‘Men for Christ’

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As the sun set on the second day of Kenrick-Glennon Days on June 6, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson mingled with seminary alumni priests who had come to support the seminarians, counselors and campers at the annual summer camp.

It had been a good day. The boys opened the day with morning prayer, participated in fun-filled activities — including baptism practice — before and after mid-day Mass, then competed in evening Water Olympics, the culmination of fun times at camp.

The winning olympics team received the coveted Archbishop's Cup, overflowing with candy, to raucous cheers from fellow campers and seminarians surrounding the event scoreboard. Archbishop Carlson presented the Cup in person, offered a few words of wisdom then chatted with the participating priests.

Smiles and laughter were abundant, both in the awards and postgame chats. The joyous priesthood to which Pope Francis often has referred was on display, perhaps the primary theme of the camp: Priests and seminarians are regular guys.

Archbishop Carlson described Kenrick-Glennon Days "as a wonderful way" for campers "to see that priests and seminarians are human, that they have a great time having fun. Our whole life is to do service well. This is part of it."

It's among numerous parts making up happy, healthy and joyous priests. Campers also experienced:

• The spiritual aspect, with one each of morning, evening and night prayer, Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary at the seminary grotto, confession and two Masses, including the closing Mass with parents June 7.

• The practical aspect, which included sacramental practice in baptizing a "baby" and the mechanics of making a Rosary by hand, either threading beads onto a cord, or just using a cord and creating the "beads" by tying knots.

• The knowledge aspect, with Catholic Jeopardy and a saints scavenger hunt of the seminary's saint statuary.

• The vocation stories, with Father Nicklaus Winker and seminarian Dane Westhoff sharing their stories with the campers — rising sixth- and seventh-graders in this session of camp. (Rising eighth-graders and high school freshmen were set for the second session, June 8-10.)

Father Winker pursued priesthood after receiving a bachelor's degree in computer engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. The pastor at St. Ann Parish in Normandy, Father Winker was ordained in 2010. Westhoff was a carpenter in his home area of Old Monroe for 12 years out of high school before entering seminary. He's slated for ordination in 2020, "God-willing," as seminarians say. Father Winker didn't seriously consider priesthood until college, and Westhoff not at all until he was about 28.

They had regular-guy approaches, doing and considering other things before taking the plunge — also the approach of KG Days, which balances fun activities such as a pool party, water games and a dodgeball/Frisbee game with prayerful/religious activities.

"I love how much fun the kids have in this environment," said seminarian Joseph Esserman, a 2016 John F. Kennedy Catholic High School graduate with enough credits to be a rising junior in the Cardinal Glennon College program. "This changes the one-dimensional view of the seminary: 'These guys can have fun, too. They're real people.'

"Hopefully, we're being examples of how to be men for Christ and getting them excited to be men for Christ, combining being cheerful and having a lot of fun with our prayer life. All of the fun and good times, all of the good companionship and the friendships are all rooted in what we do in our chapel and our prayer life."

Junior camp counselor Isaac Longtin has been coming to Kenrick-Glennon Days for eight years, first as a camper and now as a counselor. He's an incoming-senior at Windsor High School in Imperial.

"I was more impressed with the games when I first came, but the more I got older I realized it gave me more time to think about my vocation and what I need to do," Longtin said. "Now, even though I know my vocation, others don't, so if I can help guide them, it'll be way easier for them."

Longtin's vocation might take him to Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, but he's keeping an open mind about the seminary, which is what Westhoff advised in his presentation: "Just be open to the possibility," he said.

For campers going in the sixth and seventh grades, those possibilities are far off. The fun times — with seminarians David Halfmann, Bobby Tull, Jack Ruzicka and others rallying the campers — seem to be where it's at, for now anyway.

After winning the slip-and-slide competition for his team, Bryan Gerwel gave the Water Olympics high praise. The rising seventh-grader at St. Francis of Assisi School in south St. Louis County added that the multitude of games and activities "wear us out."

Curtice Coleman, a rising sixth-grader at St. Joseph School in Imperial, allowed that making a Rosary "was really fun," but was looking forward to the evening's Water Olympics.

Timothy Wright, a rising sixth grader St Margaret Mary Alacoque School in south St. Louis County, gave the pool party the thumbs up ... well, basically anything with water. He had just finished baptism practice in a group under the tutelage of Father Thomas Vordtriede. The boys took turns in the roles of parents holding the baby doll dubbed Tangi Terese and the priest baptizing her in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Tangi Terese had water accidentally poured on her face, and her head was tipped either to low or too high, drawing chuckles from the assembled campers, counselors and seminarians, as well as Father Vordtriede.

"I enjoyed it," Timothy said with a smile, speaking of the baptism in particular and the camp in general. "I would recommend (KG Days) to any boy who is either thinking about being a seminarian or with no experience of the seminary."

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