The Diocese of Des Moines

April 23, 2014
Written By: Reed Flood, Seminarian of the Des Moines Diocese

Day 7


Sorting through supplies at center.What a trip! These seven days felt like a month. My arms and legs were tan from working long hours in the sun. Our regular diet of rice and beans had chiseled away my excess body weight. In seven days I had lost 10 pounds from the food, labor, and lack of sleep! A scraggly beard had grew along my hollowed cheeks. I looked like a different person. What’s more, I felt different. The Missionaries of the Poor had transformed my outlook on life. It felt like the mud had been removed from eyes and I could see the world clearly.


During mass, the priest (who was also a brother) informed us what life was like for the Missionaries. Each brother owned only three outfits. The priest pointed to a brother in the first row, “Brother Elijah! How many pairs of socks do you own?” Brother Elijah tentatively raised three fingers in the air. The priest then turned to us and blatantly stated, “We don’t need material possessions to be happy.” Additionally, the brothers only ate the poorest food. I remembered the mushy rice and beans we ate at every meal. At times, the vegetables were bitter and the beans were cold. When I felt like gagging, the brothers ate the gooey food without complaining. The brothers also slept in a community dorm every night. I thought of my stiff mattress and pesky mosquito netting. I’d often wake up tangled in that annoying net like some big awkward mosquito. Still, the brothers never grumbled about sleep. Although food, sleep, and possessions are enjoyable; the Missionaries of the Poor never relied on any of them as their basis for happiness. Instead, these joyful brothers chose to build their happiness on the solid foundation of love.Typical Jamaican meal of rice, beans, and veggies.


While eating lunch at the Faith Center (I chose to go back there on day 7), I remember hearing one of the Missionaries speak about their poverty. He told us, “When all you have is Christ… all you need is Christ.” Wow. I reflected on my experience so far in the trip. I saw happiness in the brothers despite their tremendous poverty. I also saw happiness in the patients. Before dining with the brothers, I was assigned to go out and apply lotion to the patients’ skin (a first for me). Jamaicans don’t get sunburnt. Instead, their skin dries up and forms little cracks all over. I grabbed a bottle of Lubriderm and made my way around the center rubbing lotion on the patients’ arms, legs, and feet. Some residents would make cheerful conversation with me as I applied the lotion. They would say things like, “How’re ya liking Jamaican man? What state are ya from man?” Each simple greeting eased my nerves and brought a warm delight to my heart, it also distracted me the fact I was rubbing a grown man’s foot with Lubriderm. Each resident loved talking. They didn’t complain about their poverty or disabilities. They just wanted to love us! Where did their happiness come from? I finished applying the lotion and pondered this question for a while. I was able to ask a man working at the center why he thought Jamaicans were always so happy (He himself was Jamaican, so I figured he must have some answer). He just smiled and said Jamaicans were very religious people. I asked the man about atheism in Jamaica, and a puzzled look came across his face. He didn’t even seem to be familiar with the concept.


This trip was forcing to me to see the world in a new light. These Jamaicans, these brothers, and these patients had nothing. Yet, they were the happiest people I had ever met. This made me think of my possessions in America. Compared to the Jamaicans, I had everything! I owned countless possessions, I was going to college, I ate tasty food, and slept in a comfy bed. Yet, at times, I would base my happiness off these material possessions. I’m not the only one. How many of us college students focus too much on our image and social life? We fall into the trap of basing our self-worth on Facebook and Twitter while living life for the weekends. How often do I fall into the temptation of basing my happiness on wealth? My happiness won’t reside in the paper of dollar bills or the wood and nails of a big house. No. My happiness depends entirely on the everlasting, unmovable, and beautiful bonds of love. These Jamaicans were so happy because they loved God and they loved each other. They lacked the resources to fill the emptiness in their lives with temporary material possessions.  So instead, their emptiness was filled with the overflowing love and generosity of God. What a blessing!


Indeed, the mud had been removed from eyes. I could see past the Jamaicans’ material poverty and admire their wealth of spiritual happiness. I saw how we Americans possess everything materially, yet we allow ourselves to slip into severe spiritual poverty. Above all, I could see God clearly. God is love, and I could see love everywhere in Kingston, Jamaica. Love wasn’t always pretty, it wasn’t always pleasurable, but it warmed my heart and spoke to me through service. It shouted in my ear, “The Lord is my Shepherd!” It whispered its assurance and guided my hands when I felt like failing. Finally, Love worked its way into my heart and removed my shallow, worldly visions so I could now begin to see the world through the beautiful eyes of Christ.


Prayer: Father, help me to see the world through your eyes. Chisel away the impurities from my heart, so I may better receive your blessings. I want to be happy Lord. Show me the way I should walk, so I may enter into your abundance of joy. Amen.


April 16, 2014
Written By: Reed Flood, Seminarian of the Des Moines Diocese

Day 6: Jacob’s Well

 Jamaica Bay

I began to see why the Missionaries of the Poor loved their work. They woke up each morning before sunrise to say their daily prayers. The brothers would then dedicate their entire day to serving the poorest of the poor, the abandoned, the disfigured, and the lonely; only to return and pray again before ending their day. Prayer is powerfully potent, and the brothers spent every waking minute in the spirit of prayer. The brothers showed me that prayer is not merely the fuel for performing acts of charity. Prayer is the personal dialogue between us and God, between creator and creation, between Father and child. I could now see the simplicity of prayer staring me in the face. Their happiness came from interacting with God in the poor! However, on day 6 of the mission trip, I could sense myself beginning to trivialize service to the poor. “This isn’t so bad!” I thought. All I had to do was feed the residents, change a diaper or two, and clean some mattresses. I had already seen Kingston’s worst. Everything else would be a breeze. “Bring on the dirty diapers!” I filled myself with false courage as I left for the last center, Jacob’s Well.


Jacob’s Well was a home for women; young and old. When we walked through the gates, the entire center sprang out to greet us! Women came from all over to give us gigantic hugs. They held our hands and led us around in circles. Some were so happy, they even began to dance! Perfect. We’d probably spend the day singing songs or dancing in circles. The woman’s center would be a walk in the park! Suddenly, a brother came up and handed me a straw broom. “We need you to sweep the eating area, if that’s ok?” I confidently grasped the broom and made my way over to the dining hall. After leisurely swiping up some food scraps, I heard a croaky Jamaican voice calling from behind, “The Lord is my Shepherd!” I spun around to see an ancient Jamaican woman hunched over in a chair. Her grey hair hung like moss over her skeleton frame. She was missing an eye, and I could see the eyelid had sunk into her empty socket. The woman darted her head around the room, searching for the man sweeping the dining hall. I collected myself from the initial shock of seeing her and responded, “I’m right here Ma’am! How can I….” I froze. My eyes had wandered down to a black mass swarming around her leg. I leaned in closer to get a better look… I suddenly became nauseous. A colony of black ants was swarming over this woman’s foot. They were traveling in and out of the cracks in her toes and up her leg. I felt like passing out. “The Lord is my Shepherd!” The woman’s cry shook me from my paralysis. I didn’t know what to do. Should I go call a brother? Should I yell for help? I panicked. “God, I can’t do this.” I could Woman helping another woman walkfeel my arms guiding the broom toward the woman’s foot. I felt a hotness racing from my heart into my hands. My eyes remained open as I swept away every last ant. The woman looked up to me and smiled brightly. “Thank ya good sir, for sweeping away the ants from my foot! I’ll pray for ya every night!” I couldn’t speak, so I returned her gratitude with a queasy smile. I finished sweeping the room in silence.


After cleaning the dining hall, a brother from India led me and another seminarian back to a water cooler. It was a hot day, so he asked us to fill up cups for the women to drink. I grabbed some cups and made my way through the center. When I reached the dormitories, I noticed a sad looking teenager sitting on her bed. She looked like she could use a cup of water so I offered her a drink. She stared at the cup and shook her head. “What’s wrong?” I asked “It’s a hot day, some water would be really nice!” Like the rest of the women, I anticipated a jumbled response of groans and mumbles, but surprisingly, she answered me in clear English. “I don’t want to be here.” I searched her face for a sign of mental disability, but I couldn’t find any. Aside from a lazy eye and tattered clothes, she appeared to be a normal teenage girl. “Do you live here?” I asked. I could see tears in her eyes as she nodded her head yes, “I live here, and my daughter lives in the next center.” Whoa! Not only was this girl a resident, but she had a daughter as well! She looked tired. “I want to leave here,” she mourned. I spoke with the girl and tried to console her sorrow. Tears started gliding down her cheeks. I tried telling her everything would be ok. But as talked to her, I could hear the deafening screams echoing from outside. I looked around the room at all the filthy mattresses and I could smell the sourness of waste. I tried to imagine sleeping on one of those grimy beds... All I could do was stare back at the girl and pray silently, “God, be with her.” I remained by her side until lunch.


