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Sixth-graders to learn about religious life

They don’t have to be perfect to consider a religious vocation.

That’s something sixth-graders attending the archdiocese’s annual Vocations Awareness Days often come away with, said Scott Becker, a teacher at St. Boniface School in Elgin.

Becker, in his ninth year bringing students to the event, said they learn that priests and religious are human beings, too, no different from themselves.

"The students are allowed to ask the speakers any questions they might have," he said, "and they learn there’s more of an opportunity than they realized to go into those vocations."

About 260 students from 17 rural archdiocesan schools – nine schools the first day and eight on the second – will attend the April 20-21 event at the St. Benedict Center near Schuyler. They will hear priests and religious sisters and brothers talk about their lives and how they discerned their callings.

A similar event is held each fall for sixth-graders in the Omaha area.

"Sixth grade is probably the ideal age to start recognizing the way God works in people’s lives," said Benedictine Brother August Schaefer, a planner of the event, and coordinator for the Omaha Archdiocesan Association of Consecrated Life.

"It’s a chance to hear the stories of people responding to God’s call and it gives the students a concrete example of a living person who said ‘yes’ to God," said Brother Schaefer, who also is vocation director and teacher at Mount Michael Benedictine School near Elkhorn.

Although most students have some contact with their pastors, they may not have contact with religious sisters or brothers, so this event gives them the opportunity to meet them and learn more about their lives, he said.

"We also try to give them a sense of what each religious order is about, since we have such a broad spectrum of religious life in the archdiocese," Brother Schaefer said.

The students begin their day listening to two keynote speakers – a priest or religious brother, and a religious sister, he said. Then as small groups – divided by boys and girls – they attend three more sessions with presentations from other members of consecrated life. The day ends together with Mass.

A shorter, evening session April 20 also is planned for religious education students from public schools. About 40 students from the Schuyler area plan to attend, and others are invited, Brother Schaefer said.

To prepare for the event, teachers receive information packets to review with their students, Becker said, including a questionnaire to test what they know about the Catholic faith and religious life.

"I think the biggest thing that kids can take from this event is that with our society being so fast and furious, it’s important to take the time to listen and see what God is calling them to do," Becker said.

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