ELSMERE – God has a calling for everyone. All we need to do is listen, a group of priests and religious sisters told sixth-grade students from several Catholic schools during Vocations Awareness Week.
They were at All Saints Catholic School in Elsmere on Nov. 3 for the first of several vocations awareness events being held at various schools in the diocese.
The meetings, coordinated by the diocesan Office for Vocations and the Catholic Schools Office, matched priests and brothers with groups of boys, and sisters from several religious congregations with the classrooms of girls. The students heard stories of how priests and sisters found their vocation and what their lives are like, and they had the opportunity to ask questions.
Vocation days were held at All Saints Catholic School in Elsmere, Christ the Teacher Catholic School in Glasgow, St. Edmond’s Academy in Wilmington and Holy Cross School in Dover.
At All Saints, the first vocation story the students heard was from the diocese’s top priest. Bishop Malooly greeted the students as they entered Corpus Christi Church before a morning prayer service. There, the bishop told how as a young student, he met a priest who helped confirm that the priesthood was where he was supposed to be.
Bishop Malooly became an altar boy in fifth grade, and he entered the minor seminary after eighth grade, spending a total of 12 years in formation before he was ordained. Each summer, he would go home and decide whether the priesthood was still his calling.
“It was during that time that I felt God reinforced that decision,” he said. If he hadn’t become a priest, “I don’t know what I would have done.”
The priests at All Saints included Fathers Tim Nolan, Chris Coffiey, Michael Cook, Charles Dillingham, Jay McKee, Leonard Klein and Norman Carroll. The students came from All Saints, St. Elizabeth, St. Anthony of Padua and St. Peter Cathedral schools and Serviam Girls Academy.
Two paths to ordination
Father Nolan, pastor of Corpus Christi, and Father Coffiey, an associate at St. Mary of the Assumption in Hockessin, told groups of boys about their different paths to the priesthood.
Father Nolan decided on a career as a professional artist first, figuring he could always go to the seminary if the calling was still there, and that’s exactly what happened.
As an artist, he was busy. He had a house and a girlfriend, and he was involved in his parish, Christ Our King in Wilmington.
“It was a fun way to make a living,” he said.
Thoughts of the priesthood, he said, were like music one might play while working around the house. It was there, but not something he really paid attention to. It was during a weekend at the Malvern Retreat House that he finally decided that the priesthood was where he belonged. He was ordained in 2002 but still practices his artistic skills. While talking to the students, he drew a picture of a priest hearing a young boy’s confession.
Father Nolan said he still loves art, but “I just don’t get paid for it anymore because I love this (priesthood) more.”
Father Coffiey told the sixth-graders he had thoughts of being a priest from his boyhood years, but he started working in heating and air conditioning while a student at Hodgson Vo-Tech High School. He, too, had a good job and a girlfriend, but instead of going into the work world, he entered the seminary right out of high school. There was something about being ordained and the ability to hear confessions and transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
“I thought that was pretty awesome,” Father Coffiey told the students.
Life as a priest is “wonderful,” he said. Many young men are called to be priests, but they don’t hear the call because they are too busy, don’t pray enough or ignore the call. God also could call us to consecrated life, marriage or the single life.
“God is calling all of us to do something with our lives. In all of those, he’s calling us to live a holy life,” Father Coffiey said.
That was the message received by two boys from St. Edmond’s Academy. Jack Krukiel learned at the Vocations Awareness Day there on Nov. 5 that there is no typical person who is called to the priesthood.
“I heard that I could become a priest, anyone could,” he said. “I’ll give this some serious thought.”
His classmate, Max Iacono, said he had never really thought of the priesthood as an option, but he found the event very meaningful. He was impressed by how happy the priests were with their decisions.
The overall message he received from the day was that “God will help you along the way, and his calling will speak to you, and you will hear it.”
One of the unique aspects of the meeting at All Saints was the chance for the students to see some women wearing their religious habits since many congregations have opted for secular attire. Two sisters from the Servants of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, along with a Daughter of Charity, brought varying amounts of experience to their session.
Mother Ryszarda and Sister Angela Marie discussed their lives as Sacred Heart sisters. Mother Ryszarda, a native of Poland, discussed vocations in more general terms, telling the girls it’s never too early to begin discerning what God wants from them.
“I encourage you to pray, to have moments of recollection,” she said.
Religious congregations, she explained, have been founded by different people and for different purposes. Some sisters are cloistered – they are the ones properly called nuns – while others are active in education, parish ministry, health care or elderly care, for example. But all sisters serve God first, Mother Ryszarda said.
The Sacred Heart Sisters work in Wilmington with the Ministry of Caring, although most of their members in the United States work in Pennsylvania. They are teachers and care for the elderly, Mother Ryszarda said.
“We want to bring the love of Jesus. That’s our focus,” she said.
Mother Ryszarda was accompanied at All Saints by Sister Angela Marie, who entered the Sacred Heart congregation three years ago and is a novice.
Sister Angela said she spent a year as an aspirant and another as a postulant before becoming a novice. She wore a white veil with her habit, signifying her status with the sisters. She will take temporary vows once a year for five years beginning next August before professing final vows. She is spending her time discerning whether this is what God wants her to do.
“This is intense study time,” said Sister Angela Marie, who is 25. “It has been such a beautiful experience.”
She said God shows young people signs throughout their lives, and she encouraged the sixth-grade girls to read about the saints and to pray.
The two Sacred Heart sisters were joined by Sister Joanne Goecke, a Daughter of Charity who is in her first year at St. Peter Cathedral School in Wilmington, where her congregation has ministered since 1830. Sister Joanne said all religious faiths need leaders and “people who will respond to God’s call.”
She remembered a priest who talked to her class in sixth grade, much like the priests and sisters were doing at All Saints. He encouraged the students to tuck the thought of a religious vocation in the back of their minds.
“Somewhere, there was this little seed,” she said.
Elena Kenvin of St. Mary Magdalen School said she isn’t really thinking of religious life, but the sisters may reach some of the other girls. She did learn some new things, however.
“They pretty much lead normal lives, but they pray during some of the time, too,” Elena said.
It was a lot easier for children in Sister Joanne’s time to focus on what God wanted them to do, Sister Joanne said. There was no social media, very few clubs and a lot less to do than today, she noted. Still, she encouraged the students to take time to pray every day.
“Squeeze in at least two minutes for God before you fall asleep,” she urged.
An additional story on the diocese’s Vocations Awareness Week will be published in the Nov. 14 edition of The Dialog.