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Young men open their hearts to the Lord’s call at ‘Quo Vadis’

While “Quo Vadis” offered time for discernment, prayer and spiritual growth, there was also time for some fun and games. Above, attendees play a board game called Catan. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — For a while, it seemed that Andrew “Drew” Stanley’s course was set.

He fell in love with ministry as a teenager at camp. While pursuing his bachelor’s degree, he fell in love with theology. And then, he made the big jump to go to the seminary — a Protestant seminary.

It made sense. After all, he was Protestant, although in a vague way — a fruit salad mix of American Baptist, Nazarene, Wesleyan and Evangelical Covenant.

“I used to take pride in calling myself a theological mutt,” said Stanley. “I would just pick and choose whatever theology sounded good and try to make my own plate.

“In Protestantism, it’s easy to view church history and teachings as a buffet and you just pick and choose whatever you want, but also adding random things on the side and taking important things out.”

Participants were able to take part in small group discussions as well as larger gatherings and panel discussions. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

He left the seminary not because of a crisis of faith, but a crisis of church.

“I saw that my view of church was not working, and my view of Christianity was distorted and not correct,” he said.

And then, Stanley and his father discovered a church of goodness, beauty and truth: the Catholic Church. Stanley entered the church in October 2021.

Today, Stanley is a part-time youth formation associate at St. John Paul II Parish in Olathe. He is a catechist for confirmation students and guides the high school youth group. He’s also a part-time substitute teacher for the Olathe public schools.

A return to the seminary — a Catholic one this time — may be in his future.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann talks to seminarian Juan Vazquez at breakfast. In addition to offering Mass, the archbishop was available for one-on-one meetings with attendees. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Stanley is undergoing a process of discovery. The process is called discernment, which comes from a Latin word meaning to “sift” or “sort out,” and refers to an effort to understand or “discern” God’s will for his life. Maybe he’ll go to the seminary and continue his discernment — maybe not.

But he feels compelled to consider a call to the priesthood.

“Consistently meditating on Christ’s outpouring of himself, I cannot be the same,” said Stanley.

“Whenever I reflect on Christ’s crucifixion and how he gives himself in the holy Eucharist, I have to ask how I can give myself,” he said. “The more I learn about the priesthood, the history of the church and the sacraments, the more I get excited. . . . There’s a need for priests and I see this desire in myself for what the priest is and what they do. . . . And I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Quo Vadis” participants listen to Colm Larkin, a transitional deacon for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

And he isn’t the only one. He, with 54 other young men from across the archdiocese, met to “sift and sort out” the question together at a retreat called “Quo Vadis.”

Where are you going?

“Quo Vadis” in Latin means “Where are you going?” It is taken from an apocryphal encounter between St. Peter and the risen Christ as the former was fleeing arrest in Rome.

This year’s annual “Quo Vadis” retreat, sponsored by the archdiocesan vocation office, was held Dec. 16-18 at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas. Its theme was: “If You Have Seen Me: Becoming an Icon of God the Father,” taken from the Gospel of John (14:9).

Seminarian Cesar Gomez gives a pro-life talk to the group following the rosary in front of Planned Parenthood. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

The retreat is for young men junior high age and older who exhibit the qualities of spiritual maturity.

“I think they are intelligent, bright and gifted in many other ways, and there are many other things they could do,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, who attended the retreat. “But these men were asking the right questions — not so much about what they would like to do or what would be perhaps the easiest thing to do, but what does God, what does Jesus, want them to do.”

The retreat attendees were either known to their pastors or Father Dan Morris, the archdiocesan vocation director. Each young man received an invitation from Father Morris.

“‘Quo Vadis’ is a discernment retreat for men serious about following Jesus Christ,” said Father Morris. “By serious I mean open to the Lord’s will and wanting to grow closer to him. To grow in friendship with Jesus Christ and follow him wherever that path leads.”

Father Anthony Saiki, rector of the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas, leads a rosary in front of Planned Parenthood in Kansas City, Kansas. “Quo Vadis” attendees prayed in front of the clinic with Father Saiki during the retreat. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

As a young man attains a deeper level of relationship with Jesus Christ, he might move toward a more committed stage in contemplating a vocation to the priesthood while in the seminary. That is why Father Morris invited some archdiocesan seminarians to “Quo Vadis.”

“It’s going to give a guy exposure to [the] seminary in a way he probably hasn’t experienced yet by hanging out with our seminarians, to get to know them on a deeper level, but also give them exposure to the formation that occurs at a seminary,” said Father Morris.

Continuing that effort to bring the seminary to the young men, Father Morris invited Father Brady Wagner, director of the spirituality year at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, to give three 40-minute talks at “Quo Vadis.”

“I simply hope [the young men] learn to live in the grace of their baptism,” said Father Wagner. “That’s the foundation of their whole life. And the inner dynamism of their response to God is thanksgiving — true ‘eucharistia’. 

“As the Lord gives us every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as Saint Paul says in the Epistle to the Ephesians, and how he gives us grace upon grace in Christ, our lives just go from gratitude to gratitude, thanksgiving to thanksgiving.”

