February 7, 2020

Vocations panel is among Catholic Schools Week activities

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, left, Benedictine Sister Nicolette Etienne, Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy Sister Loretto Emenogu and Father Jeffrey Dufresne take part in a Jan. 29 panel discussion on priestly and religious vocations at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. It was attended by approximately 100 students from Catholic schools across central and southern Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, left, Benedictine Sister Nicolette Etienne, Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy Sister Loretto Emenogu and Father Jeffrey Dufresne take part in a Jan. 29 panel discussion on priestly and religious vocations at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. It was attended by approximately 100 students from Catholic schools across central and southern Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Catholic Schools Week is a time each year to celebrate the good that happens in Catholic schools in forming young people in body, mind and spirit with the ultimate goal of each of them becoming saints.

An integral part of the growth in holiness for Catholic school students is for them to begin discovering their God-given vocations.

About 100 students in Catholic schools across central and southern Indiana gathered on Jan. 29 to learn about vocations to the priesthood and religious life during a panel discussion on the topic at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis.

The event took place after a Catholic Schools Week Mass celebrated in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. It was co-sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools and Office of Priestly and Religious Vocations.

Father Michael Keucher, archdiocesan vocations director, led the panel discussion.

“What better way to celebrate Catholic Schools Week … than to have a nice panel with beautiful examples of folks living out their vocations generously and faithfully,” said Father Keucher, who is also pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville and sacramental minister of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Shelby County. “It was really inspiring. There was a lot of energy in the room.”

The panelists were Benedictine Sister Nicolette Etienne, a member of Our Lady of Grace Monastery and a teacher at Holy Name School, both in Beech Grove; Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy Sister Loretto Emenogu, archdiocesan mission educator; Father Jeffrey Dufresne, administrator of St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis; and Archbishop Charles C. Thompson.

“It is good to provide different perspectives for young people to consider in their own process of prayer and discernment toward realizing how the Lord is calling them to love and serve,” Archbishop Thompson said after the event. “The sisters and priest on the panel are among the finest serving in the archdiocese. They are wonderful role models for young persons who are learning to take seriously how they are being called to make a difference in the lives of others in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Last fall, Archbishop Thompson re-structured the Office of Priestly and Religious Vocations so that it would take a team approach to its ministry. Father Keucher is assisted in his service as vocations director by five priests serving as associate vocations directors in parishes across central and southern Indiana.

“We want to encourage young people to consider the call to priesthood and/or religious life,” Archbishop Thompson said afterward. “The vocations panel following the archdiocesan Catholic Schools Week Mass is but one innovation toward that goal. The young people seemed to be very attentive, respectful and engaged. It is one way of planting seeds, leaving the growth and fruit of such endeavors to the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

“It was cool,” said Sienna Hileman, a sixth-grader at St. Christopher School in Indianapolis. “I got to see how they wanted to become a priest or a nun.”

The questions asked to panelists had been submitted in advance by students in the schools that took part.

Each of the panelists talked about what drew them to their vocations when they were young.

Sister Nicolette recalled how she had thought in grade school about becoming a religious sister, but that thoughts of that possible vocation took a back seat as she grew older.

She began to consider that vocation when she became a teacher at St. Anthony of Padua School in Clarksville and worked alongside a Benedictine sister from Our Lady of Grace.

“I started hanging out with the sister,” Sister Nicolette said. “And when you start hanging out with the sisters, your life changes.”

She decided to “give it a try” as a sister 34 years ago. “I’m still giving it a try, and I love it. I’m very happy to be a Benedictine sister.”

At the end of the event, each of the panelists suggested ways of prayer to help their young listeners be open to God’s vocation for them.

Among other prayers, Sister Loretto suggested the rosary.

“If you can’t say a whole rosary, say a little bit of it to our mother Mary, to give you that grace to listen to the Holy Spirit,” she said.

Father Dufresne suggested eucharistic adoration because he had heard God’s call to the priesthood while praying before the Blessed Sacrament.

“I really recommend eucharistic adoration—any time that you can spend with Jesus, whether he’s in a tabernacle or exposed on an altar in a monstrance,” he said. “That’s what led me to my vocation.”

Sister Nicolette spoke of an ancient form of prayer called “lectio divina” (“sacred reading”) in which passages from the Scriptures are read slowly and prayerfully.

“When we focus on the Scriptures, the word of God, we’ll have a greater idea of what God is calling us to do,” she said. “It’s easier to serve God when we are in a relationship with God. For me, the best way to do that is through Scripture.”

Archbishop Thompson emphasized how prayer should be a “two-way street.”

“Whatever your form of prayer is, make sure you’re listening,” he said. “It’s a two-way street with God. Make sure you have a relationship with God that is two way, not just speaking to God when you need something or there’s a test you forgot to study for.”

Cooper Thoman, a student at St. Joseph School in Shelbyville, enjoyed the panel discussion.

“It was inspiring, really,” he said. “They gave a piece of what they learned as they were growing up, wanting to become a priest or nun. If I ever wanted to be a priest, I could ask my pastor or the archbishop what to do.” †

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