Bishop Lucia hosts annual vocations picnic

By Eileen Jevis | Staff Writer

Some of those present at the Bishop’s annual vocations picnic were looking for a purpose in life. Some were contemplating answering God’s call. Some were eager while others were hesitant. However, all who attended the event on Aug. 3 at Christ the King Retreat House were inspired, energized and enlightened. 

The evening consisted of dinner, conversation, prayer and discernment with Bishop Douglas J. Lucia, priests, deacons, seminarians, religious sisters, youth ministers and young adults.
John Sheridan, the youth minister at St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton Church, took several of his young parishioners to the picnic. He has been a youth minister for 20 years, previously serving at Holy Family and St. Mary’s in Baldwinsville. Sheridan became involved in youth ministry at Holy Family when Father Richard Prior, Jr., recruited him and other teens in the parish. “I felt this tug on my heart,” said Sheridan. “I think my strong Catholic school education gave me the courage to follow that tug.” Sheridan said the training he received from Bob Walters (diocesan director in the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry) as well as participating in Life Teen at Holy Family, opened his eyes and lit a fire in his heart to share his faith with the younger generation.  

Deacon Stanley Olkowski serves at Mary, Mother of Our Savior Parish in Utica, having received the Sacrament of Holy Orders for the Permanent Diaconate in May of this year. “It’s important to teach our young people who Jesus is,” he said. “We all have a responsibility to not only introduce Jesus to our parishioners, but to introduce them to his life. We can learn how to live our lives through Scripture.”

Those interested in priesthood and consecrated religious life were welcomed.

Olkowski’s call to serve Jesus came later in life. “My calling came from being caregivers to my parents,” explained Olkowski. “I never felt it was my duty to care for them; it was something I wanted to do.” Olkowski said that taking care of his parents planted the seed and led him to participate in the parish more fully. “I was a spectator for many years,” he said. “But each of us are born with certain gifts and talents and it’s our responsibility to respond. We are all called to be disciples. That’s our vocation. For me, it was to become a deacon.”

Olkowski explained that vocations are different for everyone. “It may be a call to religious life or to become a doctor or nurse and use a gift of healing and compassion. It may be a call to married life; to raise a family.”

Father Jason Hage is the diocesan director of Vocation Promotion. He said that married love and vocational love are deeply connected. “When God is calling us to a vocation, he is calling us to happiness, joy and peace. In a certain way, priests and religious life are the crowning jewel of married life. As the Bishop says, all vocations come from the home.”
“Marriage, seen from the outside, may seem like an obligation,” added Steve Nepil, director of faith formation and the youth minister at Holy Cross Parish. “But when you fall in love, you desire to give yourself away (in marriage), totally and completely. It’s no different with Jesus. By helping to create opportunities for young people to encounter God’s love for them, and to continue to practice their faith has a way of transforming us.” 

Speakers Chris and Linda Padgett led the conversation at the event. They offered four helpful and insightful rules for discerning any vocation, while sharing stories on how different vocations have served their own marriage. 

James Buttner, a transitional deacon serving at Holy Cross, attended the vocations picnic. “Having the Padgetts speak was a wonderful witness to the way different vocations (marriage, priesthood, single or married life) all complement each other,” he said. Buttner shared the four rules the Padgetts offered when discerning a vocation. “Be yourself. Be who God created you to be. Don’t go into a vocation trying to be who you think someone else wants you to be.” The next rule the Padgetts offered is to “have faith in the foundation. The third rule is to accept imperfection. “We have to accept our own imperfections as well as those in the people around us. Trust that the Lord can work in the midst of that,” the Padgetts explained. According to the Padgetts, the final rule to consider when discerning a vocation is knowing that a good vocation is fruitful, no matter what vocation you are called to.

Seminarian Cornelius Deep shares his vocation story with some of the picnic guests.

Buttner said he is encouraged to see some teens grow in their openness to consider a call to religious life. “There is temptation to get anxious or discouraged in trying to ‘figure out’ where God is calling you,” he said. “The best approach is to focus on the present, asking the Lord how you can be close to him today and how you can be faithful to your current state in life. When we start saying ‘yes’ to the Lord in small ways, that naturally leads us to grow in relationship with Jesus and move in a good direction.” 

Bishop Lucia was also surprised on how open the young people were to the messages that were shared. “They were so enthusiastic. They were so thrilled to think they could be part of it,” he said. “I give Father Hage and his team so much credit. It was such an impressive event.” The Bishop said a vocation is all about our own openness to Jesus Christ and to God in the sense of how they might want to work through us. “That to me, was the whole sense of vocation. It might be as a priest, it might be as a married couple, it might be as a deacon or as a consecrated man or women in a religious community. But the most important thing for vocation is the openness to letting God work through you.”

“God has a plan for everyone,” added Olkowski. “We like to think we are in control of our life and vocation, but God is driving the bus. God remains patient with us but persistent in getting us to listen to him. It finally happened for me. I heard his call.” 

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