The “Quo Vadis” group walks to Planned Parenthood in Kansas City, Kansas. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

In addition to meeting the seminarians and listening to Father Wagner, the retreat attendees participated in small group discussions and panel discussions; eucharistic adoration and Mass with Archbishop Naumann; prayer in front of a Kansas City, Kansas, abortion clinic; several other prayer opportunities; social time with each other; and one-on-one meetings with Father Morris, Father Wagner and Archbishop Naumann.

“I was impressed by their seriousness and, for the most part, they were joyful young men and very generous in wanting to do something good with their lives and wanting to do what God willed for their lives,” said Archbishop Naumann about his one-on-one meetings.

“My encouragement [to them] was to have a spiritual director and to give God time, especially to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament and ask the Lord to reveal to them what his desire is for them, what his dream, if you will, is for them.”

Sifting and being sifted

Who were these young men who attended “Quo Vadis”? What were they like? Archbishop Naumann had a chance to find out.

“Each man is different, and they are in different places in trying to discern their vocations,” said Archbishop Naumann. “Some asked how to pray better; how do they come to understand what God is calling them to do.

“Some of them were already pretty convinced that they were called to enter the seminary, and their questions were more practical ones about when and which seminary they might go to. I found all the men to have very insightful and thoughtful questions.”

Fifty four young men from around the archdiocese attended “Quo Vadis” this year. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Caleb Caleb Renyer, 15, a member of St. Augustine Parish and a sophomore at Sabetha High School, got permission from his wrestling coach to skip practice so he could attend “Quo Vadis.”

Why was he there?

“To better my discernment process and understand what God’s calling me to be,” said Renyer.

He hoped to get something specific from his participation in “Quo Vadis.”

“The main thing I hope to get out of this is just an ease at heart,” he said. “By that, I mean trust in God. That sounds easy, to trust in God, but I think what I mean by that is an ability to give my future up for what his plans are, sacrificing my plans for his.”

A young man prays at the Savior Pastoral Center chapel during “Quo Vadis.” LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

William Anderson, 19, a member of St. Agnes Parish in Roeland Park, is finishing his first semester at Benedictine College in Atchison. He has been intensively considering the seminary for a year.

“I had, last year as a senior in high school, originally thought God was calling me to [the]seminary,” he said. “Actually, I was fairly certain of that. Then, through the discernment process, the vocation office and I both found I needed to take a year of college first and reassess.

“That really challenged me to grow in my faith. This is the first discernment retreat I’ve gone on since my decision not to go to [the] seminary. I’m able to look at it in a new light. And that’s where patience comes into play. God and I are in a relationship, and he will reveal to me what he wants in his own time, and he will take care of me through the whole process.”

A young man does some spiritual reading at Savior Pastoral Center during the “Quo Vadis” retreat. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Anthony Brown, 15, a home-school sophomore and member of St. Benedict Parish in Atchison, went to “Quo Vadis” for relaxation, peace, fellowship and a better understanding of how to move forward in his life — but he’s not ready to say in which direction.

“I figured I should decide or get an idea of what I’m going to do, and where I’m going to go after high school, whether it’s seminary or college,” said Brown.

“I’ve given the priesthood some thought. I’m still deciding. I’m always open to it, but I’m not sure God is calling me to it. I’m not closing down the idea, but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be a priest. It’s too early to say.”

Young men participate in a small group discussion at “Quo Vadis.” LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Thomas Bagley, 26, a Scout camp ranger and member of Christ the King Parish in Topeka, was encouraged by his pastor and associate pastor to attend “Quo Vadis.”

“I heard about it but wasn’t able to sign up for the past two years,” said Bagley.

“I guess, a couple of years ago and presently, I have questioned what God was inviting me to do and what would be the best fit for me in God’s plan,” he said. “I guess [I am here to] just try to gain more insight and information about [the] seminary but not ruling out married life.”

Every young Catholic man should ask if God wants him to pursue a vocation in the priesthood, he said.

“I hope to get a little more clarity [this weekend] how to pray for my discernment,” said Bagley. “That’s one thing. I just want to spend some good time in prayer and reset away from the world.”

Father Dan Morris prays during the consecration at a Mass during the “Quo Vadis” retreat. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Father Morris hoped what the young men who attended “Quo Vadis” would take away was not only a deeper prayer life and relationship with Christ, but also less fear and a feeling of freedom to consider the priesthood.

Archbishop Naumann hopes more young men will sift and allow themselves to be sifted among their choices in life.

“We need more priests,” said the archbishop. “I think every young man should at least consider the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood. Our primary vocation is our baptism and confirmation. Nothing more important will happen to us than what was given to us [then]. We are all empowered to share in the mission of Jesus, which is not just to keep the faith, but to go and make disciples.

“I would encourage all the people of the archdiocese to pray for more priestly vocations and to pray especially for priestly vocations coming from your own family and your own parish community, and to encourage young men that you know to think about and consider the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood.”

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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