By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY —Luke DeVoss learned something at Fifth Grade Vocation Days.
“I learned I want to be a priest,” the Our Lady of the Presentation School fifth grader said.
Although diocesan vocations director Father Richard Rocha won’t hold Luke to that promise forever, he said in his homily at the opening Mass on Feb. 25 that is exactly why the Vocations Office assembled nearly 700 Catholic school and home schooled students for Fifth Grade Vocation Days over two days at Archbishop O’Hara High School.
“Is it too early to think about the priesthood? Is it too early to think about religious life as a sister? No. That’s why we brought you hear today,” he said.
“We all have a plan. Put God in that plan. Do his will,” Father Rocha said.
Luke had a pretty good reason for wanting to be a priest.
“I want to be a priest because I want to go to heaven, and I want to help other people get there,” he said.
The students also said they may have gotten some of their misconceptions about priests and nuns corrected during sessions where they learned what a religious vocation was really about.
“Priests are just like regular people,” said Roy Gutierrez of Our Lady of the Angels School in Kansas City.
But it is a vocation forever, added his classmate Zavian Lindsey.
“When you become a priest, you can’t retire,” he said. “You are always a priest.”
Kira Quackenbush of St. John LaLande School in Blue Springs said she learned a lot about religious women from her session with two Sister Servants of Mary, who are devoted to caring for the sick and elderly.
“I just thought they were people who prayed all the time,” Kira said. “But there are many jobs they do.”
“I think that’s cool,” said her classmate Samantha Heinrich. “They help the elderly and they help people with cancer.”
Emily Cisper of St. Thomas More School also said she learned something “cool” about religious women.
“I learned they can’t be married because they are married to Jesus,” she said.
In their sessions with priests and sisters, the fifth graders weren’t shy about peppering them with questions.
Father Steve Hansen, never accused of being short on energy himself, had a particularly eager classroom of young men.
A walking encyclopedia of church history and the liturgical calendar, he told them that Feb. 25, 1858, was the day that the Blessed Mother instructed St. Bernadette Soubirous to dig with her hand, and out sprang the waters of Lourdes.
“Many people have been cured in that water,” he told the young men.
“But sometimes we can get cures from the things priests do,” he said.
“In Baptism, our original sin is wiped away. We are cured,” Father Hansen said. “When we go to confession to ask our sins be forgiven, we are healed.
“And what did Jesus say in John’s Gospel? ‘If you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you will have everlasting life,’” he said.
“So when you die, your soul will live . . .?”
“FOREVER!” the fifth graders shouted back.
Sister Isabel and Sister Teresa of the Sister Servants of Mary told young women of the joy they have in giving their lives to Jesus.
“There are different types of vocations,” Sister Teresa said, reminding the students that her parents as well as theirs were called to live out a vocation of married life.
“When the Lord calls us to that one vocation, that’s where we’ll be the happiest,” she said.
But how to know where God is calling?
“You have to listen to God calling inside of you. Listen to Jesus calling you,” she said.
Father Rocha told the students at Mass that there are two steps to hear God’s call.
“One, stay close to God. Two, do his will,” Father Rocha said.
Father Rocha told the students he thought he’d be happiest as a football coach, and even worked as a head high school coach and college assistant.
But God had other ideas. And when Father Rocha heard and followed that call, God didn’t take sports away from him.
“Now I’m chaplain for the Kansas City Royals and I’ve been chaplain for nine years,” he said. “God keeps blessing me with being close to sports.”
Father Rocha told the fifth graders to keep praying, and they will know what God’s will for their lives is.
“That’s the only way you are going to be truly happy,” he said.