Louis Hannegan, Managing Editor
A few dozen nuns, monks, priests, consecrated and lay missionaries from 27 organizations took over Haggar Foyer last Wednesday for the University of Dallas Campus Ministry’s largest ever ‘vocations fair.’
Hailing from as far as upstate New York and La Crosse, Wis., these men and women were invited to campus to raise awareness among students of the various vocational paths in the Church.
“The fair gives the students a chance to see a diversity of religious communities and organizations, and showcases what the Church has to offer after graduation for any vocation,” said Scott Chuchla, a campus minister and the organizer of the fair.
Staffing a labyrinth of literature-laden tables, the robed, collared and habited men and women chatted freely with passersby and students in the lunch line about the vocational possibilities within the Catholic Church, hardly giving a second thought to speaking so publicly about a topic seldom discussed elsewhere.
“Vocation is something you whisper at a secular school. Here people can talk about it plainly,” Chuchla said. “‘I’m trying to determine God’s will for me’ – that’s normal.”
Denise Phillips, director of Campus Ministry, echoed Chuchla.
“That’s the nice thing about being here,” Phillips said. “Talking about vocation is no big deal.”
The spiritualities of the 27 groups present varied as greatly as their habits and places of origin. Benedictines, Carmelites, Dominicans, Somascans, Cistercians, Franciscans, Diocesan (the vocations office from the Dallas Diocese), School Sisters of Notre Dame and Pauline Sisters all attended.
Students welcomed the opportunity to learn more about this variety as they passed through Haggar that day, encouraged by the sight – and perhaps a little intimidated.
“You don’t hear much about all these religious orders. It was great to see them living out their vocation, and to see them trying to spread the word,” said senior Jon Allison, who was all smiles chatting with the Daughters of Charity.
“It’s always a slightly awkward day, walking through the fair with 10 religious orders talking to you,” said Allison with his characteristic grin.
“It’s great to see the religious take over Haggar,” said senior Emily Linz, who stopped by the table for the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. “They stand as a sign of contradiction in our world, and their powerful presence encourages UD students to consider the religious life as a way to live out their liberal arts education. Plus, after every conversation, you are guaranteed to be given a holy card.”
These groups chose to attend the fair not to “sign people up,” but rather to raise awareness and get students thinking about the possibility of a celibate vocation.
“It’s about planting seeds and expanding peoples’ awareness of what’s out there,” said Friar Paul Schloemer, OFM Conv., a Franciscan from Louisville, Ky. who was attending the fair for the third year and who had already been approached by several students.
“Most people take two to six years after first hearing about a vocation before they make a decision – some more, some less,” said Schloemer. “There’s a big difference between what we do and military recruiters,” he said with a smile.
Some of these groups are already home to some UD students, and are eager to continue drawing from the UD community.
A current senior, Quinn Huston entered Holy Trinity Seminary in the fall of his junior year, joining a group of what is now 63 UD student-seminarians residing down the hill. Of these, 15 are studying for the Diocese of Dallas, 48 for different dioceses in Texas and even beyond the Lone Star State.
According to Diocese of Dallas Vocations Director Fr. John Szatkowski, 15 is good, but only half of what Dallas needs.
“We’re doing pretty well right now, but as my bishop would say, we need more. No matter how many we have, our target is twice as many,” Szatkowski said.
The same year Huston joined Holy Trinity seminary, physics major and 2011 alumnus Paul Bechter entered the seminary. Bechter is now doing his theology studies at the North American College in Rome.
From last year’s graduating class, Joe Minardi joined Marmion Abbey, a Benedictine abbey in Aurora, Il., a small city west of Chicago, and Catherine Lepel and Mary Rose Dixon joined the Nashville Dominicans.
From previous years, Rudy Barba joined the Dominicans after graduating from UD in 2009. Now living in St. Louis, Barba will remain there until he is ordained, according to Br. Gabriel Marie, a novice who returned to Dallas when the novitiate returned last August from San Francisco to the nearby Dominican Priory of St. Albert the Great.
UD men have similarly gone on to join the Cistercians after graduation. Most recently, Paul Bayer ’06 headed across Texas 114 to begin a new life there, becoming Brother John and joining the likes of Frs. James, Robert, Augustine, Thomas, Ambrose and several others as at least the ninth Cistercian at the abbey who graduated from UD.
According to Phillips, about four to five students each year enter some form of religious life or the seminary after graduation.
Most of the groups present have not been the recipient of one of those four or five students in recent memory – or at all – but continue to hope that some students will hear the call further down the road.
“I’ve been fishing here for a long time,” said Rev. Italo Dell’Oro of the Somascan Fathers in Houston who has attended the fair for the last five years.
“No vocations yet, but it would be great if we could get someone from the university,” said first-time attendee Sister Carmen Therese Lazo of the Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence based in Houston.
Asked about recent vocations to the Salesian Sisters in San Antonio, Sister Jaden responded in more general terms.
“We push for vocations, but we want to remind people that God is still calling them to what is best,” Jaden said. “Pray for vocations. We want you to become a good mom, a good dad, a holy priest. We need to become saints. This is a beautiful life.”