Yesterday (May 5) I attended a “Vocations Fair” at the high school in Welland. The event was designed to educate students about vocations to the diocesan priesthood and religious life and perhaps spark interest in a few of them to consider the possibility God may be calling them to serve the Church in one of these ways.
The day consisted of two parts. In the theatre, the Grade Ten students were assembled and heard a transitional Deacon, two women religious and a married man tell the story of their vocations. In the library (before and after the presentations) a number of displays were set up to enable students to interact with representatives of various communities of religious men and women as well as myself and two of our transitional Deacons representing the diocesan priesthood.
The event was an experiment and we were fortunate the Principal, school chaplain, Director of Education and one school board trustee were in attendance so we could receive feedback on how well things went. Based on what I heard at the end of the day, the event was a success. It is hoped it will be held in all English Catholic High Schools in our board during the 2016-2017 academic year.
One positive result which came from this day was the emphasis placed on the concept of a vocation. In the past, I have been invited to career days held in our high schools where representatives of different professions talk about their work and what kind of training is required to enter it. Although the exposure to the students at such events is a good thing, the major problem with this approach is it makes priesthood and religious life look like a career; which it is not. One of the great challenges I face in my work as Director of Vocations is introducing the idea of a life long, total commitment to one role in life to students who may expect to have five different careers before they retire.
Another positive result which occurred was the low key approach. Upon entering the library the chaplain gave each student a “passport” which would be stamped by a representative of each participating religious group. As they exited the library, the passports would be entered into a draw for an attractive prize. This approach encouraged the students to spend a little time looking at the display material, pick up a bookmark or rosary and talk with the religious groups without without forcing them to do so. This approach was tried at previous events by the chaplain and seemed to work well yesterday.
As I was chatting with the students I found some of their comments interesting. Many had never before seen a nun in a habit in their school. When I was in elementary school they were all over the place since many orders of women religious ran the schools. Several of the students said they always wanted to a Priest or religious such questions as “Do you get paid a salary?”; “Where do you live?” and “Do you get to take a vacation?” It drove home to me the lack of presence of priests and religious within our Catholic schools today. Finally, while some of the students had a clear idea of what they wanted to do after high school, most did not. Among this latter group were many who had no idea of how to determine what they should do with their lives. It struck me how desparate some of them are to find a purpose for their lives. It is incumbent upon parents, teachers and clergy not to tell them what to do but give then the tools needed to discern what God wants them to do.
Those in ordained ministry or undergoing formation for it often equate their role in Catholic schools as providing religious services like Mass or Confession. Yet, the opportunity to do more is there. For many students, Priests and religious are an unknown life form. They don’t see us as people because we don’t show them we are by spending time with them. Yesterday’s event was a reminder promoting vocations is about helping young people discover who God wants them to be.