Lisa Tuszkiewicz’s fifth-grade students at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School in Medina, Minnesota, have a long road of discernment before they enter their vocations as adults.
But praying with a special traveling crucifix with their classmates for a week in October has been an important stop on their journey to discover God’s plan for their lives, their teacher said.
The class’ prayer with the nine-inch wooden crucifix, which was provided by local Serra Clubs, tied into “talking about how it’s very challenging in today’s world to be calm, still and quiet and listen to how the Lord is trying to guide us into fully having an appreciation and understanding for the passions that we have in life and how those passions and interests lead us to our eventual vocation,” Tuszkiewicz said.
Other Catholic-school students around the country are also learning about vocations and considering their own, as well as praying for vocations, with the crucifixes.
The Serra Clubs’ effort to connect Jesus’ ministry and his passion to vocations through dedicated traveling crucifixes both helps children understand vocations and gives parents and teachers a means to encourage conversation and prayer with them as they consider their futures, Serra leaders say. Whether those prayers and conversations start in classrooms or at home, U.S. Serra Clubs hope to reach Catholic schoolchildren nationwide.
The USA Council of Serra International is a nonprofit organization consisting of lay Catholics in local clubs who foster and promote priestly and religious vocations and strive to respond to God’s call to holiness in Christ.
Serra has long helped young people consider vocations, according to Serra USA’s episcopal adviser Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese. “These new resources for our Catholic schools help our young people ponder and discover the mystery of their personal vocation: the central truth that God has a plan for every human life. This is an essential aspect of our faith which we must learn to present to our young people, especially in our Catholic schools.”
For more than 40 years, Serra Clubs throughout the country have provided parishes with chalices and crucifixes to encourage prayer for vocations.
The USA Council is now emphasizing crucifixes in Catholic schools to involve more children directly in prayer and consideration of their vocations, said Judy Cozzens, USA Council president-elect and the mother of Bishop Cozzens.
Clubs in more than 10 locations have purchased the crucifixes for schools and more plan to offer them. Prayers, lesson plans and other resources are available at SerraSpark.org.
At home or in class, the crucifixes offer a focal point for daily prayer, said John Halloran, Serra USA Council vocations vice president and Lake Charles, Louisiana, Serra Club president.
The aim is to help grade-school students consider a priestly or religious vocation before they’ve decided on a career path, Halloran said. “We’re trying to plant a seed a lot earlier for them to consider.”
For schools that rotate the crucifixes between classrooms, the traveling crucifix is closer to students than the one on their classroom wall, Judy Cozzens said, adding, “They can hold it and think: ‘Jesus died for me. I can give my life for him.’”
When students take the crucifixes home, the family has added motivation to pray together, said Father Brian Schieber, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel parish in Leawood, Kansas. The parish’s school has been using crucifixes to promote vocations for two years.
Frequently, vocations begin with prayer, he said. “If we’re not praying, how are we going to know what God wants us to do? So we’re trying to find ways to say, ‘Hey, this is your homework this week: to go home and pray with your family.’”
In offering crucifixes, Serra isn’t equating a vocation with crucifixion, but wants to help students understand ministry and what their role can be, Halloran said. “We need Catholics to do as Jesus did,” he said, “to minister to the flock and try to make the connection between Jesus’ total life of ministry and his ultimate sacrifice — because by being a priest or a religious, the sacrifice is no marriage, no kids.”
During St. Michael the Archangel School’s Friday school Mass, Father Schieber gives three students crucifixes to take home for the week. Students in the parish’s religious-education program also can take home a crucifix.
“There’s a value to that, too, just having that weekly reminder, that this is important — we have to pray about what God wants us to do,” the priest explained.
The crucifix gives parents a more natural way to talk about vocations, added Father Schieber, whose own father encouraged him to become a priest. “Just raising the question can bear a lot of fruit.”
Nicole Callahan’s kindergarten class probably won’t comprehend all of the vocational discussion as a crucifix travels around Our Mother of Sorrows School in Tucson, Arizona, this year, but the subject likely will come up at home with her 9- and 11-year-old daughters, who attend the school, she said.
Callahan said conversation and communication about prayer and vocations at home are important. “It’s a great starting point to get prayer back in the home or discussion and an awareness of” vocations going in families.
Callahan, who also has a 4-year-old son, said she hopes her daughters will lead some of the discussion about vocations and service.
This school year, 11 Serra Clubs in the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese provided crucifixes for use in classrooms of more than 30 archdiocesan schools and eventually plan to provide them for all 79 grade schools and nine high schools, Judy Cozzens said.
So far, Minnesota teachers are enthused about the program, which gives them a tool for lessons on vocations, she said.
Dean Ellingson, who teaches sixth grade at Holy Name of Jesus School, had one of the crucifixes in his classroom before Christmas.
A Catholic-school environment where service is encouraged is good for teaching students about vocations and using their gifts, he said. The crucifix, along with his class’ Nativity scene, fostered discussion about Jesus’ life, including when Christ was a boy in the Temple coming to terms with his vocation, Ellingson said. “It’s a good time for them to begin to question and start to figure out, ‘What is my calling and my vocation, and how am I going to fulfill that?’”
His student Victoria Zamorano, 11, said the story makes her think, “I can be just the age I am to learn more about God and myself and how to make decisions. Every decision I make is a reflection of what God taught me; that’s what I hope I’m doing. “
Sixth-grader Louis Wehmann, 11, prayed with the crucifix in Ellingson’s class last fall. “It kind of connects everybody in the school, and you can talk about what your experiences were,” he said.
Halloran’s club, which previously has provided chalices in parishes, hopes to launch a crucifix program this fall, he said. The club has purchased crucifixes and binders with prayers for students in seven schools and, pending bishop approval, to take home, he said.
He is hopeful the seeds planted now through these programs will grow into vocations.
“We won’t know the fruits of this for years to come,” he said. We will “see if it does increase the number of young men and young women saying Yes to vocations.”
Susan Klemond writes from
St. Paul, Minnesota.