Story by Sister Cecilia Joseph, OP, the principal at St. Jude Catholic School in Joliet
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go?” “Here I am,” I said “send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)
Last year, Fr. John Belmonte, S.J., diocesan superintendent of Catholic Schools, began a Catholic Schools Vocation Committee with the goal of increasing vocation awareness among our young people. In the past year, numerous initiatives have been instituted in the schools, such as yearly classroom visits from the diocesan seminarians, a National Vocations Awareness Week curriculum, a seminarian versus 8th-grade basketball game, and, most recently, the Here I Am Lord Discipleship and Vocations Conference.
On March 3 and 4, approximately 1,000 seventh- and eighth-grade students gathered at St. Isaac Jogues Church and School for the diocese’s first annual Here I Am Lord Conference. The conference included a dynamic talk by Matt Fradd, a popular Catholic speaker. In his talk, Matt shared his conversion story and addressed questions posed by the students about the faith. The day also included a vocation fair with more than 30 religious communities; a vocation stories panel; a Catholic Quiz Bowl; praise and worship music; Eucharistic adoration; and reconciliation.
Commenting on the conference, Father Belmonte said, “The conference was a moment of profound grace for our students to meet our Lord in the Eucharist and confession, to consider priesthood and religious life, and to witness the Catholic faith alive in their hearts and the hearts of teachers, administrators and parents. This was Catholic education at its very best!”
Father Burke Masters, the diocesan vocation director, added: “What a great event! It was so wonderful to gather 800 students from around our diocese. I loved the praise and worship time. Matt Fradd’s talk really gripped the students. I think many seeds for future religious vocations were planted today. May the Lord fulfill the mission that He has begun in these young people of our Church.”
Father John Lovitsch, who accompanied a large group of students from St. Mary’s Parish in Mokena, stated, “It was incredible. There were 800 students kneeling in adoration. That’s how you do it. That’s how you bring them to Christ. The heartfelt reverence during adoration was a result of what they had experienced throughout the day.”
The response to this event has been overwhelmingly positive, with students eager to share with friends and family what they learned and experienced at the conference. Other comments about the conference included:
“Overall, the day was a great way to teach about the Church in a non-boring way. I learned so much about God and had fun while doing it.” (8th grade girl, St. Isaac Jogues)
“I am now trying my best to listen for God’s call of what He wants me to do in my life. For now, I will try to be the best Catholic I can be and stay faithful to God.” (8th grade boy, St. Isaac Jogues)
“I loved the way everyone was so joyful, happy, and personal. They made you feel very welcome. I wished it could have lasted longer. I feel that hearing the many vocation stories inspire us to wait, listen, and say yes to our vocation. I hope that the Here I Am Lord Conferencecontinues on for a long time. I am very excited and hopeful for next year’s second annual Here I Am Lord Conference. I cannot wait to have another faith-and-fun-filled day!” (7th grade student, St. Jude, Joliet)
“I want you to know that my seventh-grade students had the best trip ever! They loved the day. From the songs that ‘rocked’ to the speakers: they had a great experience. I heard all about Father Belmonte doing Benediction like Father Greg. I heard all about the different orders they learned about. And, you know I heard about all the good ‘stuff’ in their bags! Job well done. Thank you for all the time and effort that you put into this day. By 4 p.m., word had spread and our current sixth graders were asking to be able to attend next year!” (Lynne Scheffler, principal, St. Joseph, Lockport)
We look forward to sharing information about the second annual Here I Am Lord Conference soon!