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Fifth-graders have questions, big and small, for priests, Sisters

Sister Catherine Bussen, a member of the Sisters, Servants of Mary, tells fifth-grade girls how she found her vocation as a nurse and religious Sister. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE BOLLIG

By Joe Bollig

OVERLAND PARK — The fifth-grade student had a serious question for Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann: “What’s the role of a cardinal?”

 “To play baseball for St. Louis,” deadpanned the archbishop.

Although the joke has probably been around before Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was in short pants, it was the first time the students heard it.

And you can’t really blame the St. Louis-born-and-bred archbishop for having a bit of fun.

Of course, Archbishop Naumann quickly moved on to a different answer to this question, as well as a few others during the annual Fifth- Grade Vocations Day held on March 5 at Ascension Parish in Overland Park.

More than 770 students from 23 schools in Wyandotte, Johnson and Miami counties, as well as their teachers, participated in the event. It was sponsored by the archdiocesan vocations office, with assistance from the Serra clubs of Johnson and Wyandotte counties.

The day began with a video presentation and short talk by Father Dan Morris, director of the vocations office, and a brief time for eucharistic adoration.

The remainder of the day was spent with the students going from classroom to classroom to listen to vocations talks given by six religious Sisters from four different orders, nine archdiocesan priests and two young adults discerning possible vocations to the priesthood or religious life. 

The talks were followed by Q&A periods.

Sister Catherine Bussen told a group of young girls how she became a member of the Sisters, Servants of Mary Ministers of the Sick. She joined the nursing order even though she had never wanted to be a nurse.

“Now, I am a nurse,” she said. “God can call us to do things we never imagined we would do. He gives us the grace to do it, and now I love it.”

She has never regretted becoming a religious Sister.

Father Matthew Nagle, associate pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood, teamed up with seminarian Keith Chadwick to talk to the boys.

“No question is off-limits,” said Father Nagle.

“Do you have to wear black shoes every time you go out?” asked one boy.

No, said Father Nagle.  

“There’s no rule about the kind of shoes you wear, but it would look kind of goofy if I wore my basketball shoes,” said Father Nagle.

One boy asked if priests have a special diet.

“No,” said Father Nagle. “A lot of us don’t eat meat on Fridays. But no, no special dietary rules for priests.”

But there were serious questions as well. One boy asked, “What is the most challenging thing for a priest?”

The hardest thing, sometimes, said Father Nagle, is that you’re always a priest and, therefore, a public person. Often, people will know you, but you don’t know them.

“That takes some getting used to,” he said. “You’re a public person. I spend days off with my family, and I don’t feel like a public person around my parents and siblings.”

Even so, Father Nagle loves the priesthood.

“I wouldn’t want to trade being a priest for anything,” he said.

Monsignor Michael Mullen, senior associate pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee, impressed a group of boys by his years of priestly service.

“How long do you think I’ve been a priest?” asked Msgr. Mullen.

“100 years!” yelled one boy.

The ever-youthful monsignor explained he’s been a priest for “only” 57 years — and hoped to serve longer. The students closed out the day by attending a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Naumann. The next Fifth-Grade Vocations Day will be held on Oct. 2 at Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka.

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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