by Moira Cullings
Kansas City, Kan. — On Feb. 11, high schoolers from around the archdiocese embarked on a four-day journey, visiting places most people never see in a lifetime.
No, the visits weren’t to the Grand Canyon or to the Cliffs of Moher. Instead, the students visited places boasting a different sort of beauty — the homes of the various religious orders spread across northeast Kansas.
The trip was designed for young people discerning religious life, as well as those open to learning more about it.
“So often, young people don’t even realize that they should be open to the possibility of religious life, because they don’t have many experiences with religious men and women,” said Father Scott Wallisch, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
“Other times, young people do want to be open to God’s will, but religious life seems like a theoretical thing that is hard to imagine,” he continued.
Trips like this help young people bridge the gap between what they think religious life involves and what it actually entails.
Father Wallisch accompanied the young men on their visits, while Stacey Rains, youth ministry director at St. Paul Parish in Olathe, accompanied the young women.
“I think it was life-changing for the girls,” said Rains.
“They were able to see a group of women who have given their lives to serve God,” she said. “And that example is priceless.”
The young women visited the Apostles of the Interior Life in Lawrence and the Sisters, Servants of Mary; the Poor of Jesus Christ; and the Little Sisters of the Lamb, all in Kansas City, Kansas.
“It was absolutely phenomenal,” said Cecilia Grove, a senior at Olathe Northwest High School and a St. Paul parishioner.
“To see women who so completely live the Gospel is so inspiring, not only for vocational discernment, but also for overall education of one’s spiritual life,” she said.
The young men visited the Little Brothers of the Lamb and the Poor of Jesus Christ, both in Kansas City, Kansas; the Apostles of the Interior Life in Overland Park; and the monks at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison.
“It was a great way to be able to see how the Holy Spirit works and how he calls different people to different things,” said Justin King, a senior at Olathe North High School.
King noted how helpful it was to compare the orders so quickly and acquire a better understanding of their unique lifestyles.
“It’s one thing to be able to Google facts about different communities or to be able to watch vocation videos,” said King. “It’s completely different being able to look at a Benedictine monk’s schedule than to actually wake up at 6 a.m. and go pray with him.”
One of Grove’s most enlightening moments was when she accompanied a couple of the Sisters, Servants of Mary on a visit to a woman with muscular dystrophy.
“The Sisters go there every day and night to help the woman and help her aging mother, who’s also her caretaker, as well as pray with her,” said Grove.
“I was so struck by the absolute joy that the woman with muscular dystrophy radiated and the complete self-gift of the Sisters to those to whom they were ministering,” she continued.
Another benefit for both groups of participants was the opportunity to take a step forward in their discernment process with other young people.
“Just being able to bond with [the other participants] and meet new people, and to be able to bond with the people that went with me was probably my highlight,” said King.
“It was such a blessing to be surrounded by women who are, at the very least, open to whatever Jesus asks them to do,” she said. “I think . . . that discernment sometimes can feel quite lonely.”
“It can be a little bit scary to just go by yourself to visit a religious community,” said King. “So this is a great way to do it within your own archdiocese. . . . It’s a lot less stressful because less of the focus is on you.”
Although most of the trip’s attendants are uncertain of what their future holds, Rains noted that the trips made connections for future opportunities with the Sisters and Brothers they visited.
“For high schoolers, even if they aren’t called to religious life, they can recognize it as an option,” she said, “because they’re beginning to think about their future.”
Rains and Father Wallisch are confident the participants learned lessons from this experience that will carry over to the rest of their lives, regardless of what path they end up taking.
“I hope that they were able to see that living out God’s call for their lives, no matter how radical that call seems to the rest of society, is the surest path to joy,” said Father Wallisch.