In his apron-covered clerics, metal tongs in hand, seminarian Clayton Huck stood over a batch of piping hot curly fries.
“Cheeseburger and chili cheese fries!” fellow seminarian Trey Niesen hollered from his post at the ordering window, and Huck immediately began filling a paper tray. Across the grill, Jax Byington slid a pork burger onto a waiting bun, passing it over to Jon Halfmann to be cheesed.
Eight Kenrick-Glennon seminarians took over the Grain Bin Concessions at Bloomsdale Fun Farm on Oct. 7, cooking up burgers, chicken, hot dogs, fries and more for families visiting the Bloomsdale fall family attraction.
Typically, Bloomsdale Knights of Columbus Council 1848 runs the concessions, with most of the proceeds going back to the Knights. But for one Saturday, they turned the operation over to Huck, a Bloomsdale Knight of Columbus himself, and his comrades to raise money for seminary expenses.
It was another chance for the Bloomsdale Knights to support vocations, said Chris Carron, a St. Agnes parishioner and deputy grand knight of the Bloomsdale Knights of Columbus.
A couple of years back, Huck wrote to the Knights of Columbus requesting a small donation to help with his seminary expenses. “We gave him the funds he asked for,” Carron said. “Then the second year, he did the same thing. At that point, my thoughts were: He’s our parishioner. He’s one of ours — we can do better than what he asked for.”
For the past two years, the Bloomsdale Knights of Columbus have hosted a “vocations breakfast” fundraiser in February, raising money for Huck and other area parishioners in formation for the priesthood, permanent diaconate and religious life. Carron wants to help remove some of the financial burden from pursuing these vocations, he said.
“A big group of us are just very proud that we can support them. I’m just very, very proud, bring-you-to-tears proud,” Carron said. “(Clayton) is a brilliant kid, and it’s amazing. We want to do that for everybody we can.”
During the college seminary years, tuition is covered but families are responsible for some costs, including room and board; post-college theology students pay for their own books and living expenses, Huck explained. The financial assistance he has received from the Knights “has been extremely helpful,” he said. “I have two younger siblings who are going to college now, and for the Knights to help out like that and take all of the strain away was just a true blessing.”
Coming from a small town where “everybody knows everybody,” Huck has felt tremendous love and support from St. Agnes Parish. “I am, from what I understand, the first seminarian to come out of our parish in probably 60 years,” he said. “There’s some parishes that produce seminarians all the time, where it’s more commonplace, or at least they know what it’s like — but in my parish, most of these people have never had a seminarian from their parish. And just to see the immense generosity and joy and the desire to share with me and to hear about the seminary…has been so beautiful.”
Byington, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Bonne Terre and Knights of Columbus Council 1088, has also received donations from the vocations breakfast.
“It means a lot that my local community, the Council I’m in in Bonne Terre, and this Council in Bloomsdale are both supporting me and really taking an interest in vocations to the priesthood and a genuine care for my vocation and my discernment,” he said. “They know we’re here, and they care about us.”
Representatives of Christ
Among the plaid shirts and fall tones worn by farm visitors, the seminarians’ black, Roman-collar clerics and blue Kenrick-Glennon Seminary polo shirts stood out. That has its advantages, explained Trey Niesen, a seminarian from the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas.
“It’s my first year wearing the Roman collar, and wearing it in public is great because when people see me, they expect a representative of Christ,” he said. “It makes evangelization way easier in my opinion, because for laypeople, and myself before I wore the collar, it was like, ‘Do I bring Jesus up? Do I try to evangelize here, or do I just kind of blend in?’ But with the collar, everyone assumes that I do represent Christ, so it’s much easier for me to bring Him up and try to elevate the conversation beyond the normal, regular chit-chat. That’s what I love about it.”
At the concession stand, Niesen spent the day taking orders and chatting with people at the window. “I talked to a few people just about where the proceeds are going. It was very simple — we’re just talking about how this is a seminarian funding event,” he said. “They did say they were happy to help.”
Niesen feels especially drawn to ministering to families, he said, so having the chance to spend time at the farm was “the most energizing thing.”
“When I see parents with kids, it’s just something that makes me excited to foster that strong family relationship,” he said. “So today, I’m just giving them food. And I guess I’m just facilitating a family meal, which is more than I could usually ask for! A family meal is a sacred thing for young families.”
Also taking orders was Andrew Belarde, a seminarian from St. Theodore Parish in Flint Hill.
“I always love meeting new people, so being able to just work the cash register today has been a really great experience,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to let the light of Christ radiate through me, and I’m really grateful for that.”
He had positive conversations with a few people about his time in seminary, he said. Being out in the community this way was an opportunity to evangelize “just through our ability to reflect the joy of Christ,” he said. People can see that they are seminarians and observe them “just making food and having a really great time doing it and finding joy in the little things. Being able to reflect that joy to others I think is a really great example, in this world that needs a lot more joy.”
Bloomsdale Fun Farm owners Robert and Carla Fischer, parishioners at Sts. Philip and James in River aux Vases, were happy to have the seminarians spending the day at the concession stand.
“They’re called to serve, and we’re called to make sure they get the money to serve,” Robert said.
“In Ste. Gen County, it feels good when you have a local guy (in seminary),” Carla said. “We’re blessed to have them here, and to help the Knights, who want to help other people. And there’s no better way than to help the people who are going to serve God and us, that allow us to have our faith and to keep the ball rolling.”
Kate Meyer, a parishioner at Our Lady Help of Christians in Weingarten and learning consultant at Valle Catholic Schools in Ste. Genevieve, volunteered behind-the-scenes in the concession stand with the seminarians. “If these kids were in my classes, they would be the kids that would keep the class going. They’d be answering the questions or making suggestions; they’re the ones who are engaged. So it’s been a lot of fun today,” she said.
“Because we’re low on young men going into the seminary, it’s good for people just to see them, that they’re normal young people,” she said. “Just that presence is so nice.”
>> Vocations Breakfast
The Bloomsdale Knights of Columbus hosts an annual vocations breakfast each February to raise money for area parishioners pursuing vocations to the priesthood, permanent diaconate and religious life. To stay up to date, visit the Council’s Facebook page: Facebook.com/bloomsdalekc