Embracing vocations can be hard, fifth graders told
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - It would have been like a direct call from God. But it's never quite that easy, Coadjutor Bishop Robert W. Finn told some 400 fifth-graders March 4 during the annual Vocation Days at Archbishop O'Hara High School.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Sister Clarita Hotop, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, donned a dinosaur head and visited the fifth-graders at the annual Vocation Days March 3 at Archbishop O'Hara High School.
When he was in the fifth grade, Bishop Finn said in his homily at Mass to close the day, he was already thinking about being a priest. One day, a priest came to visit his St. Louis elementary school and told his class that he not only knew that there were future priests and sisters in the room, but he could pick them out.
Young Robert hoped the priest would pick him and confirm the call he was already hearing. No such luck. The visiting priest picked the class clown.
"He was the biggest troublemaker in class," Bishop Finn recalled. "That particular young man did grow up and get married. He has a wonderful wife and family. But there were two future priests in that room, and I was one of them."
By the time he reached seventh grade, he wanted to move on to the St. Louis archdiocesan high school seminary, but didn't quite know how to tell his parents, he told the fifth graders.
That year, his class saw a vocation film that featured a young man with the same problem.
"In the film, the young man was at the dinner table, and he sort of blurted it out: 'I want to be a priest,'" Bishop Finn said.
"His parents said, 'We think that would be wonderful,'" Bishop Finn recalled.
Soon after, as his family was preparing for an evening out, young Robert Finn decided to tell his father.
"We were putting on our coats, and I said, 'Dad, I want to go to the seminary,'" he said. "Right away, my dad said, 'Nothing would make me happier.'
"I went to high school seminary, college seminary and theology school," Bishop Finn said. "It's been the most wonderful thing God could have chosen for me, and I said, 'Yes.'
"Maybe you are having those thoughts," he said. "We need priests. We need sisters. We need people dedicated to taking care of people.
"Test it out," he said. "We're not going to ordain you in fifth grade or sixth grade. Take time to talk about it with very important people like your parents and your teachers. If you need someone to talk to, your parents are a wonderful first choice. If you want to try it out on someone else first, go to a trusted teacher. Or call someone in our vocation office. Or write to me.
"God has a plan for you and me," he said. "We have to say, 'Yes, Lord, yes.'"
Following God's plan has been the theme of the special day set aside for all fifth graders attending Catholic elementary schools in the diocese since it began in 1995.
Half the fifth graders attended March 3, ending with Mass celebrated by Bishop Raymond J. Boland.
During the day, they heard talks from diocesan priests and from sisters from various religious orders about their lives.
Opening both days was "The Charity Notes," a song and dance act performed by 15 Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. The children clapped along and stamped their feet as the sisters sang Broadway and Tin Pan Alley standards, and heard a vocations talk from the order's vocation director, Sister Sharon Smith.
"How many times have you been asked, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?'" Sister Smith asked. "Today, I want you to ask yourself, 'What does God want me to be when I grow up?'"
Sister Smith said that every one of them has a vocation, whether it is to married life, single life or religious life.
"Your challenge is to ask what God wants you to do with your life," she said.
That message was underscored by the priests and the sisters the children heard throughout the day.
God has a plan for everyone, Franciscan Sister Andrea Kantner told about 15 girls in a "Sister, Sister" session.
"Even before you knew about God, God was thinking about you," she said. "There are some of you that God is calling to be a sister."
She asked the girls to raise their hands if they think God is calling them to religious life as a sister. No hands were raised.
She then asked the girls to close their eyes so they couldn't see each other, and she asked them again to raise their hands if they think they might be called to religious life. Three hands went up that time.
Not everyone is called to be a priest or a sister, diocesan Associate Vocations Director Father Stephen Cook told the fifth-graders as the day opened.
But everyone can help foster vocations to religious life, he said.
"If you are not being called to the priesthood or religious life, be supportive of those who are," Father Cook said. "If you are being called, don't let anyone discourage you."
Bishop Boland echoed that in his homily at Mass on the end of the first day.
"This Mass has a very simple prayer. It's for all of you fifth-graders to pray that we have more priests and more sisters and more brothers in this diocese," Bishop Boland said.
Bishop Boland said that events such as the annual Vocations Days for fifth-graders are beginning to bear fruit.
"The good news I want to share with you is that we have 11 seminarians in various stages of preparation," he said. "Beginning this fall, 10 more young men will join those 11. That is a wonderful increase, and it bodes well for the future."
Bishop Boland told the children that it is OK to explore a variety of careers as they decide which is the one God has planned for them.
"With your own special talents and abilities, you will begin to zero in to what God is calling you to do," Bishop Boland said.
He told the children to continue to pray about their call.
"When we are talking to God, he is talking to us," Bishop Boland said. "God is telling you, 'If I speak to you, don't cut me out. Listen to me.'
"Tell him, 'If you are calling me to the priesthood or religious life, give me the courage and strength to do it,'" Bishop Boland said.
"Pray first that we have enough priests and sisters in the world to serve the church," he said. "And then pray for guidance so that you will know what God wants you to do."