by Joe Bollig
TOPEKA — The process of discerning a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life can seem very mysterious — especially when you’re in the fifth grade.
For example, one boy asked Karen Lombardi, a college student now in the process of discerning her vocation, if she “saw visions.”
Nope. No visions, she said.
Lombardi, a graduate student at the University of Kansas, was just one of 12 presenters at the annual fifth-grade vocations day, held on Oct. 6 at Christ the King Parish in Topeka. The event drew 360 fifth-graders from 16 schools in To- peka and other parts of the archdiocese.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, six priests, six women religious, and Lombardi gave talks during half-hour sessions.
“I think they’re curious; they want to know,” said Lombardi of her young audience. “My hope is that they’ll hear that it takes a lot of prayer — daily prayer — and a lot of small steps of saying ‘yes’ to God — not something you get all at once.”
One girl asked Lombardi if she had always been interested in being a religious.
“I told her, no, you had to consider both vocations [of religious life and marriage],” said Lombardi. “I mentioned that I had a boyfriend before, and they all thought that was very interesting.”
Even young Catholics don’t see as many priests or nuns as earlier generations, so some of the students’ questions centered on the ordinary aspects of a priest’s or nun’s daily life.
“What kind of songs do you sing?” one girl asked Sister Sylvena Ajong, a member of the Sisters, Servants of Mary in Kansas City, Kan.
“I sing religious songs, of course,” said Sister Sylvena. “I don’t sing like Shakira.”
The group of boys that listened to Father Shawn Tunink’s presentation were interested in his initial resistance to his vocational call.
“Did you really yell at people who asked you [about being a priest]?” asked one boy.
“No, I didn’t exactly yell at them,” said Father Tunink, an associate pastor at Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka.
“In my mind I was kind of yelling. I didn’t want to become a priest, so I was trying not to listen to all the people who were asking me to be a priest,” he continued. “In my mind, I was kind of yelling at God to leave me alone, because I was doing good here, and I didn’t want to listen to God’s call. Maybe I was a little scared about what it meant to be a priest.”
Father Curtis Carlson, OFM Cap., thought the discussion was quite lively.
“The boys had very interesting questions,” said Father Curtis, associate pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lawrence. “It showed that they had put quite a lot of thought into the idea of a religious vocation, and their answers to some of my questions showed that they already had some idea of what it was all about.”
The archdiocesan vocations office has sponsored fifth-grade vocations days for many years now, but this year the format saw some changes. A game called “Vocations Jeopardy!” was dropped and two sessions were added. In one, a college-age student shared her discernment process; the other was devoted to eucharistic adoration.
“We added things that would be good for [the students’] discernment,” said Melanie Savner, administrative assistant in the vocations office. “We felt the young discerner would be someone a little younger, who the kids could relate to more easily.”
The addition of eucharistic adoration was designed not only so the kids could learn about the devotion, but also to cultivate friendship with Christ.
“The most important thing we [did] today was pray and introduce to them all the possibilities that there are of vocations,” said Father Mitchel Zimmerman, vocations office director.
The event also included lunch and a recreational period, a talk by the archbishop, and a closing Mass.
The next archdiocesan fifth-grade vocations day, mainly for students in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, will be on March 2, 2011, at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe.
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