400 fifth & sixth graders attend Vocation Day

Bishop Johnston celebrates Mass for 400 fifth and sixth graders at Vocation Day at Bishop LeBlond High School on October 29.  The goal of the day was to help students learn to better listen to God so they can discern their vocation. (Sara Krafty/Key photo)

By Sara Kraft

If you ask a group of fifth and sixth graders what they want to be when they grow up, the answers are varied – firefighter, engineer, and teacher are a few common answers.

While many students know that being a priest or religious is an option, most have no idea what a priest or religious actually does. The Vocations Office of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is seeking to change that.

The first of three Vocation Days was held Monday, October 29 at Bishop LeBlond High School in St. Joseph. Four hundred fifth and sixth graders from eight area Catholic schools including Bishop Hogan Memorial School in Chillicothe, St. Charles Borromeo Academy in Kansas City, St. Francis Xavier School in St. Joseph, St. Gregory Barbarigo School in Maryville, St. James School in Liberty, St. James School in St. Joseph, Cathedral School in St. Joseph, and St. Therese School in Parkville attended. Typically, Vocation Day has been held just for fifth graders, but due to severe weather conditions last year the event had to be cancelled. The sixth graders were included in this year’s event so they would not miss the experience. The event has been held since 2003.

The day began with Mass celebrated by Bishop Johnston and concelebrated by seven area priests. “Like anything else, we all need help in making decisions. Our vocation is a mystery that we often can’t understand ourselves,” explained Bishop Johnston. “Vocation Day is a way to help our youth learn how to listen to God and discern what their vocation is. We do it by focusing on Jesus, who is the source of the call, which is why we begin with Mass and end with adoration.”

Following Mass, students attended two breakout sessions. One session provided students the opportunity to ask questions of Bishop Johnston. When asked about his responsibilities as bishop, Bishop Johnston stated, “A bishop’s job is to help people move closer to heaven.” Bishop Johnston also described the process of electing a pope.

Students also attended another breakout session with either a religious sister, a priest, or seminarian. Most session leaders spoke a bit about their story leading them to religious life or the priesthood and then took questions from the students.

“We are here so you can ask us things,” said Sr. Mary Immaculata, CK. “You already know we like doughnuts. There are no silly or stupid questions.”

Sr. Immaculata told the girls in her breakout session she felt God asking her to be “just his. He was asking me to get married to Jesus.” She explained that’s why she wears a wedding ring.

Father Stephen Hansen, pastor at Cathedral Parish in St. Joseph, explained his route to the priesthood was different than some. “I didn’t want to be a priest when I was your age,” he stated. Eventually, when he was in medical school, the pull to the priesthood kept tugging. Father Hansen eventually left medical school to become a priest.

“It is a great thing to do God’s will,” declared Father Hansen. “It’s not always easy. We are following Jesus.”

Following the breakout sessions, students enjoyed praise and worship music and lunch. They ended the day with adoration.
While the day introduces the serious topic of vocations, the priests and religious really hope to personalize the priesthood and religious life for students.

“They all see priests at Mass,” explained Sr. Connie Boulch, OSF, Director of the Office of Consecrated Life for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. “For many of them, today will be the first time they see a sister.”

Sr. Mary Immaculata, CK spoke to fifth and sixth grade girls about her vocation as a nun during a breakout session at Vocation Day at Bishop LeBlond High School on October 29. Four hundred fifth and sixth graders from eight Catholic schools attended the event. (Sara Kraft/Key photo)

Seminarian Jared Samson, who is currently on a Pastoral Internship at Cathedral Parish in St. Joseph, attended a Vocations Day at O’Hara High School as a fifth grader. “It helped me to think about the priesthood more,” he said. After attending Vocations Day, “I hope students think ‘if God wants me to be a seminarian or religious, that’s possible.’”

“It’s not a super weird thing to be a priest, a seminarian, or a brother or sister,” explained Jared.

“We want the day to be fun for the kids. Really, we are planting seeds,” Sr. Connie said.

Teachers appreciated the opportunity to explore vocations in a more in depth way than they are able to do in a classroom setting.

“I hope this day will help break down preconceived ideas of vocation so they can start thinking about if it is something they are called to do,” said Mrs. Trapp, fifth grade teacher at St. Francis Xavier School in St. Joseph. “It has always been a positive experience for the students.”

“It’s pretty mind-changing for the students. A lot of the stereotypes (of priests and religious) in their minds are proven wrong in a positive way,” explained Mrs. Woolery.

Students were quick to admit they both had fun and learned more about priests and religious.

“I liked the doughnuts!” declared Kade Thoen, sixth grader at St. Therese School in Parkville. He was also surprised to learn that Father Harkins started in seminary in high school.

“I have learned about vocations and what it really means,” said St. Therese fifth grader Kolbe Tomc. “Priests take care of the church.”

“We hope the students will take away the understanding that each and every one of them has a vocation and they can start thinking and praying about awareness. God has a plan for their life. Hopefully, they will start asking, ‘What is my vocation? What is God calling me to do?’’’ explained Father Adam Johnson, Director of the Vocations Office.


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November 26, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph