At annual Vocation Day, eighth graders reminded to reflect on path to which God calls them
FORT WORTH – A crossroads is a natural place to pause and look at each direction, to consider which path to take.
On April 28, 315 eighth grade students from 15 diocesan Catholic schools met at St. Patrick Cathedral for Eighth Grade Vocation Day — an opportunity to step away from the routine of classes and reflect on which path God is calling them to follow.
Melissa Kasmeier, the associate superintendent of Catholic schools, said scheduling vocation day for the end of eighth grade year is intentional, because eighth grade students “close out this phase [of their education] and embark on a new phase.”
Her hope was that the day will “plant some seeds in their minds, to continue to be open to God’s call in their lives and what that call might mean in the world.”
The morning began with a welcome by Father Jonathan Wallis, vicar general and director of seminarian formation for the diocese, who assured the students, “When you say ‘yes’ to God, He has amazing things in store for you. When you say ‘yes’ to the Lord in small ways, all your problems don’t go away, but you will have someone to help carry the burden.”
He also encouraged the students to look around at the cathedral and at their fellow Catholics from other schools. The priest explained that we often think of Church as our local parish, but this gathering served as a microcosm of the universal Church since students attended from across the diocese.
Fr. Wallis, who remarked that he met Catholics from around the globe when he studied in Rome, told the students, “Always remember, no matter how you feel about it, you are never more at home than in the Church. You are never more understood than when you are in the Church. You always have a place here, no matter what happens in your life. You can always come back.”
After his welcome, Mass began with a procession of banners from each of the schools. In his homily, Father Wallis shared a bit of his surprising vocation journey — how an Episcopalian from Missouri who wanted to be a married lawyer with children became a Catholic priest for the Diocese of Fort Worth.
He told the students, “God is intimately connected with our creation and our existence. There is no other source of happiness than Him. Let’s listen to the Lord; let’s be open to what He’s calling us to do. He is the source of our life and our salvation and our eternal life. Each and every one of us here in this cathedral today has a vital part to play.”
Seminarian Eric Flores, along with Seminarian Randolph Edward Hopkins Jr. and Father Maurice Moon, the chaplain of Nolan Catholic High School, shared their vocation stories with the boys and held a lively question-and-answer session where the youth asked about how to develop a prayer life, along with questions about favorite sports, videogames, and music. (The seminarians listen to classic country or rock, and Fr. Moon prefers “anything before 1885.”)
Flores recalled attending the event when he was an eighth-grade student at Our Lady of Victory School. He said vocation day “gets kids thinking about their faith, which is a good thing” and hopes the discussion reinforced the students’ desire to “establish their own personal relationship with God.”
While the boys questioned the seminarians and Fr. Moon, the girls heard the vocation stories of Sister Anna Imelda Nguyen, OP, who teaches theology at Nolan, and Sister Immaculata Therese Nguyen, OP, a Holy Family Catholic School teacher.
Sr. Anna Imelda, a Dominican Sister of Mary Immaculate, remembered thinking “I hate these sisters” when members of the religious order held her back from receiving first Holy Communion. Twice.
Another sister of the same order caught her attention at Confirmation, when the sister said she joined the order because she “wanted to know what God’s love was about,” which started Sr. Anna Imelda’s search to experience God’s love.
She discerned a religious vocation, with some hesitation and reluctance, for about three years before feeling “peace, joy, and freedom” when she entered the convent in 2004.
Sr. Immaculata captivated the young ladies with a magic trick in which a seemingly empty bag was filled with hearts. She said, “God always wants to give you gifts. Are you waiting? Are you ready?”
School administrators were pleased to reinstate diocesan eighth grade vocation day this year. The event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic.
According to Brinton Smith, superintendent of schools, Catholic education plays an important role in religious vocations. He said studying theology “can set the heart on fire, which leads to love, which leads to action…. They can decide that, in knowing their faith better, it’s worth giving their life to. It’s difficult to attract young people to a spiritual life or a religious vocation if they are ignorant of the faith.”
For most of the students, this was the first time to visit the mother church of the Diocese of Fort Worth. Landry Schilling and her classmates at Sacred Heart Catholic School left Muenster at 7 a.m., but the early hour was worth it to experience the “amazing beauty” of the cathedral.
The students closed the day in the cathedral with Fr. Moon, who gave a brief history of the structure, which dates back to 1888. He closed with a reminder, “We need priests to lay down their lives for the Church. We need religious sisters to lay down their lives for the Church. Be open to that. Pray about that. You’re very much loved, and God has a wonderful plan for you.”