|Father Ryan High School chaplain Father Gervan Menezes, center, poses with Jackson DuBois, left, and Quinn Robinson at their graduation last year. Dubois and Robinson were part of the Melchizedek Project at Ryan, a vocation discernment group for male students, and are now first year seminarians together at the Pontifical College Josephinum.
When most of his Father Ryan High School classmates were busy filling out their college applications and thinking about their future majors and career possibilities, Quinn Robinson was praying about where God was calling him to live out his vocation.
“It’s definitely not very common to go to the seminary,” immediately after graduating from Ryan, said Robinson, a member of the Class of 2015.
Now a freshman at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, Robinson feels he is “absolutely where God wants me to be this year,” spending his time studying, praying and developing friendships with other young men who are discerning their call to the priesthood.
While the seeds for Robinson’s priestly vocation were sewn years ago, he began to seriously explore this path last year, with the help of Father Ryan’s chaplain Father Gervan Menezes and the Melchizedek Project.
“The Project is for young men thinking about the priesthood,” Father Menezes said. “They can realize what God is calling them to be.”
The Melchizedek Project, which Father Menezes revived at Father Ryan last year, is just one way that Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Nashville are fostering vocations to the religious life. Right now, it’s the most organized and formal way to help high school students discern a religious vocation. But each school strives to give students plenty of opportunities to prayerfully consider their future path.
At St. Cecilia Academy, “we emphasize the universal call to holiness, that we’re all called to a vocation,” said Sister Anne Catherine, O.P., St. Cecilia’s principal. There’s no formal vocation group at St. Cecilia, she said, but there are plenty of ways for students to find out more about religious life.
Religion classes, retreats, monthly all-school Masses, and Sodality, a Christian devotion and service club, offer opportunities for students to deepen their faith. Encouraging a deep spiritual life, open to a vocation, “is part of the fabric of what we’re doing” at St. Cecilia, Sister Anne Catherine said.
|Luke Wilgenbusch, left, and Rhodes Bolster, both alums of Father Ryan, are studying to be priests at the North American College in Rome. In recent years, Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Nashville have begun making a more concerted effort to help students consider a religious vocation. Tennessee Register file photo by Rick Musacchio
While each of the Dominican Sisters who teach at St. Cecilia can act as a point person if a student has questions about their own religious vocation, they don’t push the idea on students. “We’re not trying to be a vocation factory,” Sister Anne Catherine said. Of course, the sisters are always thrilled to see their students at Dominican Motherhouse retreats. “We love to see the kids really taking seriously the question, ‘What does God want me to do with my life?’” she said.
As Director of Campus Ministry at Pope John Paul II High School, Deacon Brian Edwards sometimes fields questions from students contemplating a religious vocation. Young people today tend to be more secular-minded than older generations, he said, and “it’s exciting when someone is thinking beyond that culture.”
Deacon Edwards teaches Theology of the Body to JPII freshman, which includes some discussion about all types of vocations, and he hopes to organize a Melchizedek Project there in the future. Father Terry McGowan, the former chaplain at JPII, started an altar server program, a roster of about a dozen students who serve at daily Mass. “It’s intended to get them close to the altar and get them thinking about the prospect” of priesthood, Deacon Edwards said.
One JPII graduate, Father Andy Bulso, was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Nashville last year, and another, Malachi Walker, is currently attending the seminary. Some students are planning to visit the Pontifical College Josephinum over spring break. Another group of girls recently attended a Dominican Motherhouse retreat.
“It does take a lot of courage to consider a vocation and talk about it,” Deacon Edwards said. “I’m thrilled when a student is open to the prospect.”
Thanks in part to the Melchizedek Project at Father Ryan, two recent graduates are now in the seminary discerning their vocations. In addition to Robinson, Jackson DuBois is also studying at the Josephinum, and two Ryan alums, Luke Wilgenbusch and Rhodes Bolster, who graduated before Father Menezes brought back the Melchizedek Project, are diocesan seminarians at the North American College in Rome.
|Bishop David Choby offers a chalice to the newly ordained Father Andy Bulso, an alumni of Pope John Paul II High School. Tennessee Register file photo by Rick Musacchio
About 20 male students are currently involved with the Melchizedek Project. “Most of the guys who come take it really seriously,” said Father Menezes.
The Melchizedek Project, named for an Old Testament priest and king, uses the handbook “To Save a Thousand Souls” by Father Brett Brannen, a well-known guide for discerning a vocation to the Catholic priesthood. In addition to regular meetings, which include visiting priests sharing their vocation stories, members of the Project also serve daily Mass at Father Ryan and special Masses for Bishop David Choby.
Father Menezes also offers spiritual direction to the young men contemplating a vocation. Through spiritual direction, Robinson “realized I had a lot more inner peace and felt in a state of grace” as he discussed his vocation with Father Menezes.
At Father Ryan, the Melchizedek Project for young men, and the Magnificat group for young women, offer “a safe place to talk and pray” for those called to religious life, said Father Menezes.
Magnificat is a discernment group for high school girls led by the Dominican Sisters of Nashville at Father Ryan. Like the Melchizedek Project, they meet once a month and host different guest speakers.
These groups also offer the opportunity for deeper friendships and affirmation of the vocation journey.
“High school can be a spiritual war zone,” Robinson said. “Everyone wants to have their own ideas, so it’s good to be in a place that supports you and people listen to you and don’t try to argue with you.”
Robinson said the most important thing for anyone discerning a vocation is making time for prayer. “Keep your heart open and have a solid prayer life,” he said. “That’s the most important thing. Put your trust in God’s hands and he’ll lead you.”
Setting aside time to pray and listen to God is indeed one of the most important aspects of discerning a vocation, said Sister Anne Catherine. “There’s a lot of noise in our culture. There’s not a lot of time for silence to hear God’s voice,” she said. “God always calls, but are we listening to him?”