While at Jacob’s Well, we had time to dance and sing with the patients. Although I participated in the dances, my thoughts wandered elsewhere. I couldn’t forget the old women in the dining hall, nor could I forget the young lonely girl sitting on her bed. It seemed almost haunting. These thoughts remained with me until later that night during group reflections. As a seminary, we’d occasionally meet up and share what we encountered during the trip. I knew I was going to talk about the two women, but I couldn’t see any beauty in it. I felt empty. Just then, my seminarian brother spoke up from the circle. We all listened. “I’ve seen a lot of problems on this trip, and I can’t fix them.” His words caught my attention. “At first, this bothered me. I mean, these residents will be living in these centers for the rest of their lives, and I can’t change that!” He paused to let that sink in, and then continued; “But I’m not here to fix these problems… I’m here to love. That’s it.” The group became silent.


 Love? Was I forgetting to love? I examined the past day and remembered all the ignorant thoughts I had going into Jacob’s Well. I wanted to serve, but I was missing love, the most vital component to service. Instead of talking with God in prayer, I talked to myself in pride. Without love, I failed to see the beResident with Reed Floodauty at Jacob’s Well. I only saw suffering and loneliness. I could only see the Cross. I prayed to God, asking him to restore the love into my heart. Instantly, the image of the lonely girl came to mind. I could picture her tears as she pleaded to escape from the center. It was like a prison. She only wished to cradle her child, to hold her baby in her arms, to offer her a mother’s tender love. Her child was taken from her. My eyes began to well up. Another image came to mind. It was an image of the Virgin Mary. Mary was holding her son Jesus in her arms after he had been beaten and hung on the cross to die. I could only imagine how much of a prison this world felt to Mary as she clung to her son’s body. She longed to offer Jesus her tender, motherly love. She longed to hold him one last time before they put in him the ground. Yet, despite all this suffering, Mary never gave up on her son Jesus. She held on to the thought of seeing him again; the thought of holding him once more in her arms. Now I saw the beauty. Although the women at the center were enduring this great suffering, they weren’t suffering in vain. They too, were holding on to Jesus. They’re faith allowed them to endure this temporary imprisonment and pain, and await the beauty of the next life. They were holding on to hope.


 As day 6 of the mission trip came to a close, I could still hear the words of the old woman ringing out in my heart, “The Lord Is My Shepherd!” I saw why the brothers loved their work, for on that day I truly came face to face with Christ on the cross.

April 15, 2014
Written By: Reed Flood, Seminarian of the Des Moines Diocese

Day 5: Lucky Rice

 View of the mountains

Each day in Jamaica felt like a week. Every hour ticked by with prayer and service, prayer and service. This isn’t to say all this activity bothered me. In reality, the service was quite fulfilling. Every time I fed a man, clothed a child, or cleaned a grimy mattress, I could sense the same warm tingling arise in my heart. These challenging works of service were teaching me that; the more I served, the happier I felt! Was I stumbling across another paradox? As we began the day, I’d have a great opportunity to see if service really did lead to happiness. We piled into the trucks and left the compound for day 5 of the mission trip.


After a few minutes of driving we pulled up to a very small, two-story building with a hand painted sign which read “Good Shepherd.” A handful of seminarians and I climbed down from the truck and entered through the center doors. A brother from Kenya began leading us back to his office for a briefing, but I had to stop myself and admire the cramped facility. As I surveyed the residents’ living quarters, I couldn’t help but detect a lively energy pulsating throughout the tiny room. All the residents wore tremendous smiles! The brothers sang loudly while clapping their hands. Even the brother who led us into his office gave us all cheerful handshakes and affirming head-nods. I allowed myself to pause and soak in the lively atmosphere before joining the seminarians.  When we reached the brother’s office, he sat us down and began informing us of Good Shepherd’s rich history. At one point in time, the building was a convent for the Missionaries of Charity. These were Blessed Mother Theresa’s sisters! Apparently, Mother Theresa had stayed in this building for 2 nights when she visited Kingston. Additionally, Blessed Pope John Paul II had also visited this center. Who would have guessed it? The two had been in the same exact room I was sitting in!

 Reed and resident

After talking with the brother, we left the room and began folding blankets for the residents, or at least tried folding blankets. All the residents, young and old, swarmed around us! They all wanted to shake our hands, ask us where we were from, and give us big sweaty hugs. I remember one very large man named Anthony who requested a hug, a very huge and painful hug. He surprised me by locking his arms around my body and heaving me in the air! He swung me back and forth like a ragdoll before setting me down and slapping me on the pack. “Thanks friend!” he shouted into my ear. I tried sucking air back into my lungs. “Thank you Anthony,” I coughed. Just as the residents finally began leaving us to our duties, the Missionaries of the Poor pulled in with their truck and blared the car horn. The Kenyan brother approached our group and informed us the Missionaries of the Poor needed our help unloading a supply container at a nearby compound. I glanced over the little joyful room. All the men were playing games and laughing merrily. The brothers were playing the tambourines and singing praise and worship songs. I didn’t want to leave behind all the fun! Then I noticed big Anthony sitting at one of the tables. His elbow was resting on the table with his fist raised in the air. He opened his large mouth and shouted, “ARM WRESTLE!” I bolted toward the trucks and hopped in the back to go unload the containers.

 The full container

The brothers dropped us off at one of the compounds called Corpus Christi (Body of Christ). I noticed a lengthy semi-truck parked outside numerous storage containers. Each month, a semi-truck would drop off a shipment of supplies donated from churches in USA and Canada. Once all the seminarians had arrived, the brothers pried open the semi-truck doors to reveal a monstrous shipment of supplies. It looked like an entire grocery store had been loaded into the truck! Our task was simple, transfer the supplies in the truck to the nearby containers. The brothers would use a forklift to pick up a pallet of supplies and drop it outside the storage containers. It was then our job to load the supplies into the containers. Easy right? Well each pallet weighed roughly 2000 pounds, and we had to transfer 12 pallets! We faced a daunting task, but Unloading the ricewe jumped right into it. We formed an assembly line from the pallets to the containers and began passing on hefty bags of rice and beans. The bags of beans only weighed 25 pounds; they weren’t so bad, but I’ll never forget those bags of Lucky Rice. Each Lucky Rice bag weighed a staggering 50 pounds! We all tried different methods for passing on the Lucky Rice; catching it high, swinging it sideways, handing it off. No matter what we tried, the bags still crushed us under their weight.


When I think back to this moment of the mission trip, I can come up with countless reasons for why that work should have been a miserable experience. We labored for hours in the scorching Jamaican sun. We unloaded pallet after pallet of the dreaded Lucky Rice. We even ran out of sunscreen halfway through working! Yet, despite all these challenges, we had a blast! It’s bizarre, but we laughed and joked as we heaved the heavy bags. We cheered when we successfully emptied a pallet of supplies, and we even sang songs while waiting for another 2000 pounds of Lucky Rice. We fed off each other’s enthusiasm. Our joy was contagious!


Blind resident with a seminarianAfter 5 hours, we finished unloading the semi-truck and let out a jubilant cheer! I could sense a lively static in the air as the semi-truck departed from the lot. We shook hands and patted each other on the back. Amidst the celebration, I stopped to admire the spirited attitudes of my seminarian brothers. I could see their same delight in the brothers at Good Shepherd. I began to think of my encounter with the residents. I could feel the warm touch of their hands from our earlier greetings. I could feel their arms around me when they swarmed us with affectionate hugs. I could still feel Anthony’s big, sweaty, bone-crushing hug (I’d be feeling it for the next week), from when he threw me around like a ragdoll. The residents brought so much joy to me and my seminarian brothers. Day 5 was not easy. It was not leisure, nor was it pleasurable. Yet Day 5 will be remembered as one of my happiest day in Kingston, Jamaica.


Prayer: Father, teach me to serve you. Protect me from the attachments of shallow happiness. Let me welcome service and willingly accept the crosses I’m given to carry. I pray that you may lead me and guide me to everlasting joy. Amen.


