Annual Vocation Day teaches fifth-graders to be open to God’s will

Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

Father Jonathan Wallis, Vocations Director for the Diocese of Fort Worth, speaks to the children at the 5th Grade Vocation Mass
Father Jonathan Wallis, Vocations Director for the Diocese of Fort Worth, speaks to the children at the 5th Grade Vocation Mass. (Photo by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen/NTC)

Victoria Villalobos had never met a religious sister before. The Diocesan Fifth Grade Vocation Day, observed March 26 at Holy Family Church, provided an opportunity.

“It was interesting learning about the nuns and sisters and what they do daily and all the jobs they have,” said the student from St. Maria Goretti School in Arlington who heard several speakers talk about their lives before and after entering the convent.

And what was her impression of the women who wear distinctive habits and dedicate their lives to God and his Church?

“I liked them,” she said enthusiastically. “They were nice. They care for each other and other people, and I think that’s great.”

Giving Catholic school fifth-graders the chance to meet priests, seminarians, and women religious in a casual setting is the idea behind the annual event. The Offices of Vocations and Catholic Schools sponsor the day-long program hoping it will encourage young people to start thinking about the future — particularly service to God and his Church.

“It offers a dedicated time for the students to ask God what He wants them to do with their lives,” explains Father Jonathan Wallis, diocesan director of Vocations. “Fifth grade is an especially important year as the students are transitioning from elementary school into the upper grades. This is a perfect time for them to listen to the call of Jesus Christ to follow him.”

Fifth grade may seem a little young to begin contemplating future careers and commitments, but research indicates there are three pivotal times in a young person’s development when life-altering decisions are made. Known as the 11-3-3 model, these critical stages are age 11, the third year in high school and the third year in college.

After celebrating Mass with Fr. Wallis, students enjoyed a question and answer session with the priest, then divided into small groups to hear the personal stories of people committed to religious life. Longtime participant Sister Kay-Jo Evelo, SHSp, said the conversation gives youngsters an accurate picture of what being a sister or priest is really like.

“It lets them know we weren’t nuns as babies. We grew up just like they are doing, but God gave us a special call in a special way,” she explained. “They ask some interesting questions. One girl wanted to know if I had ever been kissed.”

A member of the San Antonio-based Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate for 57 years, Sr. Kay-Jo tells the young audience her vocation “was truly a call from God.”

“This is where the seed is planted,” the St. Rita teacher said, referring to events like Vocation Day. “We let them know that even if they’re not thinking about God, He’s still calling.”

Sisters Kay-Jo Evelo, SHSp; Yolanda Cruz, SSMN; Francesca Bui, OP; Catherine Yen Tran, OP; and Rosalyn Nguyen, OP

Children also heard presentations from (right to left) Sisters Kay-Jo Evelo, SHSp; Yolanda Cruz, SSMN; Franceca Bui, OP; Catherine Ye Tran, OP; and Rosalyn Nguyen, CSFN. 

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Students also heard presentations from Father James Wilcox, Father James Flynn, Transitional Deacon Gary Picou, Sister Yolanda Cruz, SSMN, Sister Francesca Bui, OP, Sister Catherine Yen Tran, OP and Sister Rosalyn Nguyen, CSFN.

During his homily, and later while answering questions, Fr. Wallis asked the 450 fifth-graders seated inside the church to consider what God wants them to do with their lives.

“Jesus Christ is calling each and every one of you to a vocation. Maybe He wants you to get married, or become a priest, sister, or single person,” he explained. “Jesus knows you and is calling you to something great and important.”

Every person has goals and desires, he told the youngsters. As a 10-year-old, Fr. Wallis wanted to become a lawyer, marry, and have children.

“But sometimes Jesus asks us to follow Him and that’s at the heart of every single vocation,” the speaker added. “Jesus may ask you to sacrifice what you thought your life was going to be to follow Him.”

In closing, Fr. Wallis advised his impressionable listeners to turn to Jesus for guidance and answers. In a world that tells people they can have everything, the true road to happiness is through sacrifice and service.

“Jesus will take us down that road,” he assured. “Begin asking God what He wants you to do. Ask Him how you can serve Him and your neighbor each and every day of your life.”

For Jacob Schacter, a student at Notre Dame School in Wichita Falls, the word “vocation” was new to his vocabulary.

“I know now it’s something God and Jesus is calling you to do,” he said. “It got me thinking.”

Victoria Villalobos had never met a religious sister before. The Diocesan Fifth Grade Vocation Day, observed March 26 at Holy Family Church, provided an opportunity. “It was interesting learning about the nuns and sisters and what they do daily and all the jobs they have,” said the student from St. Maria Goretti School in Arlington who heard several speakers talk about their lives before and after entering the convent.

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