Senior priest Fr. Robert Berghammer talks to seventh and eighth grade students at St. Mary School, West Bend, about his vocation to the priesthood during Vocations Awareness Day, Thursday, Jan. 29. (Catholic Herald photo by Tracy Rusch)

Fr. Berghammer was one of 20 priests, deacons and sisters invited to celebrate Vocations Awareness Day at St. Mary School in West Bend on Thursday, Jan. 29, during Catholic Schools Week.

Gail Kraig, principal of St. Mary, said that celebrating a vocations day had a two-fold purpose; priests, deacons and nuns could come together to share a nice meal, drink a cup of coffee and talk and reflect on their vocations – something that the religious men and women don’t get to do often – and then share their lives and vocational experiences with the children.

“That’s the theme of Catholic Schools Week – celebrate service – and the people that were in this room today are such amazing examples of service; service to God, service to the Catholic church, service to the community.”

Invitations were extended to priests and deacons Kraig knew from her years as an archdiocesan consultant for the parishes in districts 7, 8 and 9, Dodge, Fond du Lac and Sheboygan counties, respectively. She also invited the Washington County priests and deacons, and the Sisters of St. Agnes, who got their start in Barton.

Kraig was overwhelmed when every invitation she sent was accepted, creating a diverse group of religious men and women from Reeseville to Sheboygan.

“The beauty of this was the diversity of the group,” Kraig said.

She liked that the religious men and women brought the students more of a worldview of the work done by the clergy and religious people in the church. It also provided them with “teachable moments,” when they could learn how to behave, be polite and show someone around the facility.

Sr. Mary Rose Meis, who just celebrated her 50th jubilee as a Sister of St. Agnes, believes in encouraging children to listen, search out and find what God is calling them to do in life.

“(I hope) that they would be open to listening to God’s inner voice within them to follow whatever God wants them to,” Sr. Mary Rose said. “And, hopefully, there’ll be some that would be, want to be, religious sisters, priests or deacons or religious men.”

The K-3 through eighth grade students listened to the religious men and women, who were split into teams of two or three per classroom, as they talked about how they entered their vocations, and their daily duties. A question and answer session followed each presentation.

Seventh and eighth grade students listened to Fr. Berghammer, Fr. Jim Connell, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus and St. Clement parishes in Sheboygan, and Deacon Mark Jansen of Holy Angels Parish, West Bend.

Eighth grade student Bridget Albert said she liked Fr. Berghammer, “Because he explained stuff really well, and he was kind of really cool … and he was really funny.”

With his humor came a lesson that Albert also took from the vocations day celebration.

“That even if you don’t hear it, that God can speak to you,” she said. “And if you listen closely, you can hear him.”

In the fourth grade classroom, Sarah Vorderbruggen learned about the different orders of priests, but also that being a priest means more than praying and celebrating Sunday Mass.

“Priests have a lot of fun even though they still have to teach (about) Jesus and because some people think that they (priests) have very dull lives, but they don’t,” Vorderbruggen said. “They get to travel all around the world.”

That’s one lesson that Julie Dotzler, the seventh and eighth grade teacher, hoped students took with them at the end of the day.

“I hope that they got a different sense of what life is like for priests, deacons, sisters,” Dotzler said. “A lot of times these kids, they go to Mass on Sundays and they see Fr. Mike (Moran) does daily Mass, but they really don’t, they don’t see everything that’s involved – the amount of service, the amount of commitment, the flexibility that the priests have to have.”

Dotzler also said that with someone like Fr. Berghammer in the room, the kids could see that priests, deacons and sisters have normal lives.

“I’m just hoping that they got a really nice view, that they’re normal people and they’re happy,” Dotzler said. “They’re happy with what they’ve chosen to do.”

Kraig said she plans on bringing the three entities together again to repeat both aspects of the day — the breakfast for the priests, deacons and sisters and the classroom visits.

She hoped the children learned that religious vocations exist and can be a part of their futures, but also that they should pray to find a vocation that will make them happy.

“It’s not about the money,” Kraig said. “It’s not about the success; it’s about the service to others.’