April 14, 2014
Written By: Reed Flood, Seminarian of the Des Moines Diocese

Day 4: Faith Center


When the high-pitched ringing of morning bells woke me on day 4, I couldn’t help but cling to my mattress for a few extra minutes of sleep. I was exhausted! I began to rattle off excuses for missing Morning Prayer; I couldn’t serve the poor if I wasn’t rested, missing one Holy Hour wouldn’t affect me, this stiff and squeaky bunk is much too comfortable! Throughout all my incessant whining, a solid conviction rang out in the depths of my heart, “You Need This Prayer.” I rolled off the mattress and trudged to the chapel.



Reaching the chapel felt like a miniature victory. I surveyed the lethargic group of seminarians and noticed we were all suffering from fatigue. Despite the severe drowsiness, we finished our 2 hours of prayer and began to head upstairs for breakfast. As I was leaving the chapel, a fellow seminarian patted me on the back and whispered, “Let’s go save the world.” He then turned and trotted up the staircase. Looking back on it, I’m not exactly sure what he meant. We weren’t saving the world, we were in Kingston, Jamaica. We were worn down seminarians who hadn’t shaved for days (we looked scrappy). We certainly didn’t look like superheroes, and we definitely didn’t feel like saving the world. However, after hearing his words, a small seed of energy began to sprout in my heart. It grew and intensified as I ascended the staircase. Finally, when I reached the top step, the tiny seed had blossomed into an outpouring of confidence. I blinked away the drowsiness from my eyes and drew in a deep breath. I was ready to serve.


After breakfast we piled into the truck and began our familiar route through the slums. Before long, the driver parked the truck outside a rusty looking compound and shouted, “Faith Center!” This was my destination for the day. We hopped down from the truck and walked through the gates. Faith Center was a compound for grown men with disabilities. Like Bethlehem, I would be helping people with disfigurements and severe mental disorders. This time, however, I wouldn’t be working with teenagers or cute babies; I’d be working with grown men. As I walked into the Faith Center, I could immediately tell this center had the worst conditions of them all. Everything was outdoors! Their eating area floor was covered with dirt and their sleeping quarters looked filthy and cramped. The Dryerbrothers led me and another seminarian to a pile of grimy mattresses which were lying in the sun. He handed us bucket of soapy water with two wash rags and asked us if we’d help clean the mattresses. We scrubbed down the gritty, smelly mattresses as best we could. Unlike Bethlehem, the residents in the Faith Center did not wear diapers so cleaning the mattresses was extra challenging. We scrubbed nearly 60 mattresses until the water in our bucket began to turn murky. Finally, we heard the ringing of bells for lunch. For the first time all week, I rejoiced at the sound of those bells. I told myself I wasn’t hungry after what I had just done, but my growling stomach quickly changed my mind. Before eating, I made sure to wash my hands…twice.


We ate rice and beans alongside the Missionaries of the Poor. We pondered how these brothers could serve the poor each and every day; cleaning dirty mattresses, changing diapers, and performing many other difficult (and at times, disgusting) works of charity. It appeared to be such a monotonous and miserable life! One seminarian in our group finally got the cReed and residentourage to ask a brother, “Is this work fun for you?” The brother put down his fork and looked at him with a gentle grin, “The work is not fun, no.” We seminarians stared at each other perplexed. The brother continued, “Doing God’s will is not always easy, correct? What is God’s will? It is to love, yes? Is loving easy? People may think so, but love can be very painful.” We were doing our best to think up with answers to his many questions. The brother didn’t wait for our reply, “Look at the cross! Was Jesus having fun when he was nailed to the cross?” This time he waited for us. I looked to my fellow seminarian and then back to the brother, “No….” I cautiously stammered. “Exactly! He wasn’t having fun! But here’s the beautiful thing; although he wasn’t having fun, he was dying joyfully!” I thought briefly about this interesting paradox –a man dying joyfully. Meanwhile, the brother was gaining momentum, “Jesus died joyfully on the cross because he knew he was fulfilling his Father’s will. He knew he was saving you from death by dying on the cross. He was joyful because he knew he was loving you!” As the brother spoke, I could see his face light up with enchantment. It seemed as if his entire body was glowing with delight. This is when the brother informed us of their creed; “Joyful Service with Christ on the Cross.” I could see the brothers at the Missionary of the Poor desire to love more than anything. The brothers wanted to love like Christ, so they gave up everything, even their own lives, to love those with nothing. I could now see the paradox. This brother, after giving up everything, truly possessed everything! He gave up his whole life to love Christ in the Poor. He gave up his life to love God.




Frisbee With ResidentI left the meal a changed man. I could see all the attachments in my own life which were preventing me from loving God. I realized that one day, all my material attachments would be gone. Was I allowing myself to give up everything –my love for God– for nothing? A man tossed a Frisbee in my direction. I looked up to see a hunched over Jamaican man wearing a large T-shirt. He hobbled over to me and smiled. I picked up the disc and joined the man for nearly an hour of toss-and-catch. Several other men began to take interest in our game. A boy named Jason hesitantly walked over. Jason had a tremendous growth which completely masked one half of his face. One eye was angled upwards and his mouth could hardly open. I lowered the disc and asked if he cared to join us. He began to smile and gave a gentle head nod. I played Frisbee with my two new friends until the bus arrived to pick us up. Throughout the rest of the evening, I couldn’t refrain from thinking about the words spoken by the brother, “Joyful Service with Christ on the Cross.”


As crawled into my mosquito netted bunk, I paused to rReed Flood and Ben Tillinghast with residentsecount all the events of the day. Love isn’t always fun. I clenched my mattress and remembered the struggle of waking up for Holy Hour in the morning. When times are challenging and we begin to slip into darkness and doubt, a simple whisper from a friend can rekindle our inner flame, “Let’s go save the world.” From my discussion with the brother, I learned that giving up my life for another person is the greatest love on earth. I began to drift off into sleep, but not before remembering what the brothers had taught me. True love is not always easy, in fact it can feel like being nailed to a cross. Yet, this is the love that matters. This is the love that brings the most abundant joy, and this is the love our Father has for us all.


Prayer: Father, you are my everything.



April 11, 2014
Written By: Reed Flood, Seminarian of the Des Moines Diocese

Day 3: Caribbean Worship


Marian shrine outside the churchAfter witnessing the astounding joy within the walls of Bethlehem, I questioned the appearance of true beauty. Is there truly something more beautiful than what I can see and touch? Is beauty physical, or was it hidden within the souls of the children and brothers in Bethlehem? I pondered these questions as we drove to Mass at the local parish for day 3 of the mission trip. As it just so happened, the church was located directly above the Bethlehem center I had served at the previous day. Coincidence?


As we drove through the gates, I noticed an enormous crowd of Jamaicans congregating to the chapel upstairs. It appeared as if the entire neighborhood would be joining us for Mass! I stepped off the truck and was immediately greeted by a grey-haired, jolly Jamaican man bearing a massive grin. He reached out his hand and introduced himself, “My name’s Junior man, I’m 46 years old. It’s great to see you man!” (It’s true, Jamaicans use “man” in nearly every sentence). I grabbed his hand, and immediately a surge of delight flooded through my entire body. “Welcome to Jamaica man!” Although we only spoke for a few minutes, we became like two childhood friends; laughing, shaking hands, and patting each other on the back. Eventually, the time had come for Mass to start so I bid him farewell and returned to our group. It was only later when I discovered that Junior had contracted the AIDS virus earlier in life. He was living as a patient at one of the centers. Yet after our joyful encounter, his ailment didn’t degrade my view of him in the slightest. It wasn’t Junior’s disease which defined him, it was his inner joy.


Parishoners offering produce to altarWe continued into the chapel and dipped our fingers into the conch-shell holy water bowl by the entrance (a clever idea in my opinion). We were invited to sit towards the front with the children from the Missionaries of the Poor centers. Sure enough, the boy who held my hat from the day before sat next to me. When he saw my face, his eyes lit up and he began clapping his hands. I couldn’t help but reach out and grasp his little fingers. In the United States, we refer to the mass as a celebration. Well, in Jamaica, they literally “celebrate” during mass. The celebration began with a progression of guitar, keyboard, and of course the bongos! People sang loudly, clapped their hands, and I’m pretty sure I saw some Jamaican ladies dancing. When the priest asked for the gifts to be brought forward, people didn’t pass around baskets for pocket change. Instead, members of the congregation stood up and brought forward their own baskets! Each basket was overflowing with fresh fruits, house supplies, and homegrown vegetables. What a sight! I personally enjoyed the Eucharistic hymn “Roll over the Ocean.” The priest on stage began dancing and pointing to the Host singing, “It’s Christ! It’s Christ! It’s Christ who builds community!” I’ll admit, I wasn’t used to all the holding hands and dancing, but I’m incredibly grateful for experiencing beautiful celebration in an entirely new and refreshing light. After the two hour service, the priest invited us up for a blessing and bid us farewell. As we loaded into the truck, I noticed a man waving and running toward us. It was Junior! When I looked at Junior, I saw through the sickness and realized I was gazing into the eyes of Christ. He put on a big Jamaican grin and shouted, “God bless ya man!” Once again, my heart leapt with delight.



