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Interactive challenge prompts 8th graders to reflect on vocations

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Priests get to go skiing? “I thought they were in the church praying all the time,” said Shelby Doyle, an eighth grader at St. Michael School in Annandale. “I didn’t know they could still joke around with each other. I thought they had to be very serious and devout.”

Students at Catholic schools often see priests at church, and some have religious sisters as teachers or principals. But an event March 23 aimed to get eighth graders across the diocese to think about vocations on a more personal level, and to pray about what God’s call might be in their own lives. 

Never be afraid, my young friends, of what God might ask of you. He knows what will make you truly happy and he promises to give you the strength that you need, if only you listen and trust in him.” Bishop Michael F. Burbidge

This year, because of the pandemic, the diocese couldn’t bring 1,200 eighth graders together for an in-person Mass for Vocations celebrated by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, as it has in past years. So the Offices of Vocations, Catholic Schools and Youth Ministry came up with something completely different — an interactive, video game-style “escape room” competition called Your Life Adventure that kids could engage in whether they’re back in the classroom or Zooming in from home.  

Students in about 60 classes raced against the clock to navigate a series of virtual rooms to find clues that unlocked access to videos about different aspects of vocations. One showed Father Michael C. Isenberg, diocesan director of vocations, reflecting on life as a priest with his friend and former classmate Father Thomas Cavanaugh, parochial vicar of St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg, while skiing on Bryce Mountain in Basye. Father Isenberg said he wanted to be an engineer, but God had other plans. “There are so many paths that we can pick,” he said, looking at the many paths down the mountain. “But it’s not us picking. It’s God leading us.” 

One video featured Joel de Loera, director of the diocesan Spanish apostolate, describing the vocation of marriage and family life, with his wife Nora and their six young children. Another showed Father Sean Koehr, parochial vicar of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg, talking about prayer and the universal call to holiness. Sister Theresa Lee of the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco in Haledon, N.J., spoke about her call to religious life and presented stories of several saints, noting each had his or her own unique path to holiness. Don’t try to imitate others, she said. “Become the saint that God created you to be.”

Most of these young people “are not called to be priests or sisters and if they are, they don’t know it at age 14,” said Anne-Marie Minnis of the diocesan Office of Vocations. “But they are all called to holiness and they can start working on that right now.”

In one video, Bishop Burbidge shared his own path to a religious vocation, which began when he was in high school and a priest called him aside to ask if he’d ever thought about becoming a priest. “Never be afraid, my young friends, of what God might ask of you,” Bishop Burbidge said. “He knows what will make you truly happy and he promises to give you the strength that you need, if only you listen and trust in him.”

In addition to offering fodder for reflection on vocations, the videos held clues to crossword and sudoku puzzles that provided the combination to open a large padlocked box in each classroom, containing sweets and religious medals of St. Thomas More and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, patron saints of the diocese. The competition was timed, and St. Michael was narrowly declared the winner, in under an hour. A pizza party will be the prize. 

Adina Ordonez, who teaches middle school religion at St. Michael, said she hooked up the keyboard to the smartboard at the front of the room and let students take control. “If it was left to my ability, it would take forever,” she said. Her students have talked a lot about vocations, and watched two documentaries about religious life, “For Love Alone,” about sisters, and “Fishers of Men,” about priests. 

“We definitely have conversations about it,” said Dominic Vejcik of St. Michael, who said he prays about his vocation every night. Right now, he feels a pull to serve in the military. “I have a lot of family that went into the armed forces,” he said. There is one classmate he could picture as a priest, he added. 

Shelby Doyle is still reflecting on her vocation, but “I could see myself getting married,” she said. “I guess when I’m older I’ll think more about it.”

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021