by Julie Carroll
Father Joel Cycenas, associate pastor at Epiphany in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, knows how to reach young people — through their stomach.
Twice a month, he sits down to dinner with groups of young men and women from the parish and discusses vocations to the priesthood and religious life. After dinner, he leads them in prayer, followed by more discussion and Mass.
The vocation nights have been a big hit with teen-agers at the parish who are wondering if God might be calling them to a life of service in the church, or who simply desire to talk about their faith in a welcoming environment.
Father Cycenas said he modeled the vocation nights after a program offered for boys at St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul. When he witnessed how popular Team Vianney had become with teens from his parish, he thought why not offer a similar event at Epiphany for both boys and girls.
So, he organized a vocation night for boys on the second Thursday of every month and one for girls on the third Thursday. Father Cycenas, Father Bernard Reiser, pastor emeritus, and several teens gather for dinner at the parish at 5 p.m. After dinner Father Cycenas leads them in praying the Divine Office. Next, they have an informal discussion about vocations. Sometimes guests, such as members of religious orders or seminarians, join in the discussion and answer questions about how they discerned God’s call or what it’s like to live in a religious community. The evening ends with Mass at 7 p.m.
“One of the things that sparked my interest was there was pizza each night — that was cool,” said 17-year-old Jim Lucia, who has attended two vocation nights at the parish. “But it’s also an opportunity to meet with other guys who like their faith. Even though I don’t know everybody there, I know it’s kind of a fraternal group and we stick up for each other.”
Lucia, who is considering the priesthood, said the vocation nights have “helped me remain really enthusiastic about my faith.”
Tammy Kusler, 16, said she began thinking about religious life last summer when she went to St. Louis with a group of girls from the parish to visit seven different convents.
“At first I wasn’t really open to the idea,” she said. But the more she learned about the sisters’ lives, the more religious life began to appeal to her, she said.
At the first vocation night for girls last month, Kusler and four other teens asked Father Cycenas and several sisters questions ranging from, “How do you know if God is calling you to religious life?” to “What kind of an education do you need to be a sister?”
“Having [priests] involved is really important because they can give us advice,” Kusler said. She added that she looks forward to hearing from women in formation about how they discerned their vocation. A young woman preparing to enter the Carmelite order was scheduled to speak at an upcoming girls evening.
Christine Holland, 17, said she feels pretty certain God is calling her to religious life. But, because a lot of her friends aren’t Catholic, she said, they don’t understand her decision. The vocation nights bring together girls her age who are going through the same experience as Holland. They provide a safe, open atmosphere for discussion.
Holland said she would encourage other girls considering religious life to attend the vocation nights because “it’s a lot of fun and it’s a way to know for sure if this is really what you want to do.”
Even those who have not considered religious life but who are open to the idea could benefit from attending the vocation nights, Holland said. The vocation nights are simply an opportunity to gather with other teens to talk about faith and explore possibilities.
The vocation nights at Epiphany are open to all teens within the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis. For more information or for advice on organizing a vocation night at your parish, call Father Cycenas at 763-755-1020.