We returned to the compound, slightly worn out from the vibrant celebration. We spent the afternoon napping and collecting our energy. The brothers had challenged the seminarians to a game of football later that evening, so we’d need as much rest as possible. Of course, when I say “football” I mean soccer. A game I hadn’t played since the 2nd grade. I played American football all my entire life and I considered myself a pretty decent ball player. Unfortunately, tackling and blocking will get you nowhere in Jamaican football. Regardless, I laced up my tennis shoes and jumped into the truck. We drove through the city until we reached a massive open lot where numerous small Jamaican children were running wildly and kicking soccer balls. We parked the truck on the corner of one field and hopped onto the grass (what was left of the grass). The field primary consisted of dirt, rocks, and shards of rusty metal. Despite the rough terrain, the brothers tossed the ball onto the field and began playing. Some weren’t even wearing shoes! In the end, the brothers outscored us 5-2, and the seminarians returned to the compound beaten and sunburnt. In spite of the beat down, I enjoyed every minute of the fast paced action.


After the amusing day of worship and play, I retired to my mosquito netted bunk and thanked God for this brief hiatus amidst the strenuous rushing and volunteering. Starting on Monday, we’d begin serving full days at the centers. The work load would increase and so would our prayer. I knew a demanding week lay ahead, but deep down I could still sense Junior’s delightful energy stirring somewhere within me from when we shook hands. My soul tingled when I thought of holding the twisted fingers of the boy with the hat. Through these encounters, I could see God grasping my hand and leading me deeper into His hidden abundance of warm joy. I knew He’d provide the energy. I knew He’d provide the joy. Most importantly, I knew I’d see him face-to-face in the days to come.


Prayer: Father, thank you for giving me rest when I ask for it. I appreciate your beauty in its abounding variety. I pray Lord that I may full participate in the beautiful plan you’ve laid out for me. Help me to see your face in my companions. Take me by the hand and lead me into your arms so I may rest in warm embrace. Amen.

April 10, 2014
Written By: Reed Flood

Day 2: Bethlehem


Reed Flood and Resident Volunteer at Bethlehem MissionWhen I think of the Missionaries of the Poor, I can’t help but think of their intensely devout, and joyful prayer. Throughout the trip they revealed the effectiveness of prayer and why it’s a necessity to their work. Prayer is potent. I discovered this first hand on day 2. At 5:45 in the morning, we were stirred from our sleep by the high-pitched ringing of small church bells. After untangling myself from the obnoxious mosquito netting, I rolled out of my bunk and began to dress myself for Morning Prayer. While praying, it was tempting to innocently doze off in the muggy chapel, but the brothers kept us alert with their Caribbean renditions of the liturgy. The brothers put on a beautiful Morning Prayer, Mass, and Holy Hour with nothing but a beat up guitar, a rickety keyboard, and a set of bongos (my personal favorite). The 2 hours of prayer were exhausting, but I could sense the energy and love of Christ brewing within my soul. He was strengthening me for the service to come, and I’d need all the strength I could muster for my first assignment.


Riding in the Truck

Our seminarian trip leader divided us into our service groups. My first assignment was Bethlehem; the children’s center. Bethlehem sounded friendly enough. It was a children’s home and the name of Jesus’ birthplace. How bad could it be? A truck pulled into the compound and blared its horn. It was time. We anxiously piled into the back of a gated truck bed. Our transportation seemed more suitable for livestock than it did human beings. Regardless, we were able to see the city and enjoy the fresh breeze. Besides, what teenage guy doesn’t enjoy riding in the back of an open truck? We stopped at each center to let out a load of volunteers. The metal doors to the centers would briefly open and we’d rush a group of 5 volunteers into the compound before bolting the door shut behind them. It was an intimidating ordeal, like some sort of military operation. Finally, the truck driver pulled up to the last center. “Bethlehem!” he shouted. I made the sign of the cross and entered through the rusty gates with my group.


Upon walking into the Bethlehem children’s center, the very first thing I noticed was the smell. The place reeked. It had a bitter stench which reminded me of a petting zoo. Secondly, I could hear wailing and high-pitched shrills resonating throughout the whole center. The blood curdling screeches made my heart sink. Throughout the overwhelming chaos; however, I could sense an inner warmth coming from within my chest and spreading throughout my whole body. God was leading me into this center and I knew he was protecting me. Thank God for the morning prayers. A kind-faced brother from Africa welcomed us and ushered us into a room. He sat us down and gazed into our eyes with a heart-warming look. My fear and anxiety from the frightful arrival began to melt away. The peaceful brother began to speak, “There’s a difference between pretty and beautiful.” He motioned toward the door, “Pretty does not live here. You will not find it.” He turned back to us, “But beauty, true beauty thrives here.” He went on to explain how it was the job of the Missionaries of the Poor to live as Christ for the children at the Bethlehem center. “We are Christ to the children, but we also encounter Christ in the children. This is where our happiness comes from.” After hearing this wisdom, I was ready to see Christ.


Bethlehem Center outsideWithin minutes of walking into the boys’ room, I was handed a diaper and directed to a bed where a naked, deformed teenager was sitting. They had just rinsed them off in the showers and he was shivering from the cold. I had never put on a diaper before… and he was naked, but I could feel Christ within me reaching out to help this struggling boy. I did my best putting on the diaper and then clothed him with a tattered shirt and old swim trunks. I continued this procedure for the next 30 minutes, clothing disfigured children anywhere from 8 to 26 years old. Their arms were like toothpicks, frozen in a bent shape which made dressing them a challenge. While helping one boy, I noticed his eyes glance up to my old favorite fishing hat I wearing. He strained to reach the camouflage ball-cap with his twisted fingers. Noticing his effort, I took off the hat and placed it on the boys head. His face sprung to life! His big brown eyes opened wide and an enormous smile spread across his face. He peered into my eyes and began to clap his little hands wildly. He reached up, grasped the hat off his head, and pulled it in close to his chest. He moved jaws in a speaking motion, but no words came out. Yet, I could understand him clearly. The boy’s external display of joy mirrored my internal gratification for seeing his delight. I stepped back and thanked God for letting me see pure joy in this child. The warm feeling in my heart flooded through my entire body. It felt like God was giving me a big warm hug. After serving all the children, we were allowed to play with them. Each reaction was the same as the boy with the hat. No matter how disabled they were, no matter how much they drooled, and no matter how much they flailed, each child’s face lit up with joy! I felt like a parent watching their newborn son playing for the first time. The warmth from my heart rose to my eyes and I had to blink away the joyful tears. The brother was right. True beauty lives here.Volunteers with boy at Bethlehem center


After a couple hours we left the center. As I walked out, I could no longer detect the harsh smells from before. I now realized the loud screams were really just boisterous laughter coming from the children. When I first entered the center, I thought I was descending into the pits of Hell. Yet after witnessing the innocent joy in the children and experiencing God’s encompassing love, I now realized I had just received a very real taste of Heaven. I left my hat behind.



 Father, thank you for filling my heart with love. Help me to empty myself entirely, so you may fill me completely. Grant me the grace to courageously seek you out and the faith to trust in wherever you will lead me. Thank you for bringing me joy Lord, so I may share it with others. Amen.

April 9, 2014
Written By: Reed Flood, Seminarian of the Des Moines Diocese

Reed FloodI’m pleased to let you all know I’ve arrived back in Saint Paul, Minnesota following my extraordinary mission trip to Kingston, Jamaica! I was unable to keep you informed while in Jamaica due to the lack of internet at our compound, so this upcoming week I plan on sending you one update for each day in Kingston (8 total).


 It’s a privilege to share this eye-opening experience with everyone who supported me through donations, prayers, and your words of encouragement.  This trip will forever change my perspective on the poor and It’s my intention, through these reflections, to invite you all to see the world through the beautiful eyes of Christ.


Day 1: The Journey Begins


After spending the whole night jamming my backpack full of clothes, sunscreen, and bars of soap (requested by the Missionaries of the Poor), we seminarians departed from Saint John Vianney Seminary at 4:00 in the morning. We reached the airport and succeeded to board our flight to Miami, Florida. Upon arrival, we were met with a two hour layover. We seminarians filled this break with typical seminarian activities; playing cards and hacky sack.  Finally, the time had come to board our flight to Kingston. We eagerly filed into our narrow seats and patiently waited for the hour-long flight to bring us to our destination.

