Sixth graders learn about religious, priests & deacons
By Rob Kundert
Special to The Witness
EPWORTH — Julie Tebbe began her talk by asking the 250 students sitting in the main chapel of Divine Word College (DWC) to look at their hands and then compare them with the hands of friends sitting next to them. Their fingers, thumbs and even the lines in their palms were all a little different.
A member of the Dubuque Franciscan Charism Team and the keynote speaker at the Sixth Grade Vocation Day held at DWC on Monday, Feb. 13, Tebbe wanted to show how each of them was unique. This was the 10th year for the vocation day event, presented by the Dubuque Area Vocation Association (DAVA), with support from the Serra Club of Dubuque, to raise awareness about religious life among young people in Catholic schools.
“God created each of us with unique gifts and talents,” she said. “Each of us is called to use our special gifts and talents in the service of God and others.”
Tebbe told a story from her youth in which her parents showed her forgiveness after she had gotten into trouble. To her, that was what the love of God is like — unconditional love – and each of us needs to open our hearts to be forgiven and loved in such an unconditional way. When that occurs, we can be open to God’s call in life.
“God’s call is sometimes difficult to describe,” she said. “But it’s about finding your niche in life, where you are your best self, and how you can best use the talents and gifts that God has given you.”
With that line of thought – created by God, loved by God, called by God – Tebbe said she hoped to raise each student’s awareness of the many possibilities in their life.
“‘Vocation’ comes in many forms, including priesthood, sisterhood, brotherhood, the diaconate, as well as married and single life. At their age, raising awareness about the many possibilies that lie before them is a good thing. It’s not some burning bush moment like Moses,” she said. “It’s more like the bigger picture. Look at your life. Take it more seriously. Where are you headed?”
The annual Sixth Grade Vocation Day offers insight so students can answer that question. After Tebbe’s talk, the students rotated through a series of presentations by priests, sisters, nuns and brothers from a number of religious communities, as well as a diocesan priest and a married deacon. Each told them about their vocation, how they chose it for themselves and talked about different aspects of religious life, such as prayer, vows, living in a religious community and ministry. The day is a win-win for the students’ teachers and the vocation directors, according to Len Uhal, national vocation director for the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), who helped organize the event.
“We want to be an asset for the teachers in the classroom by supporting their religion curriculum,” he said. “Having this day provides them with another resource to show their students how God calls them in their lives.”
Amy Kluesner, a sixth grade teacher at St. Francis Xavier Elementary School in Dyersville, has taken her classes to the event every year.
“Even though we can educate the students about these different religious vocations, we’re not living those vocations,” she said. “To hear directly from the sisters, the priests, the nuns, the deacons and the brothers, I think is very good.”
This was the second vocation day event for Melomi Waller, a fifth and sixth grade teacher at St. Joseph School in Sinsinawa.
“We’ve been talking about the seven sacraments in religion classes, and I love how they talked about them, especially today about baptism,” she said. “It reinforces what I’m doing in the classroom.”
Both teachers said they have their students write about the experience in their journals.
“Their responses are varied, they each take away something different,” Kluesner said, “which I think is one of the benefits.”
“Last year, they took in more than I thought they would; I was so surprised at their responses,” Waller said. “They complain at first, but they really do enjoy coming here.”
Kundert is a public relations specialist for Divine Word College in Epworth.
PHOTO: Sister St. James Lickteig from the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a women’s religious order based in Dubuque, speaks with sixth grade students. (Photos by Rob Kundert/Divine Word College)