by Jack Figge
Special to The Leaven
ST. LOUIS — A huge grin broke out across Colten Johnson’s face as he admired his new attire. With one tug, he adjusted the chasuble, took his seat and listened attentively as Father Brian Fallon launched into his lesson on “Mass Chaos.”
Joined by 23 other 8th and 9th grade boys, Johnson had traveled from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas to St. Louis to participate in Kenrick-Glennon Days, an annual discernment camp for 5th through 9th grade boys at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.
And “Mass Chaos,” which was just one of the four sessions he attended, took campers behind the scenes at Mass, gave each a chance to try on vestments and even gave them some practice saying parts of the Mass.
Two years ago, Father Dan Morris, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, brought nine boys to Kenrick-Glennon Days following an invitation from his counterpart in St. Louis, Father Fallon. Father Morris leapt at the opportunity to offer it as an additional event that might help bridge the gap between the seminary and young men discerning.
“One of the key principles that I arrived at early in my tenure as vocations director was the more we can bridge the gap between [the] seminary and the discerner, the better,” said Father Morris. “Knowing what the seminary is like will just help that man discern more fully.”
In February, Father Morris invited Johnson to attend the camp after meeting him at a Runnin’ with the Revs basketball event.
A member of St. Theresa Parish in Perry, Johnson has served at Mass since a young age. Like many young boys, thoughts of becoming a priest had crossed his mind. But before these days at the seminary, he did not know what the process to become a priest looked like — nor had he ever met a seminarian.
“I liked being around the seminary a lot! It was cool seeing the seminarians and what their life is like,” said Johnson. “That way if I do choose this path, I will know what to expect.”
Throughout the camp, the boys interacted with seminarians during the games, at meals and through random conversations. Theology II seminarian John Donart traveled with the group as a chaperone and an available seminarian that the boys could talk to.
“An important part of my discernment was I worked at Camp Tekakwitha with seminarians,” said Donart. “Just getting to know them and recognizing that seminarians are normal people — they are men just like me and are pursuing the same things as me — was huge because before working at Camp Tekakwitha, I didn’t know what the seminary was like.”
In fact, the days showed the young visitors that beyond the prayer and service, seminarians have a lot of fun.
“Getting them to actually be able to come and stay in a seminary and see that there was a pool there and an Ultimate Frisbee course and that the life of a seminarian is a lot of fun — even that the mock classroom was fun — is so critical to discernment,” said Father Morris.
To communicate that atmosphere of fun, the days incorporate a variety of games and activities into the schedule.
On the first night, the campers participated in Wild West games such as the Rattlesnake Pit (gaga ball). Friday night brought out the campers’ competition as they participated in Water Olympics with their small groups. Campers were soaked to the core as they tried to outplay their fellow campers in a variety of water-based games.
“My team got second in the Water Olympics, and I scored a goal during crab soccer, which was so much fun,” said Johnson. “My team was going crazy, and it was a lot of fun just playing with the other guys.”
Friendships were formed during the camp as boys talked and realized that even though they came from different parishes or states, they all shared a common love: Jesus Christ.
“I’ve met a lot of new friends. A lot of them are like me that we all go to church and love being Catholic,” said Johnson. “Most of them are from Missouri and I’m from Kansas, so it’s nice to meet new people from different states who are like me.”
Each of the boys felt deeply moved by the prayer experiences that the camp offered — campers and seminarians praying the Liturgy of the Hours together, and plenty of opportunities for confession, eucharistic adoration and daily Mass.
“I really liked the Holy Hours and praying in the chapel,” said camper Joseph Newport. “I am going to start praying morning prayer and evening prayer because I believe it will help me understand my vocation better. I better start praying about my vocation now because I will be older before I know it.”
While Father Morris hopes that some of the campers will return to Kenrick one day as seminarians, his main concern for the weekend was that the boys recognized Christ’s love and grow deeper in their relationship with Jesus. He believes that the mission was accomplished.
“I hope and I believe that they learned something or heard something or experienced something on this trip that drew them closer to Christ and their Catholic faith,” he said.
“I hope they recognized that world is bigger than just their parish,” he continued. “The mission is bigger than what they want to be when they grow up.”