RIDGELY, Md. — Laughter was the dominant noise during the most recent ‘Pass the Word,’ a program designed to introduce high school boys to the vocation stories of diocesan priests and seminarians, and perhaps get them to consider whether that might be a life they’d be interested in living.
Several dozen high schoolers from the Diocese of Wilmington traveled to Caroline County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore on Feb. 24 for a day of prayer, discernment and information. It began with a brief history of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Denton, Md., where the administrator, Father Brian Lewis, concelebrated Mass with Bishop Malooly and several other priests.
During the homily, Father Rich Jasper said the message of the Gospel was that a father was called to help his son. That is what each of us as Christian men are called to do, he said, no matter what our vocation is.
We are called to help others, “no matter where we are, help them find God,” Father Jasper said.
The priesthood is not for everyone, he continued, but everyone should “let people know that they’re never alone. Be the type of man to help other people when they need God the most.
“Keep opening yourself to whatever God wants us to do.”
The remainder of the day — whose theme was “A Significant Walk with Christ — was spent at St. Benedict Church in nearby Ridgely, where the group had lunch and attended a few breakout sessions. Part of the lunch period included the diocesan director of vocations, Father Norman Carroll, holding up pieces of paper describing one of the seminarians or priests, while the students tried to guess which person the paper belonged to. The hall at St. Benedict was filled with laughter from the students and from the seminarians.
Bishop Malooly spent the day making his way around the room, talking to any of the boys who wanted to chat. He was pleased to see how many were there and that they came from all corners of the diocese, with a group from Archmere Academy in Claymont to a parishioner from the Ocean City, Md., area.
“The nice thing is that the theology faculty of the schools and the pastors of the parishes will pick kids who they think are just outstanding and have them exposed to this,” the bishop said.
He liked that the boys who attend take their faith seriously.
James Daly, a sophomore at Easton (Md.) High School attends St. Benedict Church and had perhaps the shortest commute of any boy. He said he was there “to keep it open, an open mind of the different options I could take.
“I did this last year and had a good time, so I decided to come back and maybe search in this area a little more. See if it’s for me.”
Holy Angels parishioner Harrison Fisher traveled south with a group from his school, Aquinas Academy, where he is a senior.
“Several of us at Aquinas, this is our fourth year doing it,” he said. “It’s kind of like a tradition in some ways. Also, it’s always good to be able to discern, be surrounded by people you agree with.”
Smyrna resident Evan Seelig came at the recommendation of a woman in his parish, Holy Cross in Dover. “She said I should go to this if I’m thinking about becoming a priest, and she’s a really nice lady. I figured she knows what’s best for me.”
Attending his second Pass the Word, Evan said he has learned “that each of us has their own thing that God is calling them to do. For some people, it’s priesthood. We have to figure out what we have to do with our lives.”
Seminarian James Gebhart told the boys that there are a lot of different paths to the priesthood. He first felt the call as a student at Delaware Military Academy, but he went on to study marketing management in college and worked in a finance office before switching.
“Prayer became a really important part of my heart,” he said. Hearing the call, he added, involved “a lot of listening, a lot of back and forth between me and God.”
Since entering the seminary four years ago, however, “I haven’t looked back,” he said.
Brennan Farris told the group he didn’t really practice his faith while a student at St. Elizabeth High School. He felt called to the priesthood after breaking up with a girlfriend, but he made a few missteps along the way.
“I didn’t pray about it, which you should do, and I didn’t tell anyone, which you should do,” he said.
As a student at Mount St. Mary’s University, the feeling was still there. Eventually, he decided that this was the life for him.
“It’s beautiful to wake up and know your mission is to serve,” he said, “and I’ve never been happier.”