by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — A pingpong paddle, a fantasy novel, a wedding picture and a baseball cap.
They easily could be objects in a museum — a part of history.
Instead, the objects represent chapters in the life stories of how men and women within the archdiocese answered God’s call to religious life and became part of “HIStory” instead.
“Now is Your Time to Make HIStory” was the theme of the annual Fifth-Grade Vocations Day held Oct. 2 at Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka. Nearly 300 fifth-graders from Topeka, Atchison and Seneca participated in the event designed to encourage kids to start thinking about how they answer God’s call.
Throughout the day, students had the opportunity to hear priests and religious share their vocation stories.
For example, Most Pure Heart pastor Father Greg Hammes and Thomas Maddock, an archdiocesan seminarian assigned to St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood, shared how their hobbies helped them realize God was calling them to the priesthood.
Growing up in Seneca, Father Hammes attended Sts. Peter and Paul Grade School. While his family went to Mass regularly, it was his love of reading that first planted thoughts of the priesthood.
Holding up a bound copy of “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien, Father Hammes said that, next to the Bible, this book became his favorite.
“As a kid, in a way, that was God speaking to my heart,” he said. “I wanted to be like Gandolf. I wanted to be like Frodo. I wanted to be Aragorn.”
“What did Frodo do? He had to bring the ring to Mount Doom, and he thought he was going to die doing it,” said Father Hammes. “He almost did.
“So, he’s willing to give his life to save everyone from evil. That’s Jesus.
“What do priests do? We give our lives for other people. So, we’re like Frodo.”
Likewise, he said, Aragorn is “a really awesome warrior.”
Sometimes Father Hammes sees himself “just trying to fight for my people. Every day is a battle to save souls.”
Although he’s not yet a priest, Maddock said when he thinks about the possibility of his ordination in just a few years, it brings him much joy.
Showing his Kansas City Royals baseball cap to a group of boys, he said he played baseball all four years of high school at St. James Academy in Lenexa.
Although his team won the state championship his senior year, one of his teammates, Doug, led him to think about the ultimate championship — eternal life in heaven. Doug’s example led him, said Maddock, to think about what God wanted from him.
Every year, Maddock said he asks the Lord if it’s his will for him to continue down the path toward priesthood.
“One of the main things that’s inspired me to keep going forward is . . . the Eucharist — that priestly sacrifice of the Mass,” said Maddock. “My favorite Scripture verse is John 15:13: ‘No greater love has man than this than to lay down his life for his friends.’
“And that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. We’re his friends, and that’s one of the things I want to do with my life as a priest.”
During a Q&A session, the kids asked Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann questions ranging from how he became a bishop to whether he’d like to become pope.
In response to the first question the archbishop had a quick answer.
“That’s a very good question,” he said. “I wish I knew the answer.”
Nor did the question about becoming pope really stump him.
“I don’t really think about that a lot because I don’t think there’s any danger that will happen,” he said. “I admire the pope, but it’s a big responsibility.”