Students take advantage of opportunity to interact with those who have discerned their vocation
DOVER — Sixth-graders who have just gotten off a bus after a drive of an up to an hour sometimes need a few minutes to regain their energy. But even that little bit of time wasn’t necessary at the Diocese of Wilmington’s annual Vocations Awareness Day, held Nov. 8 at Holy Cross Parish in Dover.
Nearly 600 students from Catholic schools throughout the diocese got a dose of Father Richard Jasper, who delivered an energetic keynote address, before dispersing in smaller groups for other activities. Father Jasper, the newest priest of the diocese, told the crowd that they were called to do something special for God.
To illustrate that, he played a game of “Simon Says,” with more and more students being eliminated as the minutes progressed. “Simon Says,” according to Father Jasper, showed the three things needed to discern a vocation.
First, one has to listen.
“If you want to play the game, you have to listen. It’s the same with vocations,” he said.
Second, a person needs to be honest with him or herself.
“You have to know who you are so you can do what God wants you to do,” he said.
Lastly, one cannot be afraid to look like a fool.
“Guess what?” Father Jasper asked. “St. Paul said, in following Jesus, sometimes you have to look like a fool.”
God, he continued, wants the students to do what they want. He encouraged the youngsters to read God’s word — the Bible — and to rely on the Blessed Mother. When in need of strength, look toward the crucifix, the sign of the greatest love possible.
The students were urged to bring Jesus to others no matter what vocation they chose, whether that is ordained or religious life, marriage or single life.
“Be saints and be holy. That’s what today is all about,” he said.
The students were broken into groups for the activities, one of which was “JeoParody,” a religious takeoff on the popular game show. With their host, Father Jasper, students played first for their school, then for their Vocations Awareness Day group against the other groups. Categories included vocation terms, brothers, sisters, ordained, religious life, and vocations in the Catholic Church. Questions ranged from the relatively easy to surprisingly difficult.
For the one group, the final JeoParody answer was: “The vocation to which all people are called.” After some consultation with each other, the contestants came up with the correct question: “What is holiness?”
Many priests, all of the diocese’s seminarians, and several religious sisters attended, and they took turns participating in a panel discussion in the church. One such panel consisted of Oblate Sister John Elizabeth Callaghan, principal of Mount Aviat Academy in Childs, Md.; Bishop Malooly; and seminarian Brennan Ferris. That session was moderated by Father John Solomon, an associate pastor at the host church, Holy Cross.
Each told the story of how he or she decided to enter religious life and the priesthood. Sister John Elizabeth recalled being taught by nuns at Holy Cross and St. Peter the Apostle schools, then at St. Elizabeth High School.
“They were making a difference in people’s lives, and they were happy,” she said. That’s what she wanted for her own life, and she believed God had a plan for her.
Community life is a big part of being an Oblate Sister of St. Francis de Sales. They live in community, praying together and dedicating their lives to each other. But it is a life, she said, that has brought her great fulfillment.
Bishop Malooly recalled becoming an altar server in grade school, which led to him thinking about the priesthood. He also had an uncle who was a priest.
“Much like Sister, I saw the joy in the parish priest,” he said. Bishop Malooly wanted to help “share the Good News with whomever I could.”
He entered the seminary out of elementary school and spent 12 years preparing for ordination. “It didn’t come all at once. It was a gradual discernment.”
Ferris, the seminarian, said he wasn’t very religious until his senior year at St. Elizabeth High School. That is when he got more connected to his faith, and the calling took hold.
“I knew I wanted to be a priest,” he said. “This call, this urge pushed me forward.”
He started college and was dating, but eventually he entered a college seminary. He has finished his college education and is taking theology and philosophy courses.
The panel then welcomed questions, and dozens of students lined up. They asked about the panelists’ daily lives, with questions ranging from serious to curious. Do you get to see your families? Do you have to wear your religious clothing all the time? What would you do if you weren’t a priest or sister? Have you ever second-guessed your decisions?
Sister John Elizabeth said her day consists of prayer with her community, along with running Mount Aviat. Each year, she added, she takes a week-long retreat, and she helps take care of the older sisters. Bishop Malooly said his typical day includes celebrating Mass, going through mail at the office, meetings and appointments, visiting schools, and other events. He usually goes home in mid-afternoon and gets some exercise in, then does more work at home, including catching up with his brother bishops and priests.
One of the final questions was directed at Ferris. A young man wanted to know what happened to his girlfriend. Ferris laughed, then said he believes she is engaged to be married.
That is her vocation.