In addition to letters, young people draw pictures as encouragement for men studying for the priest-hood. Courtesy photo
In addition to letters, young people draw pictures as encouragement for men studying for the priest-hood. Courtesy photo

When it comes to enjoying a little downtime, young people and adults have more in common than they might admit.

“Being back in school after Christmas was very hard. But I have to in order to be ordained a priest soon. I hope you had an amazing break,” wrote a seminarian, responding earlier this year to a youngster participating in the annual Seminarian Letter Project.

The Knights of Columbus’ Seminarian Letter Project, instituted in 2000 by the Knights’ New Jersey State Council, encourages students in Catholic schools and parish religious education programs to send handmade letters, cards and drawings to men studying for the priesthood. The project nurtures vocations in the young while providing seminarians prayerful support from their future flocks.

“It’s a great way for the Knights and the religious education ministry to get together to benefit the seminarians,” said Grand Knight Robert H. Batta of the Rev. Gebhard Braungart Council #8415. The Council serves the Ocean County parishes of Sacred Heart, Bay Head; St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Lavallette, and St. Junipero Serra, Seaside Park.

In the fall, the council sent out more than 60 unique letters from children addressed to 46 seminarians studying in seven different seminaries and friaries.

“The children really took the time to think about what they would write,” said John Paglione, parish catechetical leader in Sacred Heart and St. Pio of Pietrelcina Parishes. Paglione enlisted his 26 eighth-grade Confirmation students to write letters to a dozen seminarians.

“I had invited a speaker to come talk to the class and let them know what the men go through to become a priest,” he added, “so they could understand their efforts in the seminary and understand it as a vocation.”

Fellow PCL Renée Casadonte of St. Junipero Serra Parish agreed, explaining that she selects religious education students in grades four and older to take part each year.

“I educate the students on what the Knights of Columbus do in the parish and for them, such as donating Easter and Christmas books, supplying meals at the soup kitchen and selecting gifts from the annual giving tree,” Casadonte said.

She also invites the Franciscan Friars Conventual brothers and priests who serve at St. Catharine of Siena, one of two worship site of the parish, to explain what seminarians do and how they study.

Casadonte chuckled as she related the contents of some of the letters from her most recent batch of 45 missives. Messages of prayer were followed by the youngsters’ favorite foods, sports, and even complaints about homework and allergies. 

“They are adorable,” Casadonte said. “They say, ‘Thank you for choosing this life,’ and ‘We are praying for you.’”

She also shared return messages. “One seminarian, Friar Franck, wrote to his new friend Gabrielle, ‘I feel the presence of God through your prayers every day,’” Casadonte said.