by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Even with the promise of sundaes, Father Daniel Schmitz expected about 30 seventh- and eighth-graders at St. Michael the Archangel School in Leawood to sign up for the first meeting of the vocation club.
That happened — on the first sign-up page alone.
“And then I saw the second sheet and the third sheet and the fourth,” said Father Schmitz, associate pastor, adding that it was a “very good surprise to see that many come.”
About 80 to 100 students continued to attend the meetings of the new club through the winter and spring.
“I think we’re all happy that we did it,” said Monica Looney, an eighth-grader who served as the new club’s president.
Through skits, speakers and discussions — and treats — club members learned about virtues, saints and new possibilities, and they took a deeper look at everything from marriage to religious life.
“I want to be a missionary nurse when I grow up,” said Monica. “That was another new door that opened for me.”
The vocation club at St. Paul School in Olathe also got off the ground this winter and has seen steady attendance from its members in grades five through eight.
Club members there learned early on that if they made at least three out of four after-school meetings, they’d be allowed to attend the May 12 tour of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison.
Every club member accomplished that.
“I really loved going to the abbey and meeting the monks,” said James Finlen, a fifth-grader at St. Paul. “I like learning about the different ways they pray together and how their church was designed especially for their community.”
Several brothers shared their calls to monastic life with the students and answered questions.
Abbot James Albers, OSB, had recently confirmed eighth-graders at St. Paul, and the visit to the abbey deepened the connection between the Benedictine community and the school.
“I feel like we now have a special bond with the abbey,” said Tonia Helm, St. Paul principal. “We are praying for them, and they are praying for us. This is what I love most about our Catholic faith!”
Both St. Paul and St. Michael the Archangel launched their clubs this year as part of an even larger archdiocesan effort to focus on vocations in parishes and get families and young people thinking about vocations.
William McHale, a Serra Club member active in the Newman Connection that works to keep college students linked to their faith, leads a steering committee assigned by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann to focus on vocations.
One of that committee’s efforts has been to establish vocation committees at the parish level.
The vocation clubs are a part of that. So McHale was pleased to see St. Paul and St. Michael the Archangel start clubs and hopes to see more schools do the same.
Discerning God’s call
St. Paul’s students heard from their pastor as well.
“I really enjoyed when Father John [Torrez] came and spoke to us,” said Madison Schneider, a seventh-grader.
Priests are just ordinary people, Father Torrez explained to them, “ doing an extraordinary job.”
And both new clubs heard from their parish youth ministers.
“I really enjoyed when Stacey Rains, our youth minister, talked to us about her discernment story,” said Katherine Grove, a seventh-grader at St. Paul. “She discerned a vocation with the Sisters in Wichita. I didn’t realize if you enter the convent, you are still in the process of discerning your vocation. And if you realize that God is not calling you to be a Sister, he will tell you, and you can leave.
“Also, discernment does not end when you find your vocation. You continue to discern how to best live your vocation even after you make the decision.”
Father Schmitz emphasizes to the students that the big question to consider is: What is God calling you to do?
“Just listen to God,” is the message that hit home for Connor White, an eighth-grader at St. Michael the Archangel, who has given the priesthood some thought and was interested in what a vocation club might teach him.
“Don’t do what your friends do and don’t go the way you think would be the cool way or the most popular way,” said Joe Weinrich III, an eighth-grader at St. Michael the Archangel. “Do what you know is right.”
And it always takes a lot of listening and prayer, no matter what the vocation might be.
“When you pray about your vocation, it might take God a while to answer your prayer,” said Lynne Grace, a seventh-grader at St. Paul and president of the club. “He always says either yes, no, or not yet.
“I learned that I don’t have to know right now. I have to be patient and ask God to help me understand what he wants for me — not only right now, but in the future as well.”