By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — You might think that five young men, seminarians for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, would like to sleep in on a Saturday morning. Well, Andrew Kleine, Garrett King, Jared Samson, Nathan Rueb and Randolfo Lemus not only got up early April 5, they spent the day helping time and spot for the Kansas City Parochial League’s first grade school track meet of the season at Bishop LeBlond High School in St. Joseph. The impetus was to introduce the seminarians to the athletes, interact with them and perhaps get them thinking about a vocation.
The Diocese places great importance on vocations, whether to the priesthood, consecrated life or marriage, and strives to get kids thinking about their future as early as fifth grade. Several Catholic organizations, especially the Serra Clubs of Kansas City, which are dedicated to pray for and promote vocations, work alongside the diocesan Office of Vocations sponsoring events that highlight the priesthood and the consecrated life. Fifth Grade Vocations Days, held over a two-day span each February, introduces all the fifth grade students attending diocesan Catholic elementary schools to the priesthood and religious life, usually in the person of Bishop Robert W. Finn, Fathers Richard Rocha and Gregory Lockwood of the Vocations Office, Sister of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist Connie Boulch, director of the Consecrated Life Office and other priests and religious sisters.
Wanting to keep future vocations in the kids’ minds, Larry Fitzgerald, Vocations Director for the Serra Clubs of Kansas City, had an idea. Larry’s son Vince is the Director of the diocesan Kansas City Parochial League, which provides opportunities for elementary school students to benefit from a positive experience in football, basketball, volleyball, cross country and track. Larry asked Vince which sport would work best for the seminarians to interact with athletes and with volunteer parent and high school helpers. Track of course, was Vince’s reply. Larry’s idea took off running.
Larry and Vince approached diocesan Vocations Director Father Rocha, a former football player and coach. Father Rocha immediately liked the idea, and set to work getting permission from the two seminaries and inviting the seminarians to the track meet in St. Joseph. Although Ty Sanders was in the midst of exams, Andrew, Garrett, Nathan and Jared from St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, Neb., and Randolfo from Conception Seminary College in Conception, Mo., were willing and able.
All five were present with Father Rocha when he said the 8 a.m., opening prayer over the P.A. system at LeBlond’s football stadium. They then sprinted to the timers’ stand or to their position around the course to spot runners in a particular lane. Ty Sanders’ parents Clint and Karen Sanders, served as head timer and helped set up lanes for distance events.
The 4th-6th grade girls 1600 meter (mile) run was the first event, followed by the boys 1600 meter run, then sprints, both preliminary and finals, middle distance runs, relays and field events. As each runner went to have his or her time recorded, Father Rocha or a volunteer, offered the kids a vinyl drawstring backpack and a ball point pen with the Vocation Training Diocese of KC-SJ imprinted on it. Seventh and eighth graders took the track in the afternoon. At 5 p.m., the officials, volunteers and the seminarians took a deep breath. The track meet was concluded. But wait, several of the officials and coaches persuaded Andrew, Garrett, Jared and Randolfo to run a 60 meter dash. The starter raised the gun one last time for the day. Bang! They were off. Ten seconds later, it was a photo finish. They all won. Parents and athletes still in the stands cheered and applauded.
Larry said the parents he spoke with were pleased to see the seminarians working as timers and spotters at the meet. The young men enjoyed it also. Several seventh grade athletes agreed that it was an eye opener to see “that guys studying to be priests were real guys in their 20s, crackin’ jokes and havin’ fun.”
Vince said a number of the athletes brought their Vocations backpacks to the second meet a week later in Blue Springs. “They’re using them!”
Larry and Vince both said they hoped to make the “track-meet seminarians” an annual event. Next year, Larry said, he wants the seminarians to work the field events, which will allow them to interact more with the athletes. Vince said he will consider having the seminarians run the 60 meter dash as the opening event of the day, to introduce them to everyone there.
The Bishop LeBlond meet was a Vocations-directed track meet, Larry said. The seminarians certainly deserved blue ribbons for their cheerful, friendly hard work. And, maybe a few minutes extra sleep the next day.