Area Sixth Graders Learn about Catholic Vocations

(Epworth, Iowa) – More than 200 sixth graders from area Catholic schools gathered at Divine Word College Tuesday, March 7,  to explore the concept of vocations and consider what they may be called to do with their lives. The annual event is sponsored by the Dubuque Area Vocations Association (DAVA) and provides an opportunity for students to interact with and learn from diocesan priests and deacons, as well as men and women in religious life.

Students started the day in the chapel with live praise and worship music before being invited to go on a “road trip” of sorts. They broke out into small groups to do activities and listen to presentations about prayer, vows, community, service and call. They also took part in games designed to teach them more about answering God’s call, no matter what that may be.

Speakers discussed the importance of recognizing a person’s gifts, talents and interests. Whether God is calling them to married life, single life, consecrated life or ordained life, they learned that the key is to be willing to hear and respond to the call.

One presenter, Presentation Sister Jessi Beck assured students in her sessions that she wasn’t there to convince them they were all being called to be religious sisters. Instead, she lined students up and asked them to pick a side of the room based on their preference for simple things: Do you prefer to be inside or outside? Are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you like salty snacks or do you prefer sweets? The activity helped illustrate just how unique each person is, a lesson she hopes students take to heart.

“Hopefully this gives them an openness to the possibility of things they haven’t thought about before. To say, ‘I’m called to something; what might that be?’” she said. “I hope they start thinking about what they’re drawn to and how they can contribute to the world to be people of God.”

The event was attended by students from Seton Catholic School in Farley, St. Francis Xavier in Dyersville, La Salle Catholic School in Holy Cross, Aquin Catholic School in Cascade, Mazzuchelli Catholic Middle School in Dubuque, Marquette Catholic School in Bellevue and St. Joseph School in Sinsinawa, Wis.

DAVA started the annual Sixth Grade Vocation Day event 16 years ago. In 2021 and 2022, the event moved to an online format due to Covid-19, but Tuesday’s gathering marked a return to the original in-person set-up.

Students had a chance to meet peers from other Catholic schools in the area throughout the day, something Brian Jones, a sixth and seventh grade language arts teacher from Seton, said his students liked.  The field trip also provided a detailed look at religious life and offered perspectives from people involved in a variety of religious congregations.

“Sometimes we just don’t have time in the general classroom to go in depth into vocations and what they all mean or the various vows,” he said.

Jones said he hopes this experience helps his students find a deeper appreciation for their faith, inspires them to start living it more in their daily lives and encourages them to apply what they’re learning in their religion classes at school.

Mazzuchelli sixth grader Brynn Willis, 11, said she liked hearing stories about how the presenters felt personally called to be a priest, brother, deacon or religious sister. “We learned about service and teamwork and trusting God but they put it in a way that was interactive, so we weren’t just sitting and listening,” she said.

Keynote speaker Kevin Feyen, Director of Youth and Young Adult Faith Formation at the Archdiocese of Dubuque, urged the sixth graders to realize that they don’t need to settle for complacency but instead believe that God made them for greatness.

“You’re going to be afraid that the call from God to something powerful is going to hold you back or make you look ridiculous or make you look silly in front of your peers, but there’s nothing shy of awesomeness in you,” Feyen said. “What we’re challenging you to do today is think about how God is calling you in that unique way to go be with him in awesomeness. God made you for so much more than just being okay.”

Feyen said sixth graders are often in a transitional state of their faith. They’re asking tough questions, challenging concepts that were more easily accepted when they were younger and taking a more active role in their beliefs. “It’s a good time to start giving them some autonomy,” he said.

By Emily Shedek

About Divine Word College: Divine Word College is the only Roman Catholic undergraduate seminary in the U.S. dedicated to educating men and women for missionary service. It is owned and operated by the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), the largest missionary order of priests and brothers in the Roman Catholic Church.