School chaplains model a priestly life
Trying to figure out what God calls a person to isn’t for the faint of heart. It is a lifelong process of tuning our hearts and ears to recognize His voice and know where He is leading us. Often, we think that God will simply let us know what we are supposed to do by sending a sign or by making a deal with Him (if you let me know what I am supposed to do, I’ll say five more rosaries before breakfast). However, what I have noticed in my time working with young men and women discerning their paths is that the call doesn’t come in a spectacular way but a personal one. After hearing many vocation stories, there is a common theme among them all: Jesus and someone who follows Jesus well.
In the silence, God speaks to our hearts. When the noise of everyday life fades away, God speaks in the silence. Blaise Pascal once said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” He is on to something. The first thing we need to do to find our vocation is sit quietly in a room with our Lord. I know that this seems like your standard advice, but how often do we follow it? Set aside time every week and ask our Lord to help clarify where He is calling you. If you are already solidified in your vocation, pray for vocations within your parish. Pray for the servers at your weekend Masses. Your prayers go a long way in helping with discernment.
Chaplains and Personal Examples
I worked at Aquinas High School for eight years. While I was there, one thing stuck out to me regarding vocations—presence means more than anything. It was one thing for me to stand up in front of my class every day, discussing the various vocations the Catholic Church recognizes. Students got to hear stories of my own marriage, and as our first child was born while I was teaching, the students got to see me go into total dad mode. The telling of our family’s joys and struggles allowed them to ask more candid questions about married life than they would perhaps have asked other teachers. The same goes for the priesthood. As I was growing up, it was the example of amazing priests that allowed me to even consider going to the seminary. Whether it was Monsignor Joseph Hirsch doing magic tricks or playing Cat’s Cradle, Father Sam Martin giving me a good elbow to the chest as he often beat me in basketball or Father Eric Berns riding his Harley to our family’s Fourth of July party, it was their example that inspired me to think, “Priests are normal people too.”
Whether it was Monsignor Joseph Hirsch doing magic tricks or playing Cat’s Cradle, Father Sam Martin giving me a good elbow to the chest as he often beat me in basketball or Father Eric Berns riding his Harley to our family’s Fourth of July party, it was their example that inspired me to think, “Priests are normal people too.”
Within our schools, we are blessed to have so many chaplains serving as examples to our students. This is where vocations begin to take root. I would hear stories from students walking into my classroom about Father Nate Kuhn, the current vocation director, destroying them in dodgeball, volleyball, basketball—anything that involved a ball. Only an hour later, these same young men would serve Mass alongside Father Kuhn. Soon afterward, Father Aaron Becker became the chaplain, and following that example, he was present at football, basketball, plays and at recess with the littles at St. Patrick School, kicking the ball over the fence to the kids’ amazement. His example at the summer camps, whether Adventure Camp or Camp Covecrest, left a lasting mark on many of our young men. Indeed, some of those men have since joined the Journey Program. It is by example and allowing our youth to have these encounters with priests and religious that changes the perception from “I couldn’t see myself doing that” to “That doesn’t seem that bad.”
These are my personal experiences with some of the amazing priests in our diocese. Think of a priest who has made an impact on your life. Take a second to write a letter, send a text or send an email, thanking them for their example.
Discerning the Call
So, the question becomes, what are the next steps if I am called? What if I know someone in my parish who might be called to the priesthood or religious life? Talk to your parish priest or chaplain. They have gone through the discernment process themselves. Take advantage of their life experiences.
Secondly, contact Father Kuhn and schedule a time to visit Mater Redemptoris Journey Program. This program is specifically for young men discerning the call to priesthood, but even more so, it is for men who are looking to become true men of God. Also called the propaedeutic year, this discernment year focuses on four major pillars of formation: human, spiritual, pastoral and intellectual. Our goal within the Journey Program is to help young men develop a strong daily prayer life that will carry on into seminary or normal everyday life because, without that, life gets hard. They have guidance through formation sessions, in which they learn what a well-formed man looks like while also participating in spiritual direction. They participate in apostolics, in which they are sent to Catholic schools around the diocese and serve in various capacities. Finally, they are formed intellectually through college-accredited theology classes in Scripture, catechism, liturgy and apologetics. It is not all work, though. The men go on many trips, and our weekly community night always leads to laughs.
Coming from a guy who almost joined the seminary, taught in Catholic school and has been a youth minister, let’s open up the discussion on vocations. Don’t let it simply be the third or fourth intercession at Mass. Let’s dedicate our prayer time to seeing where God is calling us. God knows what the desires of your heart are; do not be afraid to ask Him to reveal them to you.
Father Kuhn and the Journey men will be traveling to the schools throughout the diocese to promote vocations. Please pray for the men in our Journey Program this year—we need all the help we can get!
Associate Director of Vocation Formation
Published in the January/February 2024 issue of Catholic Life Magazine