Ben Baker


Finally, we arrived in Kingston! As we stepped outside the Kingston airport, we were welcomed by a humid wall of sunny, 80 degree weather. Following the subzero temperatures and artic-like conditions of St. Paul, Minnesota, I felt quite comfortable in Jamaica! While waiting for the bus to take us back to the Missionaries of the Poor, we played more hacky sack and drank from fresh coconuts we purchased from a friendly Jamaican vendor across the street. I could hardly understand the thick Jamaican dialect of the joyful woman who sold it to us, but the coconuts cost a mere $2! I wasn’t complaining. Additionally, a gorgeous view of the towering mountains caught everyone’s attention and took our breath away. It was paradise! After an hour in Kingston, I determined this trip was going to be just like a vacation. It had sunny weather, beautiful views, friendly Jamaicans, and cheap coconuts! However, my brief assumption of a week in paradise would soon be turned upside down.


The brothers arrived at the airport and packed us into a large Toyota van. I clenched the seat cushion in front of me as we sailed down the left side of the road. I determined traffic laws in Jamaica were replaced Riding in the Truckby car honks, as opposing drivers carelessly careened by us while blaring their horns. The roads became filthier and riddled with litter as we approached the city. We spotted goats wandering aimlessly through the streets as well as several Jamaican men taking uncomfortable naps on the concrete sidewalk. The houses we passed by began to appear less and less structured, until the “buildings” were nothing more than plywood and sheet metal hammered together. I wondered how any human being could ever inhabit one of these rusty shanties. Just then, a half-naked and sad-looking toddler wandered out from one of the shacks. It took our breath away.Compound Gate


After an eye-opening journey into the city, we reached the Missionaries of the Poor compound. Massive concrete walls surrounded the building, protecting it from the dangerous outside slums. We pulled up to the gate and blared our car horn (car honking is the secondary language in Jamaica). Sure enough, a brother dressed in a white robe with a blue sash opened the large gate and we entered the compound. Strangely, the inside of the compound appeared to be a stark contrast to the rundown city. It was quite beautiful! The brightly painted building stood out against the grey streets, while various flowered shrubs brought life to our safe-haven within the walls. It was an oasis in the desert.


Compound Flowers


It wasn’t long before we joined the brothers for evening prayer, Stations of the Cross, and a rosary. After leaving prayer, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, they pray a lot!” Yet as I laid down in the upper bunk of my mosquito netted bed, while listening to the blaring car horns, dog barks, and miscellaneous screams coming from the city, I couldn’t help but reflect on the necessity of prayer in this environment. I didn’t know what to expect for tomorrow, our first day of service, but I knew prayer was essential. As it turns out, our prayer would prove more vital than I could ever imagine in the days to come.




Prayer Reflection:

 Father, help me to see through the masks which hide the suffering around us. Protect me from ignorance, so I may better recognize the poor and needy. Fill my heart with love, so I may share it with those who need it most. You are my refuge and my oasis in this world of death. Let me seek you out Lord, and walk with you in this journey of life. Amen.

January 22, 2014
Written By: Stephanie Pawletzki, Secretary for Office of Vocations

Ryan AndrewRyan Andrew, DM Diocese seminarian, will be installed into the ministry of lector by Archbishop Emeritus Harry J. Flynn on Friday, February 14 at Saint Paul Seminary in Minneapolis. He is studying at Saint Paul Seminary and is a parishioner of Christ the King parish in Des Moines. Please keep Ryan in your prayers.Zach Daly


Zachary Daly and Trevor Chicoine, DM Diocese seminarians, were installed as lector by Archbishop Bernie Hebda, Coadjutor of Newark on January 5 (the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord).  They are studying at the Pontifical North American College in Vatican City. Zach is a parishioner of Christ the King parish in Des Moines and Trevor is a parishioner of Immaculate Conception parish in Saint Marys, Iowa.


Trevor ChicoineTrevor Chicoine wrote in his blog about the ministry:

Lector is a traditional step along the road to the priesthood. It actually dates back to centuries ago when the majority of the population could not read, and therefore those that were to read the scriptures at Mass needed to have a higher level of education and the ceremonial installation was a way to acknowledge that… What this means is I am now able to proclaim the Word of God at Mass without special local permissions normally required, I am also entrusted with the task of passing on the Word to those in preparation for sacraments, needing no further ‘endorsement.’  As the beautiful prayer at the presentation of the Lectionary says, “"Take this book of Holy Scripture and be faithful in handing on the word of God, so that it may grow strong in the hearts of his people."


Join us in wishing Ryan, Zach, and Trevor congratulations at this special time in their journey to priesthood! Please pray for them and all of our 21 seminarians.

December 3, 2013
Written By: Zach Daly

The day after Thanksgiving, one year ago, Bishop Pates asked me if I would consider applying to the North American College in Rome for at least four years of study in theology in preparation for the priesthood. I agreed, thinking it would be a difficult experience; and it has been difficult. Theology, difficult in any language, requires even more concentration when it is being taught in Italian, and the seminary is very far away from home. I miss all the families I met in parishes around the Diocese during my three years of work in the Totus Tuus program, and I of course have missed my own family – especially as holidays come and go. It has been difficult but I can say I’m happy here.


I’m happy for many reasons: one is because I am deepening my love for God by being immersed in the history of our Faith. There is a very large church called Santa Maria Sopra Minerva which is on one of the routes I take to get to the University; this church houses the remains of the great mystic St. Catherine of Siena. I will usually stop at this church to pray for those who are close to me, and I often think to pray for all the faithful of the Diocese of Des Moines (since I come from the Italian part of Des Moines, I guess I have a bias towards Italian saints). All of the churches here are virtual graveyards, with many people (sometimes hundreds) buried in them. This can be seen as morbid or, as our Faith would suggest, a beautiful sign that these brothers and sisters who have gone before us are still united with us through the Church which is the Body of Christ: “I am sure that neither death, nor life… nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).


I am also happy to turn my full attention to theology, which I am studying so that on one level I may know God Himself better and to serve Him more completely and then, building on that foundation, that I may serve the people whom I believe I am called to serve more effectively. Our Faith is one that loves Truth and reason; St. Augustine once said “if faith does not think, it is nothing.” Learning the deep theology of the Church is something that I take very seriously, and something that I see as being bound up with the ministry of the priest. Our God is real, and we can always learn more about Him; and learning more about Him can stir our hearts to love Him more. I am looking forward to the time when I will return to Diocese; in the meantime, pray for me – everyday if you can. I am always in great need of your prayers. Thank you all the support you give to us!

December 3, 2013
Written By: Zach Daly

The day after Thanksgiving, one year ago, Bishop Pates asked me if I would consider applying to the North American College in Rome for at least four years of study in theology in preparation for the priesthood. I agreed, thinking it would be a difficult experience; and it has been difficult. Theology, difficult in any language, requires even more concentration when it is being taught in Italian, and the seminary is very far away from home. I miss all the families I met in parishes around the Diocese during my three years of work in the Totus Tuus program, and I of course have missed my own family – especially as holidays come and go. It has been difficult but I can say I’m happy here.


I’m happy for many reasons: one is because I am deepening my love for God by being immersed in the history of our Faith. There is a very large church called Santa Maria Sopra Minerva which is on one of the routes I take to get to the University; this church houses the remains of the great mystic St. Catherine of Siena. I will usually stop at this church to pray for those who are close to me, and I often think to pray for all the faithful of the Diocese of Des Moines (since I come from the Italian part of Des Moines, I guess I have a bias towards Italian saints). All of the churches here are virtual graveyards, with many people (sometimes hundreds) buried in them. This can be seen as morbid or, as our Faith would suggest, a beautiful sign that these brothers and sisters who have gone before us are still united with us through the Church which is the Body of Christ: “I am sure that neither death, nor life… nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).


I am also happy to turn my full attention to theology, which I am studying so that on one level I may know God Himself better and to serve Him more completely and then, building on that foundation, that I may serve the people whom I believe I am called to serve more effectively. Our Faith is one that loves Truth and reason; St. Augustine once said “if faith does not think, it is nothing.” Learning the deep theology of the Church is something that I take very seriously, and something that I see as being bound up with the ministry of the priest. Our God is real, and we can always learn more about Him; and learning more about Him can stir our hearts to love Him more. I am looking forward to the time when I will return to Diocese; in the meantime, pray for me – everyday if you can. I am always in great need of your prayers. Thank you all the support you give to us!

