By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — For two decades, the Vocations Office of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has gathered hundreds of fifth graders together at Archbishop O’Hara High School for a very special reason: God is calling even 11-year-olds.
Just ask Noah Hankins of Visitation School. God may be calling him already to be a monk or a religious brother.
“I started thinking about this last year,” said Noah. “I thought God was talking to me and saying, ‘Noah. Go to the brothers.’”
Noah said it is important that he listen.
“Every time God asks me to do something, I never want to disobey God,” he said. “I want what God wants for me, not what I want for me.”
His classmate Grant Sesler said he is also willing to listen.
“Sometimes, I kind of think about it,” he said. “When I am praying, the thought just pops in my head. Is God calling me to be a priest?”
You’ll have plenty of time to figure that out, but keep praying, priests and religious women of the diocese told the young men and women in small group sessions.
Father Jack Fitzpatrick, ordained just last May, told the fifth graders that he also attended Fifth Grade Vocation Days some 15 years ago, when he was a student at St. Francis Xavier School in St. Joseph.
It made an impression on him, but so did two seminarians from the diocese who later visited his school.
“They said, ‘Do you love the church?’ Well, there was not one thing that I didn’t love about the church. I thought the whole church was pretty cool,” Father Fitzpatrick told his classroom filled with young men.
“Then this seminarian said, ‘Do you guys know that if there were no priests, there would be no church?’” Father Fitzpatrick said.
“I had to think about that. Without priests, we couldn’t have the sacraments,” he said.
“Now where do priests come from, these seminarians said. They come from you. They come from young men just like themselves,” Father Fitzpatrick said.
“We don’t have enough priests,” he said. “We need a lot more priests than we have today. Every young man needs to think about giving the church life. Without priests, there is no life.”
The church needs women religious, Mother Julia Mary Kubista told her room filled with young women.
A Sister in Jesus the Lord whose calling is to serve as missionaries to Russia, Mother Julia peppered the young women with questions in the Socratic method. By the end of her session, they were alive with answers.
“After death, and death is only a passing from one place to another, where do you go?” she asked.
“Heaven, hell or purgatory.”
“In purgatory, you already have one foot in heaven, so there are really only two places. Heaven and hell. Once you get there, how long are you going to be there?”
“How long is forever?”
“More than a century.”
“Longer than that.”
“Longer than a million years.”
“Yes, but a lot longer than that. If someone goes to hell, will they ever get out?”
“And who gets to choose where we go?”
“We all want to be with God,” Mother Julia said. “How do we get there? We follow Jesus. God wants you to be with him so much that who did he send to tell us how to get there?”
“Should we pay attention to Jesus? How important is it to make good choices?”
“Your vocation is God’s plan for you. Who made you? Who knows what’s best for you? If we follow God’s plan, where will we go when we die?For how long?”
In his homily at the Mass at St. John Francis Regis Parish that opened each day, Bishop Finn told the fifth graders to mark the year 2030 on their calendars.
Some of the young men sitting inside that day will complete grade school, complete high school, complete college seminary, complete theology school and will be ordained priests in 2030.
“I ordained a priest last October, in May I will ordain seven priests, and in June I will ordain two more. This is the year of 10 priests, more than this diocese has ordained in a long time,” Bishop Finn said.
“I hope you remind the bishop who ordains you that you sat here and heard about 2030 on this day,” the bishop said.
“And I hope that bishop doesn’t ordain 10 priests, but a lot more than 10,” he said.
Bishop Finn said he knows God will call young men and women to religious vocations. When he was 11 years old, he said, he asked himself two questions: “How do I know God is calling me?” and “Am I going to say yes if God is calling me?”
Bishop Finn urged the fifth graders to continue to pray.
“You can ask God for anything. God loves to listen to us,” he said.
“But one possible prayer for you is, ‘God, help me to know what you want me to do,’” Bishop Finn said.
He also told the fifth graders to talk to a trusted adult, “someone who knows and cares about you.”
“The first is your parents. They know you and love you,” he said.
Bishop Finn recalled when he first told his parents that he might be hearing a call to the priesthood.
“I was nervous. But they said, ‘Great. Give it a try. See if it is for you,’” he said.
“God has a plan for all of you,” whether it is a vocation to marriage, single life or religious life, Bishop Finn said.
“God is calling all of you. We just have to try to listen.”