By Jeff Grant
The Catholic Sun
AVONDALE — Replenishing the ranks of those in religious service remains a regular need within the Catholic Church and the Diocese of Phoenix is no different. For the second straight year, the Office of Consecrated Life hosted a day of fun and activities to give children a look at service through the eyes of those who know it best — members of religious orders now in service.
“This is giving the children an opportunity to think about God’s purpose for their lives, about giving their lives to God and how rewarding it is; and giving them the opportunity to meet sisters, brothers and priests from around the diocese so they can ask them questions about religious life and the priesthood, and think about a calling to serve the Church,” explained Sr. Anthony Mary Diago, RSM, director of the Office of Consecrated Life.
Nearly 2,000 attended the event held this year at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Avondale, with children asked to dress as their favorite saint. In the opening Mass, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted
addressed the divine call to enter religious life by recounting the story of Zacchaeus, a Jewish chief tax collector for the Roman government whose lack of true meaning in life probably led him to seek out Jesus as He traveled through Jericho.
“He threw all caution to the wind, cast aside any sense of pride and did what he had to do in order to fix his eyes on Jesus Christ,” Bishop Olmsted said.
He explained a vocation is about being sought by Jesus and responding as one recognizes his or her need to be filled with the love only God can give.
“Every person is created for a purpose and a mission” — a vocation, the bishop said. Each vocation has two parts: “the call of God and the response of the man or woman.”
Br. Peter Teresa McConnell, a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit in Laveen who serves on the Gila River Indian Reservation, felt the Lord’s call just before his 20th birthday while attending a religious camp operated by the Diocese of Altoona, Pennsylvania.
“I was praying one evening, and I really felt Jesus speak to me in my heart. I had this moment where I felt God was talking to me,” Br. Peter Teresa explained to an audience of children and parents during a panel discussion among a group of sisters, brothers and priests.
Like most of his fellow panelists, Br. Peter did not make a decision right then and there.
“I kept praying for about four years, ‘God, is this really what you want me to do?’ And I would begin to feel in my heart what I wanted to do, and it came together. It was very gradual; one step at a time. I kept asking God, and God kept confirming things in my heart.”
Br. Peter Teresa urged anyone considering a religious vocation to surround themselves with trusted friends and family who are supportive of the possibility.
The rewards, he said, can be great.
“It has been the most wild and beautiful adventure; nothing I ever could have planned, but so far greater than I could have imagined. I think our ways and thoughts are very small and limited; and God’s ways and thoughts are so profound and so beautiful; and we don’t know what’s good for us sometimes.”
Sr. Anthony Mary was excited with the turnout, which allowed participants to mingle with members — both young and old — of several orders prior to the discussion.
Sr. Mary Jordan Hoover, OP, of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia and the first principal of the diocese’s forthcoming Catholic high school, Saint John Paul II being built near St. Thomas Aquinas, was pleased by the number of parents attending.
“An event like this provides an opportunity to the families to discuss the openness to hearing God’s call, if a child is called to consecrated life. I think that’s more important today because, in many families, people aren’t seeing religious life lived every day.”
Mary Smith, a teacher at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral School in Phoenix, brought a group of youngsters, dressed as saints, and their families. Smith said even at a young age, children’s potential for religious service can be recognized.
“We do try to bring to their attention when we notice a gift they have. It’s a great message for them and it may open up another career choice they haven’t thought of. It may have planted a seed and we might see some of them in the religious field.”
Joseph Paluch, a parishioner from the cathedral, brought his 10-year-old daughter Anaika dressed as St. Cecilia, a third-century saint and the patron saint of musicians.
“I like music,” Anaika said. “I want to be an artist — I like to draw.”
“It’s a great message about vocations and how you can be touched and all of us have that opportunity — even tax collectors who were considered the lowliest of the times,” said Joseph. “Even they can be touched by God, so you don’t have to start life out as a saint to be a saint.”