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An Troung, an eighth-grader at All Saints Catholic School in Davenport, tries to put together a puzzle, while blindfolded, with help from fellow Catholic school students during a Vocations Awareness Day Oct. 24 at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf. It was one of two Vocations Awareness Days led by Father Thom Hennen, director of vocations for the Davenport Diocese. The first was Oct. 18 at St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant.

By Anne Marie Amacher

Putting together a child’s simple puzzle should be an easy task for an eighth-grader. But put a blindfold on one and ask his or her peers to give directions on how the pieces fit together – or not. It makes the task a lot harder.

Father Thom Hennen, director of vocations for the Diocese of Davenport, had eighth-graders from Catholic schools across the diocese do this as part of Vocations Awareness Day. Activities were held on two different days to reach students in different parts of the diocese. Students from Notre Dame in Burlington, Holy Trinity in Fort Madison and Regina in Iowa City gathered at St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant on Oct. 18. Students from Lourdes in Bettendorf, Prince of Peace in Clinton, St. Joseph in DeWitt, and All Saints, John F. Kennedy and St. Paul the Apostle in Davenport gathered Oct. 24 at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf.

“What was it like to be blindfolded?” Fr. Hennen asked the students at St. John Vianney. “Not easy,” one youth replied. “You couldn’t see a thing. You were getting directions from all over. It was awful.”

Fr. Hennen said the point of the activity was to emphasize that life takes twists and turns. “Life is a puzzle. You may not be sure what you are called to do.” You have to put your life together, one piece at a time.

He told the students they may not be sure what the puzzle is supposed to look like, but they need to trust in God. He emphasized that God doesn’t speak loudly all the time.

“I wanted God to give me a clear sign. I wanted a Post-it note that says ‘Thom, I want you to be a priest.’ I wanted it to be obvious,” the priest said of his own vocation. “I never got that clear sign. I got little affirmations. I wanted a clear voice to tell me what to do with that puzzle. But I had to listen and figure out what I was being told.”

He encouraged the students to pray daily, attend Mass weekly – if not more often – and go to confession regularly. Following his talk, students divided into smaller groups to attend three breakout sessions. Fr. Hennen led a session in which students had the opportunity to ask questions about vocations and anything related to the Church, history, philosophy and more. “Just don’t ask about math. It’s not my strong point,” he joked.

Youth ministers led another session. Brenda Bertram of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton and Pat Sheil of St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt participated in both vocations days. Ray Knight of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport and Tommy Fallon of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport helped at the Bettendorf session. The youth ministers engaged the students in activities and talks.

During the third break-out session Sister Cheryl Demmer, PBVM, director of religious education at Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine and St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction, talked with girls about her calling to religious life. Father Joseph Nguyen, parochial vicar at Prince of Peace and the diocese’s newest priest, spoke to the boys about his calling to the priesthood.

Bishop Martin Amos celebrated Mass at both locations for Vocations Awareness Day.

Reflecting on the experience, Notre Dame student Claudius Ciecko said: “It was spiritually nutritious.” “Vocations Day helped me learn what I want to do in life,” said Notre Dame student Jenna Zaizer. “I had a great time at Vocations Day.  It was very interesting to learn about how people found God. I also thought it was amazing how the bishop was there,” Notre Dame student Jacob Smith said.

Students from St. Joseph’s in DeWitt also reflected on their experience. “Because of going to Vocations Day, I feel like I have the tools to make a better decision in my vocation,” said Matthew Townsley. Darcy Bertolino said, “Vocations Day made me think that being a Sister would really be cool. I love children, and being with them and teaching them would be awesome.” Elliot Arensdorf said, “Vocations Day made me think about becoming a priest. It also helped me to meet new people.”

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