Vocations fair at SLU focuses on God’s call

The sign came at the precise moment in the mid-day outdoor Mass when Jesuit Father David Meconi elevated the consecrated host, the true presence of Jesus Christ.

A star shined above Father Meconi's raised arms, the sun reflecting in a starburst pattern off the top of the Clock Tower at St. Louis University — a hint of divine approval, perhaps, at SLU's first vocations fair in the millennium.

On a sunny but crisp and windy autumn day, 40 religious communities participated in the all-day event, giving students passing by one-stop shopping in the heart of campus.

Freshman Patrick Graney-Dolan described the vocations fair No. 1 as, simply, "a great idea."

"It's a great way to get the word out," he said. "We always talk about 'vocations, vocations, vocations' and this kind of gives people options. Not only that, but it gives options for all over the map."

As in, vocations encompass more than just calls to religious lives but to married or single lives as well.

"There's not just religious (communities), but there's a married couple here too saying that 'vocation' doesn't have to mean just religious life," Graney-Dolan said. "Vocations means wherever God calls you; all you have to do is what He asks, to the best of your ability."

Ursuline Sister Elisa Ryan spoke eloquently about vocations, which summed up the fair specifically and vocations in general. She stressed that the term "vocations" isn't a Catholic euphemism for recruiting.

"In talks at schools, I always say, 'We're not here to recruit,'" said Sister Elisa, the Ursulines' vocations director. "'We don't recruit. The Army recruits. Colleges recruit. Sisters, brothers and priests don't recruit. We're here to help you figure out what your calling is.'

"Every vocation is good and beautiful. No one vocation is better than the other. The best for me might be religious life, but the best for you might be married or single life."

SLU senior Judith Bailey certainly took advantage of the fair. At age 31, she's older than a typical college student, and on track to get her undergraduate degree at the end of this year.

"I've visited probably all but four tables," she said moments before the mid-day Mass. A Festus native studying biology with a goal of going to law school and becoming a patent attorney, she simply came upon the fair, part of SLU's renaissance in being obvious about its Catholic identify.

"It absolutely was a complete surprise to me; I didn't realize they were doing this," said Bailey, who has "thought about" religious life, but first needs to convert to Catholicism. She's only been attending Mass for the past two years, describing herself as "in the process" of becoming Catholic but "looking for a sponsor" for RCIA.

"I was raised Methodist, so this wasn't really on the radar before then," she said.

A steady stream of students walked by the fair's tables, between classes or en route to study. When they stopped, they chit-chatted about the faith with sisters, brothers or priests and left with literature about specific communities or religious life, plus swag or treats.

"Free candy, free candy," Father Brian Fallon jokingly called to passers-by, wearing an omnipresent, friendly smile. Father Fallon, who became the Archdiocese of St Louis' assistant vocations director in July, manned the ministry's vocations table.

"They have great candy, " Sister Patricia Kofron said, with a laugh. She was at the neighboring table for the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. "I love sugar," Father Fallon quipped.

In addition to the sweets, the archdiocese table offered several books, including "To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood," — available on Amazon. Seminarians studying at SLU from Kenrick-Glennon Seminary stopped by and chatted up fellow SLU students.

"A lot of people have checked out the books and resources we have, and a couple have been interested: 'Hey, can we talk later on? Here's where I am in discernment,'" said Father Fallon, who seems tailor-made for his new post — outgoing and engaging. "We're helping people think about priesthood and different religious orders. If people have a look and take some resources, that's a win for us. ...

"It's been a good day."

Exactly as Father Meconi envisioned. The new director of SLU's Catholic Studies Program, he set up the fair with help from Jesuit Father Chris Collins and Sister Marysia Weber, RSM. The assistant to the president for mission and identity at SLU, Father Collins preceded Father Meconi as Catholic Studies director; Sister Marysia heads the archdiocesan Office of Consecrated Life.

"This is just a way of honoring religious life and showing the kids this life still exists," Father Meconi, who has been involved in vocations fairs at previous small-college outposts. "These things happen at smaller Catholic schools, so why not bring it to a bigger place? ... This is really cool."

SLU sophomores Katie King and Michael Wiley described it similarly. Sister Christina Skelley, ASCJ, offered the most unique perspective of the day.

"I'm actually a student here right now," said Sister Christina, who handed out prayer cards and kibitzed in the morning before heading to her graduate education class at mid-day. "A lot of students walk through. ... This is a place to really have a presence." 

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