At Eighth Grade Vocations Day, students reflect on how they may honor God

North Texas Catholic
(May 1, 2024) Local

Bishop Olson shakes hand of 8th grader

Bishop Michael Olson greets students after the Eighth Grade Vocations Day Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral on April 25, 2024. Hundreds of eighth graders from 15 diocesan schools participated in the liturgy and afterward listened to vocations talks.(NTC/Juan Guajardo)

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FORT WORTH — The morning of April 25, St. Patrick Cathedral quietly hummed with youthful hope, excitement, and fellowship. Bishop Michael Olson opened the annual Eighth Grade Vocations Mass, warmly welcoming the hundreds of students filling the pews, dressed in their diocesan Catholic school uniforms, to the heart of the Diocese of Fort Worth.

“In His generosity, God has given us this time together and on this wonderful Feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist,” Bishop Olson said as he began his homily.

The youngest of the Apostles and a teenager when he listened and spent time with Jesus, Saint Mark “offers us insight into the gift of time and the importance of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with other people through our lives,” Bishop Olson said.

The precious nature of this gift, he continued, “has been given to us by God and has been transformed for us by the love of Jesus Christ who laid down His life for us, the victory that He won for us by the death on the cross and His resurrection.”

In this way, time becomes a pathway into eternal life, provided “we believe and offer our time and share it with Christ as Christ shared His time with us.”

He reminded the junior high students that they had been brought together “because God has given you the precious gift of time, time to listen to those who are a little older than you, and time to hear what invitation Christ is offering you to share your gift of time — the gift of a vocation.”

students kneel in prayer
Isabella Escutia, an eighth-grader from St. Rita Catholic School, prays during the Eighth Grade Vocations Day Mass celebrated by Bishop Michael Olson at St. Patrick Cathedral on April 25, 2024. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Just as St. Mark shared His teachings through service and in living the Gospel, Bishop Olson encouraged the young congregation always to receive the gift of time in gratitude, freely offering it to the Lord “in prayer, at Mass, and in service to our neighbor.”


Listen to your elders

After Mass and class pictures with the bishop, students filed out of the cathedral and entered the three-story St. Patrick Parish Hall, where the girls and boys were then separated to eat lunch in convivial fellowship before attending vocations talks. Consecrated virgin Mary del Olmo spoke to the girls, and Diocesan Director of Vocations and Nolan Catholic High School Chaplain Father Brett Metzler talked to the eighth-grade boys.

Fr. Metzler related memories of entering public high school with a sense of unease about sharing the faith.

“There was a break for me between what I knew was right and what the crowd was doing. And for a long time, I just went with the crowd,” he shared, recalling his life revolved heavily around sports, girls, parties, and then emptiness.

“There was a very strong temptation to just leave my faith because that would've been the easiest thing to do,” Fr. Metzler said.

But with the support of his father and several other strong men in his life as well as gradually adopting a practice of consistent prayer, the young Fr. Metzler found life and meaning and a zeal to follow a life of virtue.

“Strong men do things for other people and do the hard things. They do the hard work. They make the sacrifices. They choose virtue. … It was the person of Jesus Christ, who was a man who was tortured and crucified willingly for us — which is the most manly thing you can do — calling me to follow Him in manhood,” he stressed.

Thoroughly engaged in his talk, more than 15 students asked Fr. Metzler questions about his vocation, his time in seminary, his fears and joys. Before closing prayer, he encouraged the group of boys, many of whom still had their hands raised to ask more questions, to remain open to God’s call.

“It is the most important thing in your life to give concrete time to God every day, and second is saying yes, to be the courageous man that works hard,” he said.

Father Brett Metzler speaks with large group of boys
Father Brett Metzler, vocations director for the diocese, leads a vocations talk for eighth-grade boys during Eighth Grade Vocations Day on April 25, 2024 at St. Patrick Cathedral. Hundreds of eighth graders from 15 diocesan schools participated in Mass and afterward listened to vocations talks by Fr. Metzler and others.(NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Meanwhile, in the main hall, Mary del Olmo asked her group of eighth-grade girls how one may live a life of holiness.

“Purity,” “reverence,” “taking part in a community to celebrate Jesus,” “being faithful,” several junior high girls in the hall called out in response.

“Yes, we have this universal call, this universal vocation of holiness, of being faithful to being in community, to being of Jesus, to being reverent and sacred. And He has this universal call to be set aside, to be set aside for God,” she agreed.


Youth looking forward

With their high school years just ahead of them, the eighth-grade Catholic school students were abuzz with excitement or apprehension for what lies ahead.

A student at Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Denton since first grade, Eric Kingodi shared his fear for what’s to come: “I’m really scared because there’s a lot of things I want to do and a lot of things I think I can do, so I’m not really sure where I’ll be in the next couple of years.”

The recent first-place winner of dictionary skills at the Private Schools Interscholastic Association State Championship held at Texas State University at San Marcos said he will miss the Catholic community at school, especially as he plans to attend a public high school.

“It’s just easier to stay close to your faith at ICCS, but my parents are both very religious, so I think praying with them and praying at home will really help going around school,” the young St. Mark Church in Argyle parishioner said.

Joseph Carey Merke has also greatly enjoyed his time at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School in Keller.

“Ever since fifth grade, time has flown by so fast, and everything has been going quick. I will miss playing outside with my friends and my classes — it was fun… I think my friends have developed a lot, and I’ve grown with friends,” he enthused.

girls listening
Eighth-grade girls listen to Mary Del Olmo, a consecrated virgin, as she leads a vocations talk during Eighth Grade Vocations Day on April 25, 2024 at St. Patrick Cathedral. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Merke will attend Nolan in the fall, and he’s excited for the new friends, teachers, and opportunities to come.

“I love statistics and measurements and math, so I’m excited for the engineering and robotics club and sports at Nolan, and of course planning on my career and college. I plan on going to Texas A&M, which is an engineering school, and I’m hoping Nolan will help me get there,” he said.

Claire Swirczynski from Sacred Heart Catholic School in Muenster said she would miss “being the oldest instead of the youngest” as she enters the high school division of her campus next year, and her classmate Molly Hess shared her hopes of studying physical therapy in college.

From St. Martin De Porres Catholic School in Prosper, Karol Flores Vega said, “I’m going to miss the people here,” as she reflected on her time at school. The vocation she feels called to: “I want to get married; I really want to have a family.”

Nolan Catholic students milled throughout the junior high event as volunteers, assisting with the organization of the day’s events. Sophomore Sarah Heym said she felt “refreshed knowing that marriage is what I’m being called to do,” after hearing Del Olmo’s talk. She remembered the apprehension she’d felt for the future attending the Eighth Grade Vocations Day a couple of years ago.

The wisdom she’d share with the incoming freshman? “Keep that innocence and true love for everything. I feel like high school tries to take away your excitement for everything — expressing your love for God, your friends, and stuff like that. Try to always have that fire for just being what you used to be and not trying to change yourself.”

Career choices may change often, she warned, and so will the direction friends may decide to go.

“And that’s okay,” Heym said with a confident smile.

Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, Eighth Grade Vocations Day, Catholic schools, vocations, Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson, trending-english