At the end of every Steubenville STL Mid-America youth conference is an invitation to teens who feel God might be tugging at their hearts to consider a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated religious life.
As they’re asked to approach the altar after Mass, everyone in the arena prays over them that they will be open to God’s will for their lives.
Margaret Hogan was among those who stepped forward at one of the conferences held in July. The junior at Cor Jesu Academy has considered entering the convent since she was a freshman, although she’s still listening to where God is calling her.
At Steubenville, she heard an inspiring talk on discernment from Sister Karolyn Nunes, vocations director with the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George. A few weeks later, Margaret saw her again at an Altar Call follow-up event at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, where she dove deeper into the topic.
“Listening to her talk made me think I want to be like Sister Karolyn,” Margaret said. “I feel like now I have more of a call to possibly enter a convent. After Steubenville, I was like, OK this is becoming a real possibility now.”
The Altar Call event at the seminary is one of many programs the archdiocesan Vocations Office offers to help young people discern where God may be calling them. The Annual Catholic Appeal supports the office and its activities.
The Vocations Office started Altar Call at the seminary in 2017 to encourage teens who have acknowledged their openness to God’s call — especially the possibility of becoming a priest or consecrated religious.
The event seeks to bridge a gap between the Steubenville conferences and other summer events, such as Kenrick-Glennon Days and other retreats, and fall vocations activities, said Father Brian Fallon, director of the archdiocesan Office of Vocations.
“We thought, what if we brought those young men and women to the seminary and gave them additional tools for discernment and a chance to be able to pray together for each other?” Father Fallon said.
The goal is for participants to walk away with the knowledge “that they are God’s beloved and that He has a unique, distinct plan for their lives — and that they can follow that with great joy,” he said.
At Altar Call, teens are invited to participate in one of two sessions: Discernment 101 for those new to the topic; and Discernment 201, for those further along in their discernment journey. The evening concluded with eucharistic adoration and confessions, followed by an ice cream social.
At the Discernment 101 session, Father Fallon explained that there’s freedom in living the will of the Father, but first, we have to believe in our goodness that comes from being created by God. We start our discernment journey by developing a relationship with God through daily prayer.
“The universal call to holiness is for you to bring the Good News into the world,” Father Fallon said. “How do you do that? You focus on your relationship with God first.”
Paul Klassen learned about Altar Call through his youth group at St. Joseph in Cottleville. While he’s never attended a Steubenville youth conference, he’s been to Kenrick-Glennon Days twice. “The seminarians are holy and fun to hang out with, too,” said the St. Dominic High School freshman.
Paul enjoys having a prayer life, but he also picked up some new ideas from Father Fallon’s talk, such as focusing on meditative prayer. “It’s thinking about things and talking to God rather than saying memorized prayers,” he said, adding that it will give him quiet time to discern.
Katherine Jones and Hailey Meek from Most Sacred Heart Parish in Eureka attended Steubenville this summer and were curious to learn more at Altar Call. Both said they appreciated having those kinds of opportunities to go deeper.
“Discernment is following God’s will and finding the greatest way to love,” said Katherine, who started her freshman year at Drake University. “We’re called to love one another as God loves us.”
Hailey, who took notes during Father Fallon’s talk, said she came away with the knowledge that no matter what vocation she’s being called to, “we need to have a relationship with God — otherwise everything will crumble.”
Discern a vocation
Father Brian Fallon offers two concrete ways that young people — and really, anyone of any age — can become disciples of the Lord and discern where He is calling us:
Daily prayer: It’s not just prayer before meals and Mass on Sundays, but reflecting daily on how I can live life with God at the center. God hears when we pray. Talk to Him and let Him know how you’re doing. When we sit in silence and talk to our Heavenly Father, we begin to notice that He’s accompanying us.
Consider how you can be the Lord’s helper: It’s important to think less about ourselves and more about how we can help the Lord in His mission. Ask Him every day: How can I help? Small actions such as helping around the house or being there for a friend in need add up to be something big — living a life as a disciple of the Lord.
For more information on events offered by the Vocations Office and resources for discerning a vocation, visit www.stlvocations.org. The Vocations Office also has an Instagram page at @stlvocations.