April 25, 2013
Written By: James Chester

A Flash
by James Chester


AsJames Chester I look back my time at Conception Seminary is spotted with moments that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. When I am proposed with the question would I do it again, I don’t hesitate when I say yes. It has been an extraordinary time from being a freshman to being a senior on the verge of graduation.

When I first came here, I was twenty three years old. I had just quit a construction job that I really enjoyed and moved onto a dorm floor with a bunch of guys that had just graduated high school the previous year. They had all been living together for a semester already. There are fish out of water and then there was that situation. I thought that I had made one of the biggest mistakes of my life.


I remember having the colored set of breviaries and thinking that everyone else was going to have all black and I was going to be the only guy with that kind. I know that this sounds very trivial now, but in that moment I was ready to bolt. The next morning I showed up to Office of Readings and everyone that I saw had the colored set. It was through little affirmations like the breviaries that things began to get better. I started to meet new friends and figure out which class room I was supposed to be in and at what time everything was. The schedule here is very much routine. The Benedictines kind of like it that way.


The thing about this routine is that you get what you put into it. What I am trying to say is that the amount you grow in self-knowledge and interior spiritual life is directly related to what you offer yourself for that growth. Luckily, when I was an underclassman there were a lot of great upperclassmen that where encouraging all of us to dive into what was being offered. It did take some time to trust people to that personal interior life. This was something that was completely new to me. When I was working construction I never started a conversation with “Why do you think that at the core level of myself I acted that way to that situation.” Once I let go of my fear of knowing myself, I was all in and it has been a fantastic experience.


Conception SeminaryThese men that where strangers four years ago are now more than just classmates. We are now truly brothers. There has been countless times where a group of us have just been lost in conversation and not realize that hours have past and we   have to be up in a few hours for prayer. These moments have gone by in a flash, but this flash has lit an enormous fire that fuels me to keep me going, to keep me looking forward to what wonderful things God has in store for me next.


~James Chester will graduate Saturday, May 11, 2013 from Conception Seminary. With James the Office of Vocations thanks his dear parents, family members, future brother priests, and all those who support him by their love and prayers. He plans to receive the Rite of Candiancy on Sunday, June 16, 2013 at Christ the King in Des Moines at the 11 AM Mass. All are invited. ~

August 1, 2012
Written By: Deacon Troy Thompson, Our Lady of the Americas

            When a man responds to God’s call to be a permanent deacon he must have trust.  That trust is especially important when Hispanic men in the United States hear the call.


            I caught up with Deacon Felix Hernandez on a 90 degree day.  He’s a permanent deacon at St. Mary Catholic Church in Marshalltown.  He also works full-time in construction and roofing.  We shared lunch at the job site.  He shared how God sustained his family the past three years.


            Before ordination in 2009 Hernandez’ wife, Cynthia, an employee at Swift & Company, was detained and deported back to Mexico.  He was left a single father and provider for their four children.   


            Archbishop Jerome Hanus still ordained Hernandez, who along with Cynthia, had completed several years of formation classes.  He shared how important community support is for candidates and their wives.  “They allowed us to bring our children on formation weekends in Waterloo,” he said, but added, “Prayers are most important.”  


            Hernandez continues to work for Cynthia’s return.  He visits her, but he and his U.S.- born children stay here.  “We have two children that are in high school with the opportunity to study in Iowa,” he said.  “Their education here would be better and we cannot leave them.”


Deacon Felix explained how ministry relates to family life.  “To unite with Jesus gives one life,” he said, “But you have a spouse, you have children and work every day.  You continue being a man.” 


            Hernandez plays guitar and reads history books.  He preaches at Mass and enjoys presiding at Holy Hours of healing.  On trips to Mexico he’s preached over the radio.


“Everything is done with the help of God.  Without God we can do nothing,” he reminded me, “God has helped me, leading me in the hope that my wife will be reunited with us again.”

July 27, 2012
Written By: Laura Downey

Bishop Pates and Laura DowneyA Vocation Story by Laura Downey



“I am answering what I believe to be a call from God to the religious life.”



This past February I went on a discernment retreat in Ann Arbor, Michigan hosted by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. While there, after spending a night in Adoration with the Blessed Sacrament, I decided to talk with the Vocations directress in order to possibly come home with papers in my bag (side note: “papers” is the code for “an application to enter to the convent”). 


It was no small feat to make it into the Vocations directress’s office.  There was A LINE of girls waiting to talk with her, although she had already met one-on-one with each of us—almost 160 women within the last 36 hours. I waited for 4 hours in that line to talk with her on the last day of the retreat because there were so many others who wanted to do the same thing, either to receive spiritual direction or their own applications.  The waiting surprisingly felt natural, normal, and peaceful.


Thoughts of religious life captured my heart when I was about seven years old, but I entered into more serious discernment of religious life about five years ago when I went to college and attended my first “nun run.”  I did not always desire the path towards which it seemed God was leading me.  I think I’ve been a pretty slow mover in this regard, even after it became clear to me a couple of years ago that Jesus does want me for Himself.Parents Bob and Susan Downey


Looking back on my journey and on the work I had to let God do in my heart before I said Yes, I am convinced that prayers (of those whom I know, of those whom I don’t know, of those who don’t know me, such as those around the world who pray during every Mass for an increase in religious Vocations) played a part in bringing me to a point where it seemed like the most natural thing in the world for me to apply to enter a convent.  I did not do that in my own heart.  That openness, those moments of clarity, and those Yes’s along the way were purely grace.  Prayers for Vocations in this diocese have played a part in priming my heart for all the construction God has to do in there and in asking for those graces on my behalf.


Vocations to the priesthood, the religious life, to consecrated life of some sort . . . they are alive and well. There are 21 young women who are planning to enter the Dominicans Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Michigan with me in August.  That community has grown from 4 sisters to more than 100 in a matter of 15 years. The average age of the sisters is 28. Sarah Nesbit, now Sr. Mary Ignatius, who graduated from Dowling Catholic High School the year before me, entered this same community about four years ago.


I have about 11 friends currently in formation in religious orders.  In addition, two friends are in formation to become consecrated lay women. Two friends plan to enter religious orders either this Fall or when their college debts are paid off.  These are primarily young women I met at Benedictine College in Kansas.  Many left after their sophomore year to enter convents because they heard a call to religious life so strongly that they felt they were not supposed to wait. The same is true of a lot of young men I met at college.  There are groups of men and women “dropping out” of college every year in order to begin formation in seminaries or convents. I also know of high school students who have experienced a draw towards the religious life or who are considering the seminary.


Seminarian James Downey, Bishop Pates, and Laura DowneyIn my own family, this past year, I have seen the joy, fullness, and growth my younger brother James is experiencing in the seminary for this diocese. On a much broader level, there is an immense number of young people who strive after Christ, love the Church, and desire to follow whatever good plan God has for them.  God seems to be growing a remnant for His Church who would much rather be faithful, radical, humble, and generous, than merely comfortable.


Please continue your prayers.  Thank you for continuing your ongoing support for Vocations in this diocese.  God is using them.  He is using you.  Thanks for allowing Him to produce all of this good fruit through you—I’d guess this is just the beginning of that fruit.  Thank you.~ Laura


April 4, 2012
Written By: Joseph Wright

Joseph Wright

Saint John Vianney Seminary: College Sophomore

Jesus has been teaching me at seminary how to have a relationship with Him and to love Him.  This relationship is developed through daily mass, adoration, scripture reading, spiritual reading, and other devotions.  Upon entering seminary I knew many of my shortcomings as a person, but now entering seminary Christ has brought to light more of them.  But, that is a wonderful thing.  Jesus cannot heal us of our imperfections unless we allow him to live in us and to cooperate with His grace.  For me at least that is what has gone on this year, healing and growth.  All of this is designed to help us to become the holy men that Jesus wants us to be. 

In this process of formation seminarians do not journey alone.  There is a brotherhood of men going through the same experiences that you are.  There is a community of support and fraternity there that is unlike any other I have experienced.  Your fellow seminarians challenge you to grow.  The priests in charge of formation provide the example and directions in which you should go down upon.  The academics challenge you, but they are extremely rewarding.  The outreach programs we participate in also give us a chance to serve others around us.  All of these things are put together to help us grow in the four pillars of priestly formation, which are spiritual, human, intellectual, and pastoral.



March 20, 2012
Written By: Lauren Steinkoenig

The Vocations Office is happy to announce that you can now read our newsletter, the Vocations Vibe, online on our website! This is just one of a few new resources now available under our Multimedia tab at the top of our website. Also available is our Poster for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Follow the links below to check out these new resources for yourself!


