A roomful of saints in the making: St. Serra Club Vocations Gala draws its biggest crowd

Barb Arland-Fye
From left, Father Brian Miclot, Sister M. Lois Joseph Baniewicz, OCarm, and Jim Tiedje talk during the fourth annual St. Serra Club Vocations Gala in Davenport on Nov. 15.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Lay people, clergy and women religious filled every space in the Outing Club’s ballroom for the fourth annual St. Serra Club Vocations Gala on Nov. 15. Their presence exceeded the hopes and prayers of gala organizers whose mission includes building awareness of vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life.

Participation nearly doubled from what it had been, St. Serra Club President Bill Barrett said. Around 200 people attended this year, an increase of 90 people over last year’s gala. “We were hoping for 150,” the delighted vocations advocate said. Barrett attributes the increase to advanced publicity, including an article in The Catholic Messenger and announcements on Relevant Radio and St. Ambrose University’s KALA 88.5 FM radio station. Nearly 30 priests, 14 women religious and seven deacons attended this year’s gala. Altogether, around 90 first-timers participated.

The gala helps raise funds to support seminarians’ education and to promote vocations efforts in the diocese’s parishes, said Colleen Darland, administrative assistant in the Vocations Office. Perhaps more importantly, the gala honors the men and women who have said “yes” to serve God and God’s people as priests, deacons and sisters.

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Clergy and lay people also had an opportunity to mingle in a relaxed setting, Barrett said. “It brings about more awareness of the clergy and maybe how we might be able to support them in their ministry.”

Celebration of the Mass started the evening, with Bishop Thomas Zinkula presiding. His homily reflected on two parables of discovery. In one, a person finds a treasure in a field without even searching for it. In the other, a merchant finds a pearl of great price after a lifetime spent searching for it. The bishop said the parables reminded him of his own vocation. He prayerfully, deliberately searched for something of great value, to be of service to others. God’s surprising, unexpected response led the future bishop to a treasure “I was looking for — the priesthood.”

He said, “God doesn’t care how his Kingdom breaks into our lives, as long as it happens. Some people are just trying to deal with the ordinary demands of life — not looking for anything unusual to happen — when out of the blue God touches them in an unexpected way and transforms their whole life.”

Whether they accidentally stumble upon the Kingdom or find it after a long and diligent search, they willingly make sacrifices to obtain this treasure, this pearl, the bishop said. That might mean “giving up certain aims and ambitions that are very dear to us or abandoning certain habits and ways of life that are difficult to lay down or taking on a discipline or self-denial that isn’t easy to carry out. In essence, to take up our cross and follow Jesus.”

Guest speaker Jon Leonetti, a Catholic speaker, author and radio host, told the gathering that he devoted 3-1/2 years to discerning a call to the priesthood. Later, he discerned a vocation to marriage. Now a husband and father of three young children, Leonetti said the seminary “trained me in the art of discernment.”

True discernment in­volves discovering “what God wants for me,” he said. “Your vocation is the way God wants to save your soul.” Leonetti said his two oldest children, a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old, “know their mission in life is to become a saint.” In reality, the 6-year-old wants to be Spiderman.

The Catholic Church is a “giant saint-making machine. We just have to give God permission” to work in our lives,” Leonetti said. The Blessed Virgin Mary gave God permission to work in her life. She could have told the Angel Gabriel, “No Gabe, I have plans.”

Being Catholic is one of the hardest things in the world, Leonetti said. “Forgiving my enemy? That is hard! Cooperating takes work on our end.”

He also addressed the issue of the “nones,” the unaffiliated millennials. “We’re now missionaries in our own homeland, he said. “It happens in our workplaces, our schools, our jobs.” He concluded his talk with a thank you to the gathering “for the hard work you are doing on the ground.”

“God continues to call. It’s a matter of our young men and women answering that call,” diocesan Vocations Director Father Joseph Sia said. He invited the gathering to the “Bringing Vocations Home” event on Dec. 7 at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. Register for the free event at www.davenportdiocese.org/vocations or call Darland at (563) 888-4378.

Father Guillermo Trevino posted on his Facebook page: “Last night, I was at a St. Serra Club dinner which promotes vocations. The speaker, Jon Leonetti, said something profound, ‘Want to fix the problems of today? Become a saint and you will transform the world!’”


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