Research shows that the two 11s — age 11 and 11th grade — are crucial times to plant the seeds of a vocation.
The Archdiocese of Louisville Vocation Office had that in mind when planning Sequere Me — a new day-long vocation event for sixth graders in Catholic schools.
Latin for “follow me,” Sequere Me will be piloted with five schools Nov. 22. The office plans to offer it more widely next school year, said Benedictine Sister Sarah Yungwirth.
Sixth grade is “prime time when young people are thinking about their future, thinking about what their gifts are and thinking about how they can use those gifts,” Sister Yungwirth, associate director of the Vocation Office, said in a recent interview. “So we’re really wanting to plug into that 11-year-old time to kind of plant that initial seed.”
Sequere Me will include small-group time led by a priest, religious sister or brother, time for prayer and presentations about vocations.
“We’re really hoping that this plants seeds and is another way to kind of help that culture of vocations,” Sister Yungwirth said.
Interim vocation director Father Martin Linebach and Sister Yungwirth said they are both testaments to the two 11s research.
In sixth grade, Father Linebach’s teacher “paid special attention to me in that regard,” he said. And when Sister Yungwirth was in high school, she was invited to participate in her Hagerstown, Md., church’s parish council.
“Those people recognized leadership qualities in me as a high schooler and I would have an opportunity to share my thoughts, to share my ideas and I was heard and I was listened to,” Sister Yungwirth said. “It really helped me to feel like I belonged. So they nurtured that in me.
“When I started to think about religious life when I was in college and I would go back home to my parish, they would all encourage me,” she noted. “They really encouraged those seeds they had started to plant when they got me so involved in the parish.”
The Sequere Me program follows closely on the heels of National Vocation Awareness Week, which will be celebrated next week, Nov. 6-12. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops sets aside the week each year to bring awareness to vocations.
In observance, the Vocation Office co-sponsors an essay and poster contest for Catholic students with the St. Serra Club of Louisville. Sister Yungwirth said they receive hundreds of submissions each year.
“For me, it’s very uplifting because I see all this evidence that young people are really, really beginning to connect faith to life and I think when a young person connects faith to life, beautiful things can happen,” she said.
While National Vocation Awareness Week lasts just a week each year, the Vocation Office works to raise awareness year-round.
New to the offerings this year was a discerners retreat, held at the beginning of the academic school year, for men interested in seminary. It was planned by Father Linebach, who has since stayed in touch with the discerners — those considering a call to a religious vocation.
Sister Yungwirth said the retreat has produced “beautiful fruit.”
The Vocation Office also plans to visit several Catholic high schools this year and will work with a few parishes to offer confirmation retreats.
The office also hosts a Marian Dinner for women interested in religious life and has a Planting Seeds Committee to introduce students to vocations “so we’re getting out there to kind of plant those seeds with women too.”
At their core, all of these efforts introduce students to clergy and religious, providing young people opportunities to ask questions, learn about religious vocations and form personal relationships.
One-on-one relationships are crucial to fostering vocations, Father Linebach said. He believes it’s important for discerners to have relationships with three people:
- Their parish priest or pastor.
- A significant person in their life to bring that calling to their attention.
- And, eventually, the local bishop.
“It really is all about relationships,” Father Linebach said. “It’s about the discerners, it’s about establishing a relationship with them, supporting them, trying to guide and shape them.”