Vocations Vibe Newsletter 


World Day of Prayer for Vocations

March 15, 2012
Written By: Fr. Scott Kallal

Discerning? Putting to Bed the 'You Need a Spiritual Director' Myth


As a friend of Tim Staples, I used to write on the Catholic Answers forum in the vocations category. It amazed me how often young people would pour their hearts out there only to hear back - even from priests! - "Get a spiritual director." That's it?! How does that help?

Now as a priest who gives spiritual direction I agree that a good director can be a huge help for knowing the will of God, but he or she is not indispensable. I know lots of young people who have discerned without having a human spiritual director.

Could it be that this myth has stuck around for so long because young people don't know any better, so they ask the "experts"? But what happens when the experts get it wrong? God does have a plan for your life, and a spiritual director can help you discover it, but he's no magician or mind-reader. He's definitely not God.



The truth is that the two irreplaceable elements in vocational discernment are you and your Creator. God is the only one who knows who He made you to be and for what purpose He created you, and He is going to reveal His plans to one other person... you.

A spiritual director is like a good friend. He 

  • confirms you when you're right,
  • corrects you when you get something wrong,
  • moderates exaggerated excitement,
  • encourages you when times are tough,
  • and helps you anticipate obstacles


He's like a good basketball coach. Yes, a good coach can teach you mechanics and strategy. Yes, a great coach is necessary if you want to be world-class. But he can't do it for you. You are the one who has to get out there and practice: dribbling, passing, shooting, defending. You are the one who has to execute. And guess what? Can you get better without the coach if you go through the right exercises? You bet you can!

So what sort of "spiritual exercises" would you need to do to be able to discern the will of God for your life?


What you need to do - what any spiritual director worth his salt would tell you to do - is to create a spiritual parthenon so you can embrace the freedom of heart and the intimacy with God that together make discernment possible. Concretely that means:


  • daily meditation of at least 20 minutes with a concrete resolution
  • Sunday Mass
  • monthly confession
  • eliminate distractions: TV, video games, iPod, texting, etc.
  • live balance: sleep, prayer, family, work/school, friends/hobbies, etc.
  • live virtue, especially purity of heart
  • go on a dating fast (or break up if you're already dating)


Do that, and I guarantee you'll be light years ahead of anyone who has an outstanding spiritual director but doesn't actually put in the work. God bless. Live from your heart.

Fr. Scott Kallal is one of the founding members of the Apostles of the Interior Life and the originator of Strategic Discernment, helping young people to learn if God is calling you to be a priest or a nun faster, easier, and with more joy than you ever imagined. If you'd like personal assistance in your discernment, you can contact Fr. Scott at If you found this article useful, please join me in the New Evangelization by sharing it with your friends and family.

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March 7, 2012
Written By: Matthew Krastel


Matthew Krastel

Mundelein Seminary: Theology I


I am currently in my first year of theological study at the University of St. Mary of the Lake Mundelein Seminary which is northwest of downtown Chicago.  The transition from college seminary to major seminary has, thus far, been rather smooth, though it has not come without challenges.  The atmosphere at Mundelein is very peaceful, quite contrary to what one may assume for being in the suburbs of Chicago.  For me, such a setting is very beneficial for maintaining a prayerful attitude throughout my formation.

Perhaps an aspect that surprises many people looking at entering the seminary is how 'normal' or common seminarians are compared with the preconception.  Aside from the fact that we are studying to be ordained to the priesthood, God willing, we live typical lives: we play sports, watch television, play video games, etc...  Seminarians do not belong to some "Holier-than-thou" cult that hides away from the rest of the world!  

Not a day goes by that I do not thank God for my calling- it has truly been an undeserved blessing in my life, and by the will of God, I look forward to serving the Diocese of Des Moines as a priest.

February 29, 2012
Written By: Catholic News Agency

.- Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B., a former actress turned cloistered nun, will attend her first Academy Awards show since 1959 to show support for “God is the Bigger Elvis,” an Oscar-nominated documentary about her and her abbey.


Mother Dolores, 73, was an award-winning actress who performed in two Elvis Presley movies. In 1963, she was about to sign a seven-figure contract and was engaged to a Los Angeles businessman when she decided to join the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn, where she is now prioress.


The 37-minute documentary talks about Mother Dolores’ story and about life at the abbey. It is an Oscar nominee for best documentary short category and will premiere April 5 on HBO.


“I adored Hollywood. I didn't leave because it was a place of sin,” she told USA Today.

"I left Hollywood at the urging of a mysterious thing called vocation. It's a call that comes from another place that we call God because we don't have any other way to say it. It's a call of love. Why do you climb a mountain?"


The nun said she allowed cameras to access the abbey to help those who are soul-searching.


“We wanted to invite the world into another order of life that might give some hope,” she said.


The documentary interviews Mother Dolores and other nuns like Sister John Mary, 44, a former Oxford-educated advertising executive who came to the abbey after a period of addiction.


It also covers the last meeting of Mother Dolores and her ex-fiancé Don Robinson, who never married. He continued to visit and help the abbey until his death in December 2011.


The documentary’s director Rebecca Cammisa said she made the film to explore what makes someone with Mother Dolores’ level of success choose the religious life. Cammisa was previously nominated for the Oscar for the feature documentary “Which Way Home,” about Mexican migrant children.


Mother Dolores was a presenter at the 1959 Academy Awards. She remains a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In January, she made a rare speaking appearance at the Central California Marian Eucharistic Conference.

February 14, 2012
Written By: Ryan Andrew

Ryan Andrew

Saint Paul Seminary: Pre-Theology I


As a first year pre-theology seminarian, I have found my first semester of seminary life to be a great opportunity to grow as a whole human being as well as a great opportunity to continue discerning my call to the priesthood. In my first semester of seminary, I have had great formation. I have learned more about my Catholic faith through the classes I have taken, built great friendships with my brother seminarians through events that build camaraderie such as flag football games, pick-up basketball games, going to Minnesota Wild hockey games etc., and, most importantly, I have grown closer to Jesus Christ through daily individual prayer and communal prayer with my brother seminarians as well as the staff and faculty at St. Paul Seminary.

My first semester at seminary has brought me to a deeper love of Jesus Christ and His Church. I hope to continue to allow Christ's grace to intensify my love for Him as I continue on my journey at seminary.


January 25, 2012
Written By: Trevor Chicoine


Trevor Chicoine

Loras College: Junior


My name is Trevor Chicoine, and I’m a Seminarian for the Diocese of Des Moines.  I entered seminary in the fall of 2009, fresh out of high school.  I’m currently in my third (junior) year at St. Pius X Seminary at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.  The past three years have been the most challenging and rewarding of my life!  I am majoring in philosophy with a minor in liturgical music.  Seminary formation is an experience like none other!  It is truly a process that forms and shapes the whole person.  So often, it is easy to think of seminary as only ‘classes’ and academic learning, when in fact that is only ¼ of what we’re about at the seminary! 


In addition to academic formation, while in college seminary we also engage heavily in the formation our human person-attempting to model ourselves after Jesus Christ the High Priest and model for all priests.  We attempt to make our own humanity, weak as it is, a bridge and not an obstacle to Christ.  Seminarians also engage in pastoral formation, a sort of practicum experience in ministry.  Forming our spiritual life is an important part of the seminary, with daily Mass, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, spiritual readings, and devotions especially those to the Blessed Mother.  All that being said, there’s also a lot of fun to be had at the seminary!  The friendships I’ve made here are some of the best of my life.  It’s not uncommon to find Seminarians playing cards, watching a movie or TV, or going for ice cream on the weekends or in the evenings.  There are athletic guys, computer guys, music guys, and even a few NASCAR fans at the seminary! There are many good men at the seminary and it is a pleasure to live with them and grow with them.

January 18, 2012
Written By: Vatican Information Services



VATICAN CITY, 27 SEP 2011 (VIS) - On Saturday 24 September, during the course of his apostolic visit to Germany, the Holy Father met with seminarians in the city of Freiburg im Breisgau, whom he addressed off-the-cuff in German. Extracts of his remarks are given below.


The Pope dwelt upon the significance of the years spent in the seminary, and he reflected on the passage from the Gospel of St. Mark which narrates the foundation of the community of the Apostles: "The Lord appoints twelve", said the Holy Father. "He makes something, He does something, it is a creative act. He makes them, 'to be with Him, and to be sent out to preach'. ... They have to be with Him in order to come to know Him, ... but at the same time they have to be envoys who go out, who take with them what they have learnt, who bring it to others, ... even into places far removed from Him. ... This combination of, on the one hand, going out on mission, and on the other hand being with Him, remaining with Him, is - I believe - precisely what we have to learn in the seminary".


