OVERLAND PARK — What do you get when some 50 religious orders are in town for a conference and they’ve got some time to spare?
For parishioners in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, that concoction gave them the opportunity to attend an Ultimate Vocation Fair at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park Oct. 26.
The religious in town for the National Religious Vocation Conference came out in full force to represent their orders at the fair, which was spearheaded by Sister Vicki Lichtenauer, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth.
“I thought it would be a really fun way to learn more about the lifestyle of the different Sisters,” said Mackenzie Lary, a freshman at the University of Kansas. “Plus, who doesn’t love meeting people who are striving for sainthood?”
Lary, along with fellow KU freshmen Jordan Schartz and Ellie Augustine, made the road trip to Overland Park to learn more about religious life and the variety of orders within the church.
“The religious life is something I find very beautiful and I always love learning more about it,” said Schartz.
“It was a bit overwhelming at times, talking to so many orders, because there were so many of them,” she added. “But it was a very fruitful experience at the same time.”
The young women were amazed at the distinctive personalities of each order and the welcoming nature that surrounded them.
“All of the Sisters were super-friendly, and I loved getting to see how extremely human they are,” said Augustine.
“I think that often some people put religious up on a pedestal,” she continued, “but, in reality, they are just people answering God’s call in their lives, as we all should be striving to do.”
Although the three KU students are still trying to determine what vocation in life God is calling them to, they were open to learning more about religious life.
“We all come from different places in the discerning process,” said Lary, “so we all asked different questions that were still good for us to hear the answers to.”
And the women agreed it was particularly helpful talking with Sisters and nuns, something they don’t often have the chance to do. (Both are women religious, but nuns usually belong to a cloistered or semicloistered order.)
“We are exposed to priests every day, but it is rarer to be exposed to Sisters, and especially nuns,” said Lary.
For Valentin Lobatos, a sophomore at Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas, the event was a place to continue a process he’d already begun.
“I’ve been discerning for a few years now,” he said, “and it was just a great opportunity to come and see all the different orders and how each one of them has a different charism.”
“It’s great because [all] of us are called to different vocations, and I think wherever God calls us to be, that’s his plan,” he added. “Even the younger ones are the future of the church, and we’ll carry on the torch.”
The fair was open to people of all ages, as well as parents of young people who are discerning. Parents of religious, priests and seminarians were also there to answer questions and offer support.
One family that took advantage of the evening was Patricia Elder and her three sons, who are 18, 15 and 4.
“Rarely do we have an opportunity to take our children to one place and then they’re allowed to learn about all of these different orders,” said Elder.
All she asked of her sons was that they be open to God’s call for their lives and use the fair as a learning opportunity.
“It’s difficult,” Elder said. “You’re going against all these secular influences and they really have to hear that call loudly.”
Elder appreciated the “one-stop shopping” the fair provided and prays her sons and all in attendance walked away with a clearer understanding of the variety of religious orders that exist.
“What I would hope is that they leave knowing that there are many ways to answer God’s call,” she said.