By Barb Arland-Fye
MUNDELEIN, Ill. — Discerning a vocation to the priesthood is challenging but rewarding, 13 teenagers from the Davenport Diocese learned during their March 16 visit to University of St. Mary of the Lake/ Mundelein Seminary.
Father Marty Goetz, the Davenport Diocese’s vocations director, and Dan Huber, a religion teacher at Assumption High School in Davenport, organized the trip for students from throughout the diocese with an interest in learning more about the priesthood. Accompanying the group were several members of the Serra Club, which promotes vocations in the Davenport Diocese, and a student’s parent and The Catholic Messenger’s editor.
They arrived on the wooded grounds of the campus near Chicago shortly before lunch and were introduced to Mundelein Seminary’s rector/president, Msgr. Dennis Lyle, and 1983 Assumption grad Chris McAtee, who serves at Mundelein as assistant academic dean. Years before, McAtee was a seminarian at Mundelein before discerning that his vocation was to married life.
During lunch at the seminary, the students asked questions and listened to the vocation stories of two seminarians from the Davenport Diocese studying at Mundelein: Guillermo Trevino Jr., a first-year theology student, and Anastacio Ponce, a third-year theology student who anticipates ordination to the diaconate in August and to the priesthood next year.
Students asked the seminarians whether a college degree was required to attend major seminary (yes), what classes they take (Christology, Church History, for example), when the seminary opened (in 1921 at its present location), do seminarians wear the Roman collar before they’re ordained (yes, for special occasions at the seminary, no for outside the seminary unless they’ve been ordained a deacon).
After lunch, the students had the privilege of meeting Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of the Chicago Archdiocese, who was on campus that day and was to preside at Mass in the seminary chapel.
A group of panelists who had been or are seminarians at Mundelein then shared their stories with the students. Each one’s discernment of a vocation to the priesthood was different, which inspired the students and adults. Father Tim of the LaCrosse, Wis., Diocese told the students he had been torn between a lucrative career in computers and a vocation to the priesthood. Through his discernment at Mundelein he learned that “God wasn’t leading toward ‘Tim the rich computer guy;’ it was Fr. Tim.” He urged the students to pray and to discern what brings them joy.
Deacon Michael, of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., grew up as a Protestant in Georgia, but had a conversion experience that began with his assuming the role of a priest in a high school play. He gave a humorous description of his first experience attending Mass. But it was the power of the Eucharist that ultimately led him to embrace Catholicism and discern a vocation to the priesthood. “I found Jesus in the Eucharist,” he said. “If you trust Christ, you’ll trust where he is leading you.”
Deacon Guthrie of the Des Moines Diocese told the students “it isn’t like you come to the seminary and everything is clear.” His discernment to the priesthood has been a years-long process. “Ultimately, it isn’t about what I want; it’s about what God is calling me to do.”
For 16-year-old Johnny Blauw of St. Mary Parish in Pella, the panel presentations were the highlight of the seminary visit. But “celebrating Mass was cool, too.” Andre Dinh, 15, an Assumption freshman and member of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, liked the structure of the campus. Fellow parishioner Will Trasowech, 14, a freshman at Central High School in Davenport, thought it was cool to meet a cardinal.
Bill Barrett, president of the Serra Club in the Davenport Diocese, said the campus seemed ideal for discerning a vocation. But it was the message students heard that mattered most. “One of the key things one of the seminarians said is that you’re not there to become a priest. You’re there to discern whether that is God’s plan for you.”
Huber said the students “appreciated how diverse the callings were, but more importantly, they appreciated the fact that the seminary is there to help seekers discern whether they are called to the priesthood or not. They loved the idea of not having to have a clear answer before entering seminary.
“This is exactly the point of why we began these visits four years ago. I have seen so many students over the past 20 years of youth ministry that I believed to have a strong call, yet were unsure. They didn’t have an experience to confirm this call, and they didn’t have a community supporting their exploration. With so many diverse voices calling our students to many good things/opportunities, it was important to have those voices also include the voice of God,” Huber said. “Today, students often visit multiple universities looking for a place where they might be called. We wanted to give them an opportunity to include a trip to a seminary to explore the possible call to priesthood.”
Added Barrett: “We need everybody in the diocese to be thinking about who would be a good candidate for the priesthood and to ask them if they have ever considered the possibility.”