  Bethlehem University is the only Catholic University in the Holy Land.  As we enter Holy Week, we must all remember that our faith started in a manger, under a star, in a little town called Bethlehem.”

Heartfelt congratulations to John and to all of us, especially Bethlehem University, as we will all benefit from his experience and leadership!

I think my readers know of my great love for the Holy Land, a place I’d visit at least once a month if that were possible. I’ve been to Bethlehem University on several occasions, the last being the night before Pope Francis said Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square during his May 2014 three-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The University is run by the Christian Brothers, and I was delighted to join them for dinner the night before the papal Mass and to stay the night in a guest apartment. The morning of the papal visit, one of the Fathers walked me to the edge of Manger Square where my media credentials were my entrance to the papal venue.

Tours to the Holy Land rarely bring pilgrims to Bethlehem University and that is a shame in many ways, although I fully realize that classes and campus life would be continually interrupted.

Here is a link to BU:

A link to the Bethlehem University Foundation:

Here are a few photos I took on my first visit to BU