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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Farmington youths open door to God's calling

Parish Vocation Day included visits with seminarians, SSNDs
From St. Louis Review Online
by Jean M. Schildz

Photo at left: LISTENING FOR GOD’S CALL — Kenrick-Glennon seminarian Drew Burkemper shows a group of seventh- and eighth-graders from St. Joseph Parish in Farmington materials in the library during a tour of the seminary late last year. More than 40 youth from both the full-time school and parish school of religion classes at the Farmington parish were taking part in a vocation day, which included visits to the seminary, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis and the School Sisters of Notre Dame Motherhouse. Rebecca Venegoni Tower

Tweens and young teens craned their necks to see over their peers, periodically pulling out cell phones and pocket digital cameras to snap photos.

"This is cool!" a youth observed to his friends, who nodded their heads in agreement.

Bringing out the fan-frenzylike attention was not a rock star or a professional sports figure, but a visit to Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Shrewsbury.

Among those pleased to hear the youths’ response was Bob Holst, a Parish School of Religion teacher at St. Joseph Parish in Farmington. "‘Isn’t this cool. Isn’t that cool.’ That’s what we really wanted to hear," he said.

Holst was one of several adults helping chaperone 42 seventh- and eighth-graders from both the full-time school and PSR classes at the Farmington parish who took part in a Vocation Day this past November. The bus trip was sponsored by the local Knights of Columbus.

The visit was led by pastor Father Rickey J. Valleroy. Among those joining him were St. Joseph School principal Jackie Whitworth and the parish’s director of religious education, Sister Marlene Buese, SSND.

In addition to the Shrewsbury seminary, the youth also got to see the old Kenrick Seminary, now Cardinal Rigali Center, also in Shrewsbury, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis in the Central West End and the Notre Dame Motherhouse in Lemay. Other stops in the whirlwind daylong tour included McDonald’s for lunch and a trip to Ted Drewes before heading back home.

The Review joined the group for its stop at the seminary and sent a photographer to tag along for the entire stay.

Father Valleroy said it has been his goal since becoming a pastor to offer an annual vocation day to introduce parish youth to what vocations are all about. For most of the youth from St. Joseph Parish, it was their first visit to these sites, he said.

The priest said he wanted the students to get comfortable with the idea of a vocation so they could better understand it.

"I think there’s such a mystery to it," especially for those living beyond the immediate St. Louis area, he said. "This way they can see, firsthand, the joy, and meet the guys at the seminary, and see the life of it." Going to the cathedral basilica, they get a greater appreciation of the larger Church, and visiting the Notre Dame motherhouse gives them a broader picture of what it means to have a vocation, Father Valleroy said. "Every school should send their kids there to hear the talk," he added.

Giving guided tours at the seminary were Cardinal Glennon College seminarians Drew Burkemper, a junior who had been taught by Father Valleroy in grade school, and Chris Seiler, a senior. They divided the group into boys and girls and took off in separate directions to show off the facilities. Both talked about what life was like at the seminary, how they first heard their calling and how God has a call for everyone, even though it may not necessarily be as a priest or to religious life.

Seiler suggested to the girls in his group that they recite three "Hail Marys" daily, asking Mary, "What does your Son want me to do with my life?" He said, "Just give God that chance. If you give Him the opportunity, and listen to Him, open your heart up to what He wants you to do, God will bless you so much in your life for that. If you have Christ at the center of your life, if you have your ears open and listen to what He wants you to do, He’s going to do awesome things for you. He’s going to bless you with a large family, He’ll bless you with marriage, a joyful life as a single person, or blessings of lots of spiritual children as a sister."

The students were amazed at how much studying the seminarians had to do. They also were pleased to learn that seminarians had fun, played all sorts of sports, had their own swimming pool and workout areas, ate good food and that their dorm rooms "were just like the ones at college."

Some couldn’t quite get over how much walking the young men did within the building, hiking up and down hundreds of steps to get to and from the first and fourth floors. "Where’s the elevator?" asked one worn-out youngster.

Father Valleroy was excited to show the youngsters what his life had been like there as a seminarian. His tour included a visit to his old dorm room and a stop at the very spot in the main chapel in the fifth row on the left-hand side of aisle that he claimed as his own while a student there.

Kenrick-Glennon Seminary president-rector Msgr. Ted L. Wojcicki gave the group a blessing before they left. "We’ll pray that some day some of the young men here today will be students of the seminary. May God bless you," he said, making the sign of the cross.

St. Joseph School eighth-grader Robbie Basden attended the trip, like many of his fellow students, as part of his preparation for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The 13-year-old learned, he said, "that being a priest would be pretty hard, but it would be a very good life." Robbie noted he really liked the seminary. "I liked that you can go to church there and learn about God there. It’s not just a school based on knowledge of subjects, it’s a school based on God."

Eli Pratte, a seventh-grader at Farmington Middle School, said one of his favorite parts of the trip was visiting the cathedral basilica. His parents had been there before, but he never had, he said. "It’s just like how everything’s so beautiful with the mosaics, and there’s just so many pictures and the altar is just amazing," said Eli, who previously attended St. Joseph School through sixth grade and now was in PSR. The trip taught him "that everyone has a vocation, and everybody should try to live out that vocation that Christ gave us."

Abigail Heberlie, a seventh-grader at St. Joseph School, admitted, "Before I went on the trip, I really didn’t even know what a vocation was, and I didn’t know everybody had a vocation." But after hearing from the seminarians and the Notre Dames, she knows differently now. "I thought that was pretty cool that even as a baby, as a 2-year-old, you still have a vocation to be a good daughter to your parents and things like that," the 12-year-old said.

Among her favorites were the visits to the seminary and the motherhouse because she liked to see how the people lived there "and what it would be like if I were to join a religious group."

Abigail said Vocation Day "helped me have a better understanding of what it means to have a vocation, because I’ve been asked before, and I just kind of shrugged my shoulders ’cause I didn’t know what it was, but now I know what it is. I know how to live out my vocation."

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