It was the middle of the afternoon on June 3rd when I arrived at the Catholic Theological Union both nervous and excited about what would happen the next couple of days. When I walked through the doors of where I would be staying, I was greeted with smiles and a warm welcome. After I settled into my room, I walked downstairs to the Student Lounge to pick up my program materials for the weekend and I began to meet some of the other participants from all over the United States.
After dinner the Conference finally started. Our first talk was on the Biblical Foundations of Discipleship. This talk was about the Apostles yes’ in the bible and how you can find your call in everyday life through various events or the people that you encounter. The day ended with some fellowship and good conversation with some of the other young adults that were part of this conference. Friendships began to form and I was so curious about what else would happen as the weekend unfolded.
As the weekend progressed we had various different talks on Discernment and its Nature and Practice given by Bishop Robert F. Morneau, who is the Auxiliary Bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin. One thing that Bishop Morneau mentioned was that “our vocation is to respond fully to the spiritual fullness of our immediate situation.” The next talk in the afternoon was on Prayer given by Fr. Robin Ryan. Fr. Ryan spoke about how prayer is a call to friendship with Christ and had mentioned a quote from St. Teresa of Avila that states “In my opinion it [prayer] is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” Our evening presentation, which was a Vocation Panel, was given by a lay minister, a religious sister and a priest. They all had individual talks on all three vocations which were also very interesting and insightful. The evening concluded with another night of fellowship, strengthening the friendships that were being created.
Saturday was another full day. We had a morning talk given by Dr. Kevin McClone on Healthy Human Sexuality, which was very thought-provoking. The day continued with a hands-on on-site visit to a ministry site in Chicago, the focus of which participants were able to choose. I chose to go to Misericordia which is a place for children and adults with developmental disabilities that is run by Sr. Rosemary Connelly, RSM. Misericordia aspires for each individual to live as independently as possible in the highest level of community integration feasible. Its mission statement is: “The Mission of Misericordia/Heart of Mercy is to support individuals with developmental disabilities in maximizing their level of independence and self-determination within an environment that fosters spirituality, dignity, respect and enhancement of quality of life.“ This was a very moving experience for me. We were able to meet some of the residents and to tour the facilities. I was speechless while I was walking around. I was in awe when I saw the volunteers working with the young children; some of them have been there since they were born. It was also extremely moving for me to see some of the adults who have been there since birth and how much this place has for them to offer.
Saturday concluded with a cruise on Lake Michigan off the Navy Pier. This cruise was the perfect way to spend our last night together in Chicago. We had good conversations and formed more memories. There were even fireworks which were just so beautiful off the water.
The conference continued on Sunday morning with a closing talk that urged us reflect on our experience and where our lives will take us once we leave the conference – in other words Where do I go from here? After that we participated in Sunday Mass together followed by lunch ….then it was time for us to go our separate ways, return to our home towns filled with energy and new insights.
This conference was amazing. I personally have grown so much as a result from having participated and I have been reaffirmed in my realization of exactly what I would like to do with my life. This experience reassured me that I am on the right track when it comes to my vocation, which is to teach young children. I am studying early childhood education at Franciscan University in Steubenville Ohio. Through my experience at the Misericordia ministry site in Chicago, I have also come to realize that I would specifically like to work with children with developmental disabilities. It was just amazing to see how much care, love and support those individuals working with children and adults can give and all of that can be incorporated in everything you do. It was such a privilege to meet the other thirty-two young adults who shared this experience with me over that one weekend. I have truly taken away so much from this experience and I am so incredibly thankful and blessed to have been able to participate. The take away question from the conference that was mentioned in a few of the talks is, “What do you plan to do or to be with your one, wild and precious life?”