Eighth-grade students spend day at Cathedral considering priesthood, religious life
FORT WORTH — “God never gives up on you. He’ll keep trying to get your attention.”
That’s the message All Saints student Maytee Rivas-Perez gleaned from the annual Eighth grade Vocation Day held April 20 in St. Patrick Cathedral and parish hall.
The 14-year-old was one of 334 high school-bound young people who attended the diocesan event designed to inspire impressionable minds about the possibility of Church service as a priest or religious sister. Organized by the Catholic Schools and Vocation Offices, the students celebrated Mass with Bishop Michael Olson before learning about the history of the cathedral from Father Maurice Moon and listening to speakers who recounted their vocation stories.
Addressing the eighth graders after Mass, the bishop said only God controls the future, but with guidance from the Holy Spirit, a young person can envision what God is calling him or her to do.
“What gives us hope? What gives us freedom? What gives us peace? It’s through prayer and reflection that we come to a deeper understanding of not just where God is calling us, but how He is calling us to serve,” he explained.
By repeating the good things learned in Catholic grade school — going to Mass, daily prayer, and doing acts of kindness — students can create a path that helps them plan the future.
“As you prepare to leave eighth grade and go to high school, remember to keep repeating what is important and essential,” Bishop Olson advised. “Read Scripture, especially the Mass readings. It will help you be fruitful and hopeful in your adult life and not be discouraged and sad.”
Mareli Santana came to St. John the Apostle Catholic School in the fourth grade. It took time and some tutoring to adjust to the more rigorous lessons, she admitted.
“But now I’m prepared for high school,” Santana said. “I’m learning more than I did in public school.”
The vocation day gathering was another educational opportunity.
“I’m hoping it helps us learn about our calling,” added the eighth grader who plans to attend Cristo Rey High School. “I think it will be exciting to hear the sisters’ stories and why they wanted to enter religious life.”
Sister Theresa Paul Tran’s narrative about her journey to becoming a Dominican Sister of Mary Immaculate didn’t disappoint. The youngest of ten children born to a Vietnamese family, she recounted how a bout with polio weakened the right side of her body. It was an impairment that affected her self-confidence and the way she was treated in school.
A religious sister she met in college encouraged her to think about entering the convent.
But, filled with self-doubt and unable to do the manual chores expected from girls in her class, the young postulant left the religious order and returned home. After experiencing a charismatic healing Mass, she felt strengthened in her vocation and returned to her community. The Dominican sister made her first profession of vows in 2006.
“I felt I wasn’t fit for this vocation, but the Lord calls us not because of what we can do but because He wants us to be with Him. He wants you to love Him just like He loves you,” explained Sr. Theresa, who now serves as director of elementary faith formation at St. Jude Parish in Mansfield. “Have you ever felt inadequate or helpless? Sometimes you have to believe the Lord put those things in your path to teach you to love Him right where you are.”
The educator said her story was an honest account of being broken, then healed by Jesus Christ. Answering a question from the audience, the speaker explained her healing wasn’t physical but spiritual.
“Everyone needs to be healed in a certain sense either spiritually or physically, so I think my story really touched the girls on a deeper level,” Sr. Theresa told the North Texas Catholic. “A healing of the heart is when you’re able to accept your weakness and brokenness and embrace God’s love and graces.”
Talking to the eighth-grade boys, Father Brett Metzler said there are essentially two different vocations — married life and celibate life. Both have the same telos or end goal — achieving heaven.
“Some of you are called to marriage and some of you are called to the priesthood or life as a monk,” he continued. “The only way to know is to seek Jesus Christ and spend time with God.”
The diocesan vocation director shared his personal vocation story, recalling how his decision to leave Texas A&M University and enter the seminary surprised his parents. Ordained two years ago, he told the youngsters his favorite part of the priesthood is hearing confessions and visiting the dying because it’s a ministry that “shows God’s mercy.”
Engaging the students in a lively question-and-answer session, Fr. Metzler fielded queries about everything from angels to exorcism.
During a homily delivered during the morning Mass, the vocation director explained that a vocation is what God is calling you to do.
“But the first and most important calling He gave each of you at your baptism is forming a deep and intimate friendship with Him,” he pointed out. “Only by finding that will you find joy.”
All Saints student Enrique Mota called the vocation day field trip to the cathedral “fun and interesting.”
“I asked what he liked and disliked about being a priest and I liked his answer,” the eighth grader said. “He gave us something to think about.”
Hosting a Vocation Day event for the soon-to-be grade school graduates is an intentional way to spark the imagination about religious life, explained Melissa Kasmeier, associate superintendent of schools.
“Having a dedicated time for them to see what the priesthood or religious life looks like is critical as they’re about to embark on high school and begin thinking about the future,” she added.
Bringing the students to the historic cathedral is also significant.
“It may be the first time they’ve attended Mass at the cathedral because our schools are so spread out,” Kasmeier commented. “Having the bishop there with Father Wallis (the vicar general), Fr. Metzler, and Fr. Moon was a real show of unity and solidarity.”