He tells educators he intends to visit every classroom

By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

Bishop Douglas J. Lucia’s love of teachers goes way back.

“One of the first people I remember exciting the call to faith in me was my first-grade teacher, Sister John Dominic, O.P.; she made the faith come alive for me, even in first grade. And see, that’s what we’re invited to do for our young people,” the bishop told a gathering of hundreds of diocesan educators on Sept. 2 at the Diocese of Syracuse Catholic Schools Opening Day Mass, which doubled as the Mass for Vocations.

“One of my great goals this year is that I’m going to be in every school and in every classroom, so that I have a chance to see all our young people,” the bishop told the gathering at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, “but I also want to have a chance to talk with them about God. …

“Some of you might be thinking: ‘Oh, no, the bishop’s coming,’ he said with a laugh. “And my first reaction is, relax. It’s just me. My mother would tell you don’t take me too seriously.”

That means the bishop will be visiting 21 Catholic schools. Such a goal does not exist everywhere, said Rhonda Gruenewald, of Houston, Texas, an author and traveling speaker who promotes the call to holiness and vocations. Whoever is the first to book Bishop Lucia for a classroom visit “should win a prize,” she suggested.

Father Jason Hage tells diocesan
educators that he wants them to create a culture of “radical openness to God.” (Sun photo | Tom Maguire)

Follow Peter’s example

Bishop Lucia noted that in the day’s Gospel (Luke 5:1-11), Peter “let Jesus into his life. He let Jesus be part of what he was doing. Jesus is always willing to meet us where we’re at in life. But it goes beyond even that. He’s not just willing to meet us where we’re at in life. He’s willing to accompany us in life.”

Young people, the bishop told the teachers, principals and other school staffers, need to know “that they don’t walk this way alone. And as I’ve said in my confirmation homily, that’s what the Holy Spirit is all about. … We live in such a fearful world. But we need to remember again Jesus’ words: Don’t be afraid.”

Teachers should keep their students happy as they go through the school year, the bishop said, and when they are “having one of those days,” the teachers should think again of the Sept. 2  readings, which included Col 1:9-14 and Psalm 98:2-6.

“Vocations are born so often from people living the faith,” Bishop Lucia explained. When young people see faith come alive, he said, “they in turn want to get involved. They in turn hear that call as well.”

“And so to me the vocation today for all of us is to help our young people hear the call of God in their lives, whatever that call might be.”

Author Gruenewald (vocationministry.com) told the teachers that kids need to find a vocation “because that’s the path to sainthood.” Therefore, she recommends that teachers sprinkle vocations into their work with tools such as the calendar of vocations.

Superintendent of Catholic Schools William W. Crist addresses the teachers, principals and other school staffers at the Opening Day Mass. (Sun photo | Chuck Wainwright)

Tips for teachers

Here are some of her examples:

National Vocation Awareness Week, Nov. 7-13. People should pray, fast and offer sacrifices for their priest. Teachers should invite nuns, priests and seminarians into their classroom; decorate the door and the bulletin board; and “highlight those who have said yes.”

World Day of Cloistered Life, Nov. 21. Yes, there are “still real monks.” Students could send a care package to a convent or a monastery.

National Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 30-Feb. 5. Draw a picture of a priest or a sister, and decorate the bulletin board for vocations.

World Day for Consecrated Life, Feb. 2. Research a saint or the way in which vows are lived out in different orders. Virtually go into a convent or a monastery.

National Marriage Week, Feb. 7-14. Pray for married life (Gruenewald noted that she herself got married at age 28). Invite a Catholic couple to come in and speak to students about discerning marriage. Explore the lives of married saints—“they’re out there.”

Religious Brothers Day, May 1. Send a care package and spiritual bouquets.Research brother saints.

World Day of Prayer for Vocations, May 8. Sign up your class and go to Eucharistic Adoration, and pray the rosary for vocations.

“Year after year, sequentially, do these things,” which have a cumulative effect, said Gruenewald. She noted that a school in Little Rock, Ark., even has a Seminarian Signing Day, “and that can happen here too, and I know it can.”

She told the teachers: “One person can effect so much change in the world. … What are you going to do in your classroom and when are you going to do it?”

Author Rhonda Gruenewald, of Houston, Texas, tells educators to incorporate the calendar of vocations into their classrooms. (Sun photo | Chuck Wainwright)

Invite priest to class

Schools should have a binder of age-appropriate prayers, she said, and she suggested having a priest bring his ordination video into the classroom. And a school assembly would be fun with a game that one school played: “Is Father Victor Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?”

Books by Gruenewald include The Harvest: A Guide to Vocation Ministry in Education, with a foreword by Bishop Lucia.

“Year after year,” Gruenewald wrote in an email, “studies show that 75% of the newly ordained say they first heard the call between birth and 18 years of age. So, fostering vocations in our Catholic schools is a natural fit.

“Vocation Ministry has given 102 workshops in 48 dioceses in North America. We have seen fruit from our workshops. The Diocese of Stockton, California, went from 0 seminarians in 2019 to 7 seminarians in 2021!
“We gave our very first workshop in the Diocese of Grand Island, Nebraska, which only had 1 seminarian in 2015. After we trained priests and laity, they grew to 9 in 2019.”
She also said that the U.S. average age of a priest is 67 years old and that
3,500 parishes are without a resident priest.

“You’re changing the world,” the next speaker, Father Jason Hage, told the teachers. Being a teacher involves the art of accompaniment, said Father Hage, whose Diocese of Syracuse assignments include Director of Vocation Promotion.

The lives of students constitute “God’s gift to you,” he told the teachers. He added, “We want happiness, joy for our students.” He urged the teachers to “empower students so they are meant for something bigger than themselves.”

A response of love

But vocations such as marriage or a priest’s vocation, he said, must be a response of love, not a duty or an obligation just because there are not enough priests. Teachers should look for leaders among the students, he said, not just students who are assumed to be potential vocations because they are super quiet.
Teachers should not give answers such as “You are definitely called,” but rather help their students ask the right questions, Father Hage said—“we do more than educate, we form.” And teachers who are praying and having an ongoing dialogue with Jesus are thereby equipped to help young people ask those questions.

Teachers should ask: How is your prayer life? Father Hage suggests advising students to spend 10 minutes a day in a chapel for one week—“see what happens.” He knows one young person who went beyond the week and still does that every day. He hopes that all young people “stay open to God’s call.”

He wishes there were “priest farms” where they could grow out of the ground, but lacking that, Father Hage advised the teachers to “allow God to dream His dream into that child’s life.”

Bishop Lucia told the teachers: “I really do look forward to seeing you in the classrooms this year, but just know that our prayers go with you as we begin this journey together.”

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