Students hear about lives of service to the church at annual Vocations Awareness Day at St. Mark’s
WILMINGTON – Having a vocation is using one’s talents and energy, no matter what that calling is, to be single or married, an ordained priest or a member of a religious congregation, a diocesan seminarian told hundreds of sixth-grade students Nov. 2.
Rich Jasper, who is a third-year student at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, was moderator of the annual Vocations Awareness Day designed to introduce sixth-graders to the various ways they can be called to serve.
This year, students from nearly all the Catholic schools in the diocese gathered at St. Mark’s High School. The day included a welcome from Jasper, a panel discussion and smaller sessions with individual priests, brothers and sisters.
Called to be saints
In Jasper’s high-energy talk to the students, he told them all of us are called to be saints.
“Sainthood means that you do your best everyday,” said Jasper, who is expected to be ordained a transitional deacon next year.
He suggested the students include several things in the “bag of life.” Among those were a Bible, the Blessed Mother, friends and family, Jesus, and being themselves.
“Whatever your talent is, God will use it,” he said.
Bishop Malooly sat on the stage for a panel discussion with three others: Franciscan Sister Ann David Strohminger, the diocesan delegate for religious; Holy Cross Brother Joseph Ash, from St. Edmond’s Academy; and Father Glenn Evers, associate pastor at Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Easton, Md. They fielded questions that had been submitted by the students.
Brother Ash explained the difference between brothers and priests. Brothers, he said, are not ordained and cannot say Mass or administer certain sacraments. He told the students that he lives in community with other Holy Cross brothers. They live, eat and pray together.
“By doing this, we are brothers to one another,” he said.
Both Father Evers and Bishop Malooly described a typical day. Theirs are quite different.
Father Evers said he spends some days in his office, answering emails and returning phone calls, while others are out in the community. He has had people knock on the rectory door asking for a meal, and at other times, all his plans are changed if he finds out a parishioner is in the hospital and needs a priest.
“Every day is a new adventure,” he said.
In contrast, Bishop Malooly said most of his events are planned for him, leaving him little free time. On a recent day off, he did sneak in a visit to the open house at St. Mark’s, and he will stop by local funeral homes to comfort families who have lost loved ones.
He likes to celebrate weddings, baptisms and even funerals. The bishop said he recently baptized two babies, his first baptisms in about six months.
“Both babies threw up on me during the pictures,” he said, drawing laughs from the students.
None of the panelists said they tire of praying. “Taking time for quiet deepens our soul and our spirit,” Sister Ann David said.
In response to a question on how he knew the best way to know they had a vocation, Father Evers said the students would be filled with peace, joy and enthusiasm from their decision. The people in our lives, he added, help us decide our vocations.
“You know how it sits in your heart,” he said.
Praying and swimming
A few of the students said their favorite question was whether priests and sisters are allowed to go swimming since it would mean not wearing their religious clothing.
“I guess I didn’t really think that they’re kind of normal people like we are. I thought they just prayed all the time,” said Joanna Chapman of St. John the Beloved School.
Approximately two dozen priests, brothers and sisters welcomed the students to classrooms for smaller presentations.
Order of St. Clare Sister Christa Rowe brought enthusiasm to her presentation, jumping up and down and handing out candy to the dozen or so girls in her classroom. She used clips from the Disney movie “Frozen” to connect with the girls.
Fear, she said, sometimes keeps us from doing what is right. It also prevents us from looking at alternatives.
Sister Christa said she did not think of entering her religious order until a few years after high school because she thought religious life was for others who were more attractive and intelligent. Searching for ways to serve, she talked to a priest she trusted and visited several congregations, before she entered her order.
“We need to taste the hidden sweetness,” she said, handing out candy to students.
Wonderful things to do
Father John Solomon, stationed at St. Francis de Sales Parish in Salisbury, Md., thought about joining the military or attending law school before he entered the seminary. He talked to the late Father Richard Smith, who advised him to give studying for the priesthood a chance.
“One of the things that is so wonderful is it’s always something different,” he said. “There are all kinds of different things you can do, and that’s what’s exciting.”
Ian Hietpas, a student at Holy Angels School, said he hasn’t thought much about what his vocation might be, but he’s open to “pretty much every one.”
Ian thought the day was worthwhile. “I’ve learned much about priests and deacons that I did not know before.”