By EmmaLee Italia and Mike Ehrmann | Correspondents
What children aspire to become depends on many factors, not the least of which is the adults to whom they’re exposed. In St. Peter School, Point Pleasant Beach, educators are making sure some of that exposure includes people living a religious vocation.
The school’s Vocations Day Feb. 1, part of Catholic Schools Week, was a chance for students to learn more about the priesthood and religious life, listen to priests and sisters talk about their experiences, and to have various curiosities satisfied. Students wanted answers to questions such as, “What’s the difference between a deacon and a priest?”; “Can priests have pets?” and “Can priests and deacons adopt children?”
“God calls us all, and creates destinies for some; what your vocation will be later, we don’t know yet,” said Conventual Franciscan Father Richard Rossell, St. Peter Parish parochial vicar. “Your calling right now is to be students at St. Peter’s, to learn. Someday you will find out what your vocation is, and it will be your calling.”
Photo Gallery: Vocations Day in St. Peter School
Students had an opportunity to hear from religious as they visited their classrooms, including Conventual Franciscan Father Robert Benko, pastor of St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant Beach. He engaged the students in a question and answer session, including topics like his Franciscan order and its branches; the symbolism of his habit; the permanent diaconate and the requirements to become a priest.
“St. Francis wanted things simple. Some friars wanted to wear a leather belt, but it was more expensive,” Father Benko explained. “The more simple option was the cord. Over time, the three knots were added [to symbolize] poverty, chastity and obedience.”
“We think it’s important to expose the children to a wide variety of vocations,” said Tracey Kobrin, St. Peter School principal, of the reason for hosting a Vocations Day. “We’re very fortunate to have our friars and sisters here to talk to the children about their religious vocations, and it’s wonderful to see them around the school. The children really enjoy hearing what they have to say.”
St. Joseph Sister Anne Francine Mead, who works with the parish’s pastoral care and bereavement ministries, told the students how her vocational call came about – starting with her family going to Mass every first Friday of the month.
“Someone told me, ‘I think you have a vocation,’” she said. “A vocation is an invitation – you have to be invited by God to follow him… God promised me he would be with me always, not only when I am good.”
Ultimately she determined that it was also what she desired, to become a religious sister.
“If you fall in love with God, you want to live with him,” she explained. “Everything I do, God is with me… I want you to live in God’s presence, in Sunday Mass.”
Second graders heard from Father Rossell about the significance of receiving the Eucharist during their First Communion.
“Communion is Christ [himself]. We know that because God [told us],” he said. “It’s a mystery, how when a priest says those words, the host becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. Our minds are limited; there is only so much we can know.”
Seventh graders Gavin Ramins, Morgan Auth and Leah Marchetti reflected on what they learned from Father Benko, and what was interesting about his insights.
“I learned that it’s harder to become a priest than you would think,” said Ramins.
Auth agreed, saying she found the process priests must go through “fascinating…. He mentioned that he had to go to school for nine years to finally be ordained,” she said. “I thought that was interesting.”
Marchetti enjoyed learning about Father Benko’s Franciscan order. “He talked about the history of his habit, and how it was black [at first] and then gray … I found it interesting that they had to hide the cord, so that they wouldn’t be killed.”