by Joe Bollig
OLATHE — Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann has faced shocking questions before. But the query he faced at Fifth-Grade Vocation Day was truly electric — or electrical.
One brave boy asked the archbishop if it was true — as his father had told him — that the archbishop’s crozier is electrified so he can shock children who misbehave at Mass.
“It’s not true,” Archbishop Naumann laughed, “but it’s not a bad idea.”
Perhaps that was a relief to the 830 students from 22 Wyandotte and Johnson County Catholic schools who attended the event, held on April 10 at Prince of Peace Parish and School in Olathe. A few sixth-grade students attended as well.
The Fifth-Grade Vocation Day was sponsored by the archdiocesan vocations office, with assistance from the Johnson County and Wyandotte County Serra Clubs.
The day could have been billed: “Everything you wanted to ask a priest, woman religious or archbishop — but were afraid to ask.”
And ask they did, with questions ranging from “Do Sisters sleep in their habits?” (No, they have comfy jammies) to “Why can’t you have a dog?” (The pastor doesn’t want dogs in the rectory).
But getting answers to those deep, burning questions was only one part of the program.
The day began with an introductory talk by Father Scott Wallisch, director of the vocations office, and a short time for eucharistic adoration.
Most of the day consisted of listening to vocations talks (followed by Q&As) by nine archdiocesan priests and women religious representing five different orders, plus a novice discerning her vocation.
The students prayed rosaries for vocations. After lunch, they listened to a talk by Archbishop Naumann, followed by a Mass celebrated by the archbishop.
In his talk, Father Wallisch told the students that a vocation was a calling from God.
“Every single person in this room, right now, has a vocation,” he said. “All of you have a vocation, whether it’s to the priesthood, the religious life, to marriage or the single life. . . . God has a plan for you, because he wants your goodness, your joy, your peace, your fulfillment.
“It takes a little while to figure out what that could be, so that’s why we have things like Fifth-Grade Vocation Day.”
He asked the students to be open, pay attention and ask God to touch their hearts and let them know what he wants from each of them.
“Jesus loves you and has a great plan for you,” said Father Wallisch.
Delayed, but not denied
The vocation story of Sister Rebecca Granado, an Augustinian Recollect Missionary Sister from Topeka, could be a lesson in “never say never.”
When she was a little girl, she excitedly told her aunt what she wanted to be when she grew up: a Sister.
“Oh, no, no, no,” said her aunt. “You don’t want to be a Sister, honey. It’s a sad life. You won’t get to get married, you won’t get to have children.”
After that, Sister Rebecca put the idea out of her head and got on with her life.
“But through my life, God did keep saying to me, ‘I love you. I want something more for you,’” she said. “I kept feeling that — but never connected it with being a Sister.”
“At every step of the way, God put special people into my life, people who called me to be better, to show me something about God,” Sister Rebecca continued. “Each of those people and experiences were very important in helping me choose what I wanted and what God wanted.”
The decisive moment came at World Youth Day in Denver in 1993.
Her group was at the cathedral in Denver when the director of her group’s pilgrimage called everyone together. He sat them down in the first two pews and announced:
“One of you here is being called by God to be a Sister. Please stand up.”
Then it happened.
“I felt myself stand up,” said Sister Rebecca. “I don’t know if I even thought about it. . . .
“Everyone started cheering and clapping, and I got all these hugs from my friends.”
But she wasn’t even conscious of still considering it before that moment.
“I hadn’t really thought about it,” she said. “It was like an answer that came [to me].”
It wasn’t easy to find an order that would take a 54-year-old woman as a novice, but the Augustinians did.
Now, 13 years later, she’s delighted to be a Sister.
Naturally, the students — all girls — had questions.
Q: Do you like being a Sister?
A: Yes, she really loves being a Sister, and she loves her habit. At first, it felt like a costume. When she’s in public, people ask her to pray for them or someone else, or they thank her. The habit helps people think about God.
Q: Do you have to wear your habit all the time?
A: No. When she’s doing messy work, she wears a shirt and jumper, and her veil. She has to be careful because habits can’t be bought in stores. Someone has to make them.
Q: Do you wear the veil to bed?
A: No, that’s when I take it off.
Q: What color is your hair?
A: It’s short and gray now. It used to be dark reddish brown.
A regular guy, a special calling
Can a regular guy have an extraordinary vocation to the priesthood? Yes, he can — and Father Matthew Nagle is living proof.
Father Nagle, associate pastor at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood, grew up in the Johnson County suburbs and lived a “regular” life.
“I didn’t think about the priesthood until later,” he said. “Sometimes, priests will say, ‘I was serving Mass when I was 10 years old and I knew God was calling me to be a priest.’ It’s great when that happens, but it’s not how it worked in my life.”
He played a lot of sports all the way into Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Missouri, and then went to the University of Kansas.
“When I first started thinking about the priesthood was toward the end of my time at KU,” he said. “We had some really good priests at the [St. Lawrence] Catholic Campus Center. I’d go there for Mass and started thinking about it.”
Then-archdiocesan vocations director Father Brian Schieber would see him there, ask if he ever thought about being a priest and invite him to various vocations events.
“Finally, I said to him, ‘Father Brian, I’m not going to be a priest. You can stop asking me,’” said Father Nagle.
Irony alert: Not only is Father Nagle a priest, but he’s an associate pastor at St. Michael the Archangel — where Father Brian Schieber is pastor.
“He loves to remind me of that,” said Father Nagle.
So, why did he become a priest? Father Nagle became very sick with a brain tumor.
“The good thing that came out of that is it forced me to strengthen my faith and my prayer life,” he said, “and I learned to turn to God in a new way and trust him a lot more.
“It made me more open to considering [the priesthood].”
He graduated from KU and began a teaching career, but he had a strong sense God was calling him to the seminary to discern a priestly vocation.
Guess what? The longer he was there, the more he came to believe that this was what God wanted him to do.
He was ordained a priest on May 23, 2015.
“I love being a priest,” he said. “I had no idea how much fun it is to be a priest.
“It’s harder than I thought it would be, but it’s way better and more fun than I could have imagined.”
The students — all boys — had questions.
Q: Are priests allowed to have dogs?
A: Yes. I can’t, because my pastor is the boss, and he said he doesn’t want a dog.
Q: Can priests adopt a kid?
A: No. Priests are celibate, and that frees them to serve the church at all hours. If a priest adopted a kid, he’d have to take care of him, and that would limit his availability.
Q: Do priests play video games?
A: Yes, I play “SimCity BuildIt” and “Football Manager.”
Q: Do priests watch TV?
A: What’s TV? Yeah, I watched TV yesterday.
Q: What position did you play in football?
A: In football, I was a defensive end and I played on the offensive line. In basketball, I was a forward.
Q: You don’t look like a defensive end.
A: Well, that was 15 years ago. I’ve shrunk since then.
God’s special plan for each of us
During the closing Mass, Archbishop Naumann talked about meeting some young people at a parish vocations club. Someone asked him, “What was the most important day of your life?”
The archbishop turned the question back to the students and asked them what they thought.
Was it his birthday? The day he was ordained a priest? When he became an archbishop?
No, none of these, he said.
The most important day of his life was his baptism. That’s where the life of every Christian, a sharing of divine life, begins — and their vocation.
“What could ever happen to you that could compare to that?” asked Archbishop Naumann in his homily.
“This Vocation Day,” he continued, “is a day that has focused on, and invited you to think about, what is it the Lord wants you to do with your life?
“I encourage you every day in your prayer, from this day forward, to ask the Lord, ‘Lord, help me to know what you want me to do today, but also help me to know what you want me to do with my life. What are your dreams, your plans for me? And give me the strength and generosity to follow wherever your call leads me to go.”
Vocation Day is a start, may plant some seeds. Follow up with a vocation day for 7th grade and again in high school.
The priests and religious need to build a relationship with young people.