Day raises fifth graders’ consciousness of vocation
Although some might perceive a vocation to the priesthood or religious life to be a choice that limits, the calling actually opens up a world of possibilities, said Alison McCrary, a working attorney who has been in formation with New Orleans’ Congregation of St. Joseph since 2010.
The Georgia native, who will begin the novitiate stage of her formation next month, moved to New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina to work on death penalty issues. Her legal work lately has focused on criminal justice reform.
“It’s not a call like on your cell phone, or a text message; it’s more like a deep desire in the core of your being, a tug in your heart to radically live out God’s call,” said McCrary, 30, telling the 1,200 fifth graders assembled at Holy Cross’ gym April 19 about her ministry of advocating for the marginalized, including those living in a Brazilian slum.
The April 19 gathering, called “Calling All Fifth Graders,” had 10- and 11-year-olds from 29 Catholic elementary schools immersed in the vocation stories of priests, deacons, sisters and brothers. The young attendees quickly learned the event’s presenters were simply ordinary people who had accepted an extraordinary calling.
“Some people really want to dedicate their life to Jesus and God, so they do the important (things) and they give up what they don’t really need,” observed fifth grader Samantha Anderson, who was attending the event with her classmates from St. Angela Merici.
We were in your shoes!
After explaining the three vows of religious life – poverty, celibacy and obedience – and her vocation’s three characteristics of prayer, living in community and ministry, McCrary and her fellow keynote speaker, Deacon Kurt Young, presented a slide show of their journeys from infancy to adulthood.
Deacon Young, an alumnus of St. Edward the Confessor and Archbishop Rummel who will be ordained to the priesthood June 2, drew gasps from the young people when a photo of him preparing for a sky dive popped up on the gym’s overhead screen.
“One priest used to work at Wal-Mart; one priest worked at a hospital; and the sister used to coach a volleyball team. I did not realize they did all that,” said St. Angela Merici fifth grader Julius Anderson, after a session in which he and his peers were challenged to match various biographical descriptions to the correct priest, brother or sister in front of them.
During another breakout session, the fifth graders learned that Dominican Sister of Peace Rosemary Hoppe played classical piano, enjoyed square dancing and used to work at The Times-Picayune and Sears. Because she was an only child, Sister Rosemary said her parents initially were resistant to her entrance into the convent, and that she had to be convinced herself.
“You know that little nudge inside that says, ‘Be kind to that person that nobody else seems to like?’” Sister Rosemary said. “It’s that kind of a thing, where you know that this is what God is calling you do.”
Sister Rosemary, whose ministry included 21 years as a hospital chaplain, says she has never regretted her decision.
“It was hard at first,” she said, “but we have to be true to what God is asking of us, even if it’s hard.”
Sister of the Living Word Vianney Moore recalls getting the nudge as a high school freshman, but then saying to herself: “Find somebody else, God. Don’t call me.”
When she was a senior, the calling returned with so much intensity, “I just knew that that was what I was called to do, and I was at peace with it.”
“I thought I would be homesick for my family, but that’s normal; you get over that, just like anything else,” Sister Vianney said.
“Everybody’s call is different,” she added. “You just have to pray about it and ask God to help you to know what you’re called to do. If you listen to that, that’s where you’re going to be the happiest; that’s where you’re going to do the most for others.”
At the concluding Mass, Archbishop Gregory Aymond likened vocation to “God’s dream” for each of his children.
“Even before you were born, God touched you and he loved you,” he said, reminding the pre-teen congregants that the Mass’ reading revealed how God gave Jeremiah the strength to overcome his fears of being too young and inarticulate to be the prophet God was calling him to be.
“Fifth grade is not too early,” Archbishop Aymond said, “to begin asking the question, ‘God, how do you want me to use my gifts?’ ‘God, how do you want me to use my life to become the very best person that I can be, to make a difference in the world?’”
The annual event is sponsored by the archdiocesan Vocation Office, the Office of Catholic Schools and the vocation directors of local religious communities.