Panelists Talk About Hearing God’s Call
Published: July 7, 2011
Russ Spencer, far left, facilitated a panel on vocations that included Greg and Jennifer Willits, Trappist Abbot Francis Michael Stiteler of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, seminarian Desmond Drummer, Deacon Steve Swope, associate director of formation for the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s Office of the Permanent Diaconate, Hawthorne Dominican Sister Damien Arnold of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home, and Father Luke Ballman, archdiocesan director of vocations. (Photo by Michael Alexander)
ATLANTA—A panel of women and men, married and celibate, talked about the decisions that made them embrace their vocations and what it has meant for their lives.
“They are part of who I am,” said Deacon Steve Swope, talking about his dual vocations of marriage and serving as a deacon.
“It is an awesome adventure to follow God’s call,” said Father Luke Ballman, one of the panelists at the 2011 Eucharistic Congress. He had a business career before he entered the seminary.
Alan Perez, left, talks with Missionaries of St. Charles Scalabrinians Father Giovanni Bizzotto of California during the 16th annual Eucharistic Congress. (Photo by Thomas Spink)
Sitting on the panel on the stage in the English track were: Greg and Jennifer Willits, a married couple and radio hosts of “The Catholics Next Door” on The Catholic Channel on Sirius/XM Radio; Father Francis Michael Stiteler, the abbot of the Trappist Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers; Desmond Drummer, an archdiocesan seminarian; Deacon Swope, a married permanent deacon; Sister Damien Arnold, a member of the Hawthorne Dominican religious community; and Father Ballman, the archdiocesan vocations director.
“The Harvest Is Abundant” was the theme of the annual gathering of Catholics that attracts an estimated 30,000 people. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said he chose the theme to stress the diversity of vocations in the church.
“Vocations are much more expansive and extensive than just religious or clerical. Vocations have to do with what the Lord is asking of you and what you are willing to say yes to,” said the archbishop as he talked to more than 400 young women and men at the “Revive!” celebration on the first night of the Eucharistic Congress.
A host of volunteers, Hawthorne Dominican Sister Mary Martha, far left, Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales Fathers Joseph Mullakkara, second from right, and Joseph Pottemmel, right, stand by their table. (Photo by Michael Alexander)
Said the archbishop: “For too many people when you mention vocation, they say, OK, he’s going to talk about who wants to be a priest, who wants to be a deacon, who wants to be a sister. I’m talking about who wants to commit themselves to Christ Jesus.”
Vocations are part of the lifeblood of the church. Recently, three men were ordained as priests for the Atlanta Archdiocese and two as transitional deacons. The rate of marriages among Catholics in the archdiocese is falling, however, as membership numbers approach the 1 million mark.
The walkways in the Georgia International Convention Center were lined with organizations showcasing the different ways vocations are lived out.
Father Vincent Gluc dressed in his gray habit as he answered questions about the centuries-old religious order, the Conventual Franciscans.
“St. Francis is a big attraction,” he said.
“It’s really a catechesis for a lot of people,” said Father Gluc, who served for five years at St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro.
At these types of events, Father Gluc said he talks with folks about the order and the importance it puts on community life. Sometimes it develops into a deeper conversation at a later time, he said.
Down the hall, Kimberly and David Boyd handed out flyers about the weekend program offered by Marriage Encounter. Women easily spoke with them, but the two said the hurdle is getting husbands to commit to a weekend.
The Boyds said the program aims to help every marriage. Folks think their marriages are fine, when there is an easy way to make the relationship stronger.
“We wouldn’t have gotten married if we were fine,” said David.
“(The program) rediscovers the love you had when you first got married,” said Kimberly.
The Boyds, who belong to St. Brigid Church, Johns Creek, attended Marriage Encounter weekends twice, at 13 years of marriage and at 22 years.
“It surrounds us with other couples who are making their marriage a priority,” Kimberly said.
Sister Jodi Creten and Sister Helen Mick are longtime members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kan., 50 and 55 years, respectively. They live in south Fulton County, on the campus of Blessed Sacrament Church. They work with a program that helps the elderly stay in their homes. Speaking to passersby, they realized they needed to get their vocations office to print materials in Spanish.
Sisters of St. Joseph (Concordia, Kansas) Sister Helen Mick sits at her religious order’s table just outside Exhibit Hall D. (Photo by Michael Alexander)
Sister Jodi said her congregation holds fast to its tradition while it restores a program a bring laywomen into an affiliation with the community.
“The whole purpose was to show love of neighbor. We continue that tradition today,” she said about the congregation’s founding in 17th century France.
According to the congregation’s website, the sisters revived a form of membership called “agrégées,” a French word that means “attached to.” An agrégée was a woman who worked with the mission with the original Sisters of St. Joseph but who could not take the traditional three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Instead, she made a single vow to be faithful to the congregation and to God.
Sister Jodi said nearly a dozen women are linked with the congregation through this program, which accepted its first candidate in 2006.
She said there are many challenges today for people pursuing vocations.
“We try to get people to tune into God more. They have got to put God in focus. It’s a lot of work,” she said.
Russ Spencer, the anchor for FOX 5 News in Atlanta, led the panel, prompting them with questions about what inspired them and challenges in living their vocation.
For seminarian Desmond Drummer, the inspiration to pursue the seminary was his mother, who is a member of the Pentecostal church.
“Having my mother pray over me changed my life. I can’t thank her enough for her faith,” he said, reminding parents that what they do with their children has consequences no one can predict.
Father Francis Michael said he fell away from the church during his college years, but his life was changed when he later re-read the Bible, especially the New Testament.
“The Scripture just overwhelmed me. God was in love with me, that just blew me away,” he said.
“It’s new everyday if I would be open to it,” he said about his vocation as the head of the cloistered monastery in Conyers where some 40 monks live.
Sister Damien said she was a 29-year-old woman, living in her own house, owning a horse, riding a motorcycle, with a taste for beer when she discerned that her vocation was as a nun.
“I was pretty content doing what I was doing, but God had other plans,” said Sister Damien, who went from working as an LPN in an oncology ward of a hospital to a religious community that serves terminally ill cancer patients. She serves at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home in Atlanta.
“I want him to say, well done, my good and faithful servant,” she said.
Greg Willits said he explored for some time whether he should study for the priesthood, but he fell in love with his wife. He said he learned to model his vocation as a husband and father from watching his parents and also from a priest who was a close family friend.
And as the other half of the couple, Jennifer Willits said at times petty disputes with her husband push aside her sense of God’s control.
“God is there and he is bigger than any problem we might have,” she said. “We forget that he is there to help us.”