Vocations Retreat Draws Campus Ministry Students

Vocations Retreat group gathered after Mass at the Cathedral of St. Helena

Fr. Cody Williams
Christ the King Parish, Missoula
St. John the Baptist Parish, Frenchtown

Most people think of a vocations retreat as something only for people who are discerning a call to some form of religious life. In other words, only those who are discerning a vocation to religious life or priesthood need to participate. I believe this approach falls far short of what a vocations retreat is meant to do. I find it sad when we take the consumerist mentality of “I need to find my vocation,” and apply it to retreats. By contrast, our goal with the vocations retreat this year was to focus on building relationships rather than to enter into discernment, or make a decision.

The reality of all vocations in the Church is that they must build off each other and support each other through relationships and the Sacramental Life of the Church. I was awestruck as this was so clearly captured in a moment when Sr. Mary Catherine, S.V., was holding and taking care of Renee and John Barnes’ newborn son while they presented at the retreat. This image speaks to the core reason for this retreat, and I am clear about this with the campus ministry students when I say, “You are not here because I assume you have a religious vocation or you know your vocation. You are here to meet people who are daily living their faith in real and life-giving ways who can support and encourage you in your life of faith.”

Students attended from campus ministries at Carroll College, Montana State University, the University of Montana and UM Western. It was a great chance for students to meet each other and accompany one another in faith through the experience. The retreat is intentionally a Friday through Sunday event. This makes it a weekend away and helps give a prayerful focus. We spent time in prayer and fellowship and most importantly celebrated Mass together. The sacramental life of the Church is the core value of all our vocational paths as Christ strengthens and guides us on the great adventure of our life’s journey.

Informal conversations were a key part of the retreat.

This year, the retreat began on Friday night with a talk on discernment. “Talk” really isn’t the right word, as the format encouraged a rich discussion. I felt that the plethora of experiences of the priests, religious, and students needed to be part of the larger topic of discernment: how do I know what God wants me to do? Saturday began the “day of talks” and each vocation had a one-hour slot. Br. Vittorio from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal talked about men’s religious vocations. Sr. Fiat, Sr. Mary Catherine, Sr. Josephine Rose from the Sisters of Life and Sr. Margaret Hillary from the Dominicans talked about women’s religious vocations. John and Renee Barnes spoke on the vocation to married life. Deacon Bob and Karen Fishmen spoke on the permanent diaconate, married life, and lay orders, along with Fr. Bart Tolleson who talked about third orders. Lastly, Fr. Marc Lenneman, Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Helena, talked about diocesan priesthood.

In addition to talks and discussions, we celebrated Mass on Friday and Saturday and prayed the Liturgy of the Hours – Morning, Midday, Evening, and Night prayer – including a holy hour with Solemn Benediction. The retreat ended with the 11 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral. Over the course of the weekend between 35 and 40 students came to the retreat, 19 of whom stayed the entire weekend.

The retreat was generously hosted by Ss. Cyril and Methodius Parish, and made possible by the support of the Foundation for the Diocese of Helena and the Annual Catholic Appeal.