Quo Vadis Days Upholds Family as Seedbed of Vacations, Priesthood as Viable Option for Young Men
Quo Vadis Days – an annual vocation discernment retreat that the Diocese of Harrisburg hosts for young men every summer – incorporated the family this year as participants arrived for the four-day experience.
Beneath the mantle of the Blessed Mother towering above the lush grounds of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., the mothers, fathers and siblings of nearly 100 Quo Vadis Days participants escorted their sons and brothers to the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception for the celebration of the week’s opening Mass on June 25.
Some families walked hand-in-hand along the pathway connecting the seminary and the chapel, flanked by a small grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and “Mary’s Mountain” on one side, and vistas of fields and hamlets on the other below.
The opening Mass was new on this year’s docket, and set the tone for the week as a reminder that the family is the seedbed of vocations, explained Father Brian Wayne, Diocesan Director of Vocations.
“Parents are the primary influence in helping young men follow God’s will for their lives,” he told the parents during a special session that followed the opening Mass.
He presented them with some telling statistics from a survey of all newly-ordained priests each year. Of the approximately 550 men ordained to the priesthood this year, the number one factor in helping them follow God’s will is the support of the family.
“The family is the seedbed of vocations. It’s where they grow, where they learn to love and follow God,” Father Wayne said.
The most influential person in helping a young man think about the priesthood is the priest; 90 percent of the men ordained in the United States this year were invited by a priest to consider a religious vocation, Father Wayne pointed out.
He highlighted a third statistic: Of the 550 or so priests ordained this year, some 150 indicated that they faced opposition from their parents in following the call to priesthood. What’s more, two-thirds of seminarians who face opposition in their decision will leave the seminary.
“Thank you for this gift to your sons for four days,” Father Wayne told the parents. “We very much appreciate your encouragement of them, and sending them on this retreat.”
Among those in the crowd were Mark and Krista Lookenbill of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Hanover, whose son Jason was attending Quo Vadis Days for the first time.
They were accompanied at Mass by their daughter, Monica – who is attending a similar retreat there for young women, Fiat Days, this week – and their younger son, Kevin.
“I had heard about Quo Vadis Days from people at my parish, and I thought it would be a great experience for a young, Catholic man like myself,” said Jason, 15.
“I like how the retreat is set up so that we can stay overnight and spend a few days in the seminary,” he said of the appeal. “I’m looking forward to hearing the priests and seminarians talk about their experiences and how they came to be where they are today.”
Mrs. Lookenbill remarked that she and her husband “have always felt strongly about letting our children engage in truly Catholic experiences that are really going to deepen their faith.”
“We’ve heard a lot of great reviews about how Quo Vadis Days teaches the young men how to pray and how to discern what God is calling them to in life.”
That’s the key to Quo Vadis Days, Father Kevin Coyle, a newly-ordained priest of the diocese, told The Catholic Witness about the retreat. He’s participated there as a seminarian.
“It’s discernment for life,” he said. “Everybody has a vocation. Everybody’s vocation is different, but everybody is called to be saints, to become the best versions of themselves. Quo Vadis Days helps guys discern marriage and become a good, strong, Catholic man, and be a contributing member to Christ’s Body, the Church.”
“It also gives an excellent taste in realizing that these guys are normal,” said Father Coyle, who was ordained on June 3 and serves as parochial vicar at St. Catherine Labouré Parish in Harrisburg. “All the seminarians are out on the baseball field, on the soccer field, and entering into great conversations at the lunch table, small talk on the porch, and it allows the young men to see that there are guys with so many different backgrounds that come from so many different areas of life.”
Quo Vadis Days takes its name from the legend that Peter asked Jesus this question (Quo Vadis? – meaning “Where are you going?”) on the outskirts of Rome, as Peter was fleeing the persecution of Nero. Jesus’ response was, “To Rome, to be crucified again.”
The schedule for the week includes talks from seminarians and priests about how to discern, how to pray, life as a diocesan priest and what it means to be a Catholic man called to holiness. The week also includes daily prayer, Mass and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, small-group discussion and the opportunity to receive spiritual direction and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Evenings were filled with various activities, from Glow Necklace Ultimate Frisbee competitions and dodgeball, to a candlelight procession and Rosary. Bishop Ronald Gainer attended to celebrate Mass for the participants and talk with them about the faith.
“At Quo Vadis Days, young men realize that priests and seminarians are normal people, that we have fun while following the Lord,” Father Wayne said. “They realize that it’s normal for Catholic guys to think about and ask if they’re called to it.”
“We just want to show them that the priesthood is a valid option,” he said.
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness