Fifth graders get sneak peeks at priestly, religious sister vocations

Bishop James Johnston, Jr., shares his vocation story with fifth grade students from 13 schools and the Homeschool Community, in St. Michael the Archangel High School’s chapel during Fifth Grade Vocation Day Feb. 20.He also answered questions posed by the students and the session closed with a prayer. (Marty Denzer/Key photos)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — One after another, the school busses pulled up to the doors of St. Michael the Archangel High School in Lee’s Summit on Feb. 20. Fifth graders from 13 Catholic grade schools from across the diocese, and students from the homeschool community, stepped into the high school for a morning of learning about life as priests and religious sisters. It was Fifth Grade Vocation Day.

The kids and their teachers and adult volunteers gathered in the gym for Mass celebrated by Bishop James Johnston, Jr., with Fathers Randolph Sly, St. Michael the Archangel’s president, and Adam Johnson, diocesan Vocation Director and pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel parish, concelebrating. They were assisted by Deacon Paul Muller of St. Margaret of Scotland Parish, and several servers.

As the priests prepared to process into the gym, Dominican Sister Jude Francis, Dean of Community Life and teacher of Theology at St. Michael’s, told the fifth graders, “What is about to happen in this gym is amazing! … When you give your heart to God, he gives back something amazing: the body, blood, soul and divinity of his Son, Jesus Christ. … This is a special day; the best way to begin this day is with the holy sacrifice of the Mass.”

In his homily Bishop Johnston thanked the students for attending the day to reflect on the topic of vocations — “the call of God in each of our lives.”

He harkened back to the Gospel reading, Mark 8:27-33, which he suggested was Jesus’ vocation story. Jesus told his Apostles that the Son of Man must be handed over to suffer and to die and to rise again after three days. This was what he came into the world to do, what he came into the world to accomplish as part of his father’s will. The Apostles didn’t understand this vocation story, and Peter, without thinking much about it, took him aside and tried to talk him into something else. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are thinking, not as God thinks, but as a human being.’

He told them they would hear vocation stories from some priests and sisters, how God worked in their lives, how they began to understand God’s call. Many, he said, would tell the students that listening was involved. Listening not only to the mysterious voice of God in their hearts, but also to some wise and good people who encouraged them to listen to that voice.

“It is only through listening that we begin to understand what God wants of us,” the bishop said.

Bishop James Johnston, Jr. shared his vocation story and fielded questions from youth gathered for 5th Grade Vocations Day.

He suggested that as they grew and matured, they should pray for God’s help in learning to listen.

“Jesus told us of one great promise of God’s that we can always count on: ‘Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened.’ If you turn to God for help, he never disappoints.”

The 360 fifth graders in attendance were divided into groups for the vocation stories — Priests and religious sisters were sharing their stories in different classrooms. The boys gathered to hear from ‘Men in Black’, and the girls to hear from ‘Sister Sisters’. In the chapel, Bishop Johnston shared his vocation story with combined groups of students.

After all prayed a Hail Mary, he spoke of his fifth grade teacher, Sr. Mary Ann, who was a “great example of God’s love and joy.”

He thinks he might have been thinking about the priesthood as a kindergartner or first grader, practicing saying Mass and pretending to be a priest with his little brother as his server and his younger sister doing the readings. After he started school, he didn’t think much about it until he was in the fifth grade. In his carpool going home from school, the mom driving the car asked what everybody wanted to be when grown up. When it was his turn to answer, he said “I’m going to be a priest. Then I thought, ‘Where did that come from?’ I believe it was the Holy Spirit directing my words.”

He spoke of studying in college to be an engineer and working in the engineering field after graduation and enjoying his profession but trying to figure out his vocation. He said a profession is what you do for a living and a vocation is what you do for God.

A religious sister with the Dominicans of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist spoke with 5th graders about vocations.

After hearing his story, he invited the boys and girls to ask questions. He was asked about his reaction when he was notified that Pope Benedict wanted him to be a bishop – shock and fear. He was asked about vows taken – to live simply and be obedient to his bishop. He also answered questions about vestments, about the design of the chapel, and more. One student asked who or what was the inspiration for his vocation. Bishop Johnston credited the great faith and love of his mother and the life of Pope John Paul II.

At the end of his talk, the group said another short prayer with Bishop Johnston before dispersing to talks or to the snacks.

In addition to Bishop Johnston, the priests sharing their vocation stories included Fathers Adam Johnson, Olvin Giron, Alex Kreidler, Andrew Kleine, Randolph Sly, Nathan Rueb and Sean McCaffery. The religious sisters sharing their vocation stories included Dominicans, Franciscans, Little Sisters of the Poor and Sisters in Jesus the Lord. The event was staffed by men and women of the area Serra Clubs.

The fifth graders attend Holy Cross, Our Lady of Hope, St. Regis Academy, St. Mary – Nevada, St. Mary-Montrose, St. Thomas More, Nativity of Mary, St. Elizabeth, Holy Rosary-Clinton, Our Lady of the Presentation, St. John LaLande, St. Peter and Visitation schools or are members of the homeschool community.

The next 5th Grade Vocations Day will be held October 9 at Bishop LeBlond High School in St. Joseph—for more information, contact the Vocations Office.


December 02, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph