The phrase “when you care enough to send the very best” does not always refer to the generic, mass-produced messages imprinted on greeting cards. Often, prayerful messages straight from the hearts of young Catholics also fit the bill.

Many such messages and pictures spring from the imaginations of youth who participate in the annual Knights of Columbus Seminarian Letter Project, created by John Tirado, a Camden Diocese Knight, in 2000. The project nurtures vocations in the young and provides men journeying to the priesthood prayerful support from their future flock.

‘A great joy and hope’

Knights of the Rev. Gebhard Braungart Council #8415 have conducted the Seminarian Letter Project for the past five years, “but this year we had a little twist,” related Robert Batta, the council’s past Grand Knight. “We invited postulants from the Franciscan friary to talk to the students.”

Confirmation students from Sacred Heart, Bay Head, and religious education fourth and seventh grade students in St. Junipero Serra, Seaside Park, heard first-hand what it means to dedicate one’s life to service. Nearly 80 letters were composed by the students and sent to the seminarians of the Diocese of Trenton and Franciscan friars.

“Coming home to our House of Studies here in Chicago… with your letters really lifted me up to a great joy and hope,” wrote Marvin Asuncion Fernandez. “Joy, in the sense of knowing your program/class, including all the people that pray for perseverance to our religious vocation, are one with us in this faith journey.”

Council member John Paglione, who serves as pastoral assistant for catechesis and liturgy in Bay Head’s Sacred Heart Parish, said, “I like to focus on the Confirmation students, to point out what they have to go through to get the Sacrament and what seminarians have to go through to become a priest. It is a great learning curve for the students to understand.”

Paglione shared a letter from student Nicholas to Trenton seminarian Kevin Hrycenko, who is studying in Mount St. Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., and is expected to be ordained a transitional deacon on May 21 by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

“I admire you for the powerful devotion you have to Jesus and for accepting his calling into the priesthood,” wrote the Confirmation student. “I pray that your journey ahead will be rewarding.”

Gratitude across the miles

John Gazis, Grand Knight of the St. Martha Council #7926, learned about the Seminarian Letter Project at a Knights’ state convention and thought it could be a valuable teaching tool for his Point Pleasant parish’s religious education program.

“These men are studying away from home,” Gazis explained. “It would be nice if they received some thanks and encouragement.”

St. Martha Parish director of religious education, Georgina Kotz, agreed and decided to implement it for the first time this spring.

The letters expressed thanks and a deep understanding about the role seminarians filled in the life of the Church. Phrases such as “I thank you for your help and service to God and his people,” and “thank you for serving God’s people out of everything you could of [sic] done,” interspersed with drawings of Bibles and the Eucharist, illustrated the students’ gratitude.

Kotz concluded, “I was impressed: the students all said, ‘thank you’ and realized that, without priests, they couldn’t have Mass. I’m definitely doing this [project] again.”