Fifth Grade Vocation Day plants the seed for future vocations

Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

North Texas Catholic

April 5, 2013

Fr. Jonanthan McElhone, TOR  (right front) and Fr. Jonathan Wallis, director of Cathechesis for the Diocese of Fort Worth, talk to the student at the Annuarl 5th Grade Vocations Day held Holy Family Church March 20. (Photo by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen/NTC)

Father Isaac Orozco fielded a barrage of questions from eager 10- and 11-year-olds at this year’s Fifth Grade Vocations Day. Why did you want to become a priest? How long did you study? What do you do for fun?

But one answer seemed to surprise the youngsters who gathered inside Holy Family Church for the March 20 event. When asked to share the “most exciting” part of being a priest, the young Vocations director stepped back from the podium and paused for a moment before giving a thoughtful answer.

“It’s different for everyone,” he explained before a roomful of impressionable boys. “But the most exciting thing for me is the Mass, especially in a big church when there are a lot of people coming through the door.”

Fr. Orozco confessed to experiencing a nervous excitement before giving a homily.

“That’s because I get to connect with people and I feel everyone’s energy,” he added.

Giving the 465 fifth-graders who attend one of 17 Catholic schools in the diocese an opportunity to meet priests, seminarians, and women religious is the idea behind the annual Vocation Day. After celebrating Mass together, students divide into small groups and listen as those who answered a call to religious life tell their stories.

Along with Fr. Orozco, this year’s presenters included Father Jonathan McElhone, TOR, of Good Shepherd Parish in Colleyville; Father Jonathan Wallis, diocesan director of Catechesis; Seminarians Anthony Vecchio and Raul Martinez; and Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth (CSFN) Mary Paul Haase and Rosalyn Nguyen; Sister Diana Rodriguez, HCG; and Sisters of St. Mary of Namur Lola ‘Ulupano and Yolanda Cruz.

“I’ve been told kids start to develop an idea about what they want to do as an adult around the age of 10,” explained Fr. Orozco who participated in Vocation Day as a seminarian. “If this is true, then speaking to that age group ensures the Church is presenting them with some real vocation possibilities to think about.”

Fifth-graders are still years away from making any life-altering decisions, he admitted.

“What we’re doing is planting a seed now with the hope of seeing some fruit years later.

In their talk before the fifth grade girls, Sr. Yolanda and Sr. Lola presented both ends of the spectrum regarding life in a religious community. Sr. Yolanda, who is vice chancellor for parish services and serves the diocese as associate director of women’s vocations, joined the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur 28 years ago. Sr. ‘Ulupano, a novice, is still waiting to take her first vows with the order.

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“The girls asked excellent questions,” commended Sr. Yolanda. “They wanted to know how God called us and whether we missed not getting married.”

A first time Vocation Day speaker, Sr. Lola was impressed by the youngsters’ enthusiasm and insight.

“No one was asleep in the seats,” she said, lightheartedly. “Even though they’re only in the fifth grade, you can see they’re already thinking, ‘what am I going to do with my life?’”

Patrick Sumner, who attends St. Peter School, sat riveted as Fr. Orozco talked about a pivotal moment in his own vocation. In a story that touched on his family’s troubled times and other challenges he experienced growing up, he told his young listeners how he gave up a coveted appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy to discern a call to the priesthood. While studying at Annapolis, he had rediscovered his faith thanks to a Catholic prayer group and a compassionate Navy chaplain.

Eventually, the former navy cadet entered Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas and later studied at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He was ordained on July 7, 2007.

Fr. Orozco’s struggle struck a chord with Sumner.

“It surprised me that he chose to be a priest instead of staying in the Navy,” the 10-year-old said. “I’m a shy kid myself, so I knew that took a lot of nerve.”

An altar server at St. Peter Church, Sumner said the Vocation Day talks gave him a better understanding of what priests do.

“I learned a lot today,” he added.

Students from St. Andrew School prepared for the diocesan event by reading about religious vocations and family life. Many had never met a religious sister before.

“Vocation Day teaches us that we may not know what we want to do now, but as we grow older, God is going to let us know what He wants us to become,” said 10-year-old Claudia Benge. “I was surprised by how sure the sisters were that God was calling them.”

Father Isaac Orozco fielded a barrage of questions from eager 10- and 11-year-olds at this year’s Fifth Grade Vocations Day. Why did you want to become a priest? How long did you study? What do you do for fun?

Published (until 12/21/2031)
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