Diocese of Venice Director for Vocations Father Eric Scanlan talks to sixth grade boys during a Vocations Fair at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota on Oct. 20. (PHOTO BY BOB REDDY | FC)

Youth encouraged to open their hearts to a Vocation

Sarasota  |  Sixth graders from Catholic elementary schools across the Diocese of Venice are being challenged to recognize the presence of the Lord in themselves while also considering their vocation: possibly to religious life for the girls and the priesthood for the boys.

The first of three Vocations Fairs was held Oct. 20 at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota for more than 100 sixth grade boys and girls from Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice, St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, and St. Mary Academy and St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota.

The day focused on encouraging the young boys and girls to open their hearts and minds to develop their personal relationship with God while keeping open the possibility of a deeper calling for their vocation.

Throughout the day the students heard from priests and religious women who shared their stories of how they found a grace to serve God in a special way.

Sister Maria Gema de Jesus Ruiz, a Sister Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará who serves at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, dressed in a blue over gray habit, explained how she wanted to be a doctor or a dentist and was very happy and even had a boyfriend. But there was something missing in her life. “God was calling me to be a better person and a better Christian.”

To aid in this, Sister Gema decided to spend time with the Blessed Sacrament at daily Adoration. It did not take long for her to give herself over to God’s grace, a time when a profound happiness came over her.

“I realized He was calling me,” Sister Gema continued. “Know the Lord already has a plan for each of us, but he won’t force you do something against your will. You just have to discover what that plan is. It can be marriage and children. It can be a single life. But it also can be a vocation to a religious life. You can ask: ‘Why me?’ The answer is ‘Why not you.’”

Diocese of Venice Director of Vocations Father Eric Scanlan echoed those thoughts: “God is never going to call you to do something you are not going to want to do. You just have to open your mind and your heart to what God is calling you to do.”

Throughout the day the students participated in various activities and games with the priests and religious present while also carefully listening to the profound words they had to say as each shared their own personal spiritual journey to serve God in a special way.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Mass, putting an exclamation point on the day, reminding them they must grow into the goodness the Lord has provided them.

“This goodness that is within has to come out,” the Bishop said. “One way is that we need more people to serve the Church. To serve the People of God. To take the holiness that the Lord has given to each one of us and choose to become priests or religious. That is a giving of that goodness and giving it to the fullest.”

Prior to the closing Mass, there was Eucharistic Adoration in the school chapel. Father Matt Grady, Administrator of Incarnation Parish in Sarasota and Chaplain at Cardinal Mooney, said taking time in the presence of the Lord is crucial in developing a strong bond.

“It is similar to spending time with your family and friends. The more time you are together, the closer you become,” Father Grady said. “Being with the Lord — kneeling, in silence, in prayer — is a powerful opportunity for everyone.”

During the day the boys and girls were separated to allow them to ask direct questions of the religious and priests present. While many of the questions dealt with specific aspects of living a life as a priest or religious, others wondered about the process of making the decision to enter into a life as a servant of the Lord.

Sister Myra Luntok, Franciscan Sister of Mary Immaculate who serves at Jesus the Worker Parish and San Jose Mission in Fort Myers, said there was no appearance of an angel before her, or a bolt of lightning that struck her. In fact, Sister Myra said it was a long process that allowed her to grow spiritually and the ability to keep her heart open to what God called her to do.

“It is a decision that does not come lightly or easily,” she said. “You need to pray about it. Talk about it with a spiritual advisor. And then when you come to a point when you decide. You will know. You will feel God’s love in ways you never thought possible.”

During the lunch break several of the students took personal time to talk to the religious sisters or priests either in groups or individually.

Two students from the Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School shared their stories about how they have developed their personal relationship with the Lord and the positive impact it has had on their lives.

The Vocation Fair will be repeated in the coming weeks at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers and St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples.

Diocesan Vocation Director Father Scanlan said the goal is to let these young boys and girls about the possibilities for the future and the greatness that comes as a servant of the Lord for priests and religious.