"The seminary is therefore a time for training. Also, of course, it is a time for discernment, for learning. ... The mission must be tested, and this includes being in community with others and also, of course, speaking with your spiritual directors". It involves "learning to trust: if He truly wants this, then I may entrust myself to Him. In today's world ... in which everything is in a constant state of flux, in which human ties are breaking down, ... it is becoming more and more difficult to believe that I will hold firm for the whole of my life". But, "if He wants me, then He will also hold me, He will be there in the hour of temptation, in the hour of need, and He will send people to me, He will show me the path. ... Faithfulness is possible, because He is always there, because He exists yesterday, today and tomorrow".


Apart from being a time for discernment, learning and vocation, the seminary is also a time for prayer, "for listening to Him", said Benedict XVI, "listening, truly learning to listen to Him - in the word of Sacred Scripture, in the faith of the Church, in the liturgy of the Church - and learning to understand the present time in His word. In exegesis we learn much about the past: what happened, what sources there are, what communities there were, and so on. This is also important. But more important still is that from the past we should learn about the present, we should learn that He is speaking these words now, and that they all carry their present within them, and that over and above the historical circumstances in which they arose, they contain a fullness which speaks to all times".


"Faith comes from hearing", said the Holy Father referring to the words of St. Paul. That is to say, faith needs "the living word, addressed to me by the other, whom I can hear, addressed to me by the Church throughout the ages" by "priests, bishops and my fellow believers. Faith must include a 'you' and it must include a 'we'".


In this context the Pope highlighted the importance of accepting other people in their individuality, while remaining aware that they too must accept us in our individuality. Only in this way, he explained, can the community of faithful become a "'we', journeying together towards the living God. ... The 'we' is the whole community of believers, today and in all times and places. ... We are Church: let us be Church, let us be Church precisely by opening ourselves and stepping outside ourselves and being Church with others".


In closing, Benedict XVI reminded the seminarians of the importance of study. "We all know that St. Peter said: 'Always be prepared to make a defence to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you'. Our world today is a rationalist and thoroughly scientific world, albeit often somewhat pseudo-scientific. ... The faith is not a parallel world of feelings that we can still afford to hold on to, rather it is the key that encompasses everything, gives it meaning, interprets it and also provides its inner ethical orientation: making clear that it is to be understood and lived as tending towards God and proceeding from God. Therefore it is important to be informed and to understand, to have an open mind, to learn. ... Study is essential: only thus can we stand firm in these times and proclaim within them the reason for our faith".

PV-GERMANY/                                                                               VIS 20110927 (810)


January 13, 2012
Written By: Lauren Steinkoenig

With the end of National Vocation Awareness Week coming up, the Vocations Office wanted to share this great outlook on the beauty and gift of vocations. We ask that you continue to pray for an increase in young people answering God's call, his great gift and invitation to the priesthood and religious life throughout the year. 
"I always look forward to National Vocation Awareness Week.  You know why?  Not because I think it’s important to pray for priestly and religious vocations (which I do), and not because I think people in general aren’t “aware” of the fact that the numbers of individuals following a call to priesthood and religious life are low (which they are).  I love this week primarily because it draws attention to the beauty of the vocation given us by God.  A vocation is a gift, and it’s God’s idea for the way we are to follow him to become ever closer to his heart.  Praying for vocations isn’t going to convince God to call more people to be priests and religious.  Praying for vocations isn’t even going to convince those called to actually follow-through and commit to the life.  Praying for vocations—I hope and pray—is going to open my heart and the hearts of all people to the voice of God that calls each one of us by name, drawing us all to a deeper love of him who calls…and thus helping us make the commitment to follow him in the path he has marked out for us."


January 4, 2012
Written By: Andrew Windschitl

Andrew Windschitl

Saint Paul Seminary

Theology I


Seminary is like college in many ways.  For example, we live in a dorm-like setting, attend classes, and eat at a cafeteria.  However, unlike college, intellectual development is just one of the many parts of a person that is focused upon.  Our pastoral, spiritual, and human aspects are developed as well.  By doing so we aim to become better men overall, not just intellectuals or pastors.  In other words, a man's willingness to accept the call from God entails a true surrendering of mind, body, and soul such that the man is built up to be a priest in whom the people of God can see the person of Christ.


This has become more and more clear to me this year in seminary.  At the St. Paul Seminary we are assigned to what are called teaching parishes.  They are real parishes with real people.  While we still have classes several days a week, we usually visit these parishes once a week for activities and one weekend a month for Masses.  This opportunity allows us to take what we have learned in the classroom and put it to use in the parishes.  Even better is when we learn something entirely new at the parish that we did not learn in the classroom.  It is heartening to both work with and learn from the faithful as it is a true representation of what priesthood will be like.

October 19, 2011
Written By: Fr. David Muenchrath

 I often say that seminary is a place that will challenge a

young man mentally, spiritually, and physically, but most

people look at me as if I am crazy when I say that seminary 

will challenge you physically. Yes, seminary is a place where

men enter more deeply into their relationship with Jesus

Christ, and rigorously study both philosophy and theology,

but most people are surprised that seminary is also a place

where they want you to be physically fit for eternal life.


This was made abundantly clear to me the past two weekends while I visited St. Paul Seminary, in St. Paul Minnesota and St. Gregory Seminary in Seward, Nebraska. While visiting St. Gregory Seminary I found out that most of the men were away at Conception Seminary, where two of our seminarians currently attend, to compete on the pitch at Conception’s Annual Seminary Soccer tournament. Sadly I didn’t see this year’s contest, but I know for previous experience that this tournament is always a hotly contested contest.  


A different type of football was being played the week before at St. Paul Seminary. The University of St. Thomas hosted the 11th annual Rector’s Bowl between St. John Vianney College Seminary and St. Paul Theological Seminary. To be honest I was torn as whom to root for at that the game because the Diocese of Des Moines was represented on both teams, but after a back and forth game the men of St. Paul Seminary pulled ahead for victory, breaking a three year losing streak.


Seminary is indeed a place that will challenge you mentally, spiritually, and physically. If you want to see for yourself what seminary life is life don’t hesitate to contact the Office of Vocations, and check out our news stream for upcoming seminary visits.


December 7, 2010
Written By: Joseph McAuliff

“Do you love Me? Can all things be done through Me and My Sacred Heart?” This is what I heard Christ tell me at the retreat that I had attended last winter to help further discern God’s calling for me to love Him. I went to Reconciliation, where the priest told me to go out and to pray in the chapel and look at the picture of Jesus and His Sacred Heart and just listen to whatever Jesus tells me, and that is what I heard. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is and always has been a huge devotion of mine. Ever since I can remember, I have always been fascinated with The Sacred Heart of Jesus. It started out as me drawing pictures of the Sacred Heart but it has since then developed into so much more, to praying and giving all of my joys and anxieties to take into His Sacred Heart, to the Sacred Heart leading me to my vocation that God has for me to love Him and serve Him to the best of my ability. The first words of this paragraph I initially heard from my Dad, with the point being that I need to trust in God and put all of my trust in Him and believe that all things can be done through Him. Once I did that, which was not a quick thing but rather a process that took some time, I was able to actually hear God’s Voice and not harden my heart. A lot of it came through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. In these meditations I was able to discern that I was trying so hard to love God out of fear, that I was not letting God love me. I was not accepting His love and therefore how could I hear His voice or truly love Him? This is all perfectly laid out in 1 John 4: 10-11 where God says through John’s hand, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.” Once I read this, a light went on in my head, and a fire began to burn within my soul.    
My spiritual director Msgr. Bognanno once told me that God does in fact want what you want, but what you really want has to be for God and His love and to ultimately draw ourselves closer to Him. This helped me further strengthen my discernment and allowed me to completely just give it all to God, and in that love for God and realization of how much He loves me, I was able to hear His call for me, and see it through the gifts He has given me to share with the rest of the world, from the gift of prayer, to the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to my education, to my family and friends. All of these gifts helped me to hear God’s voice and His calling me to serve Him through a vocation to marriage. I am still open to anything God calls me to, and if God should somehow lead me down a different path I am open to it. It is all about serving God and loving Him to the fullest, and just by being open to anything that God calls you too, it is amazing how much is revealed to you and how much of it is right under your nose. By being open to anything that God may be calling you to, you allow Him to completely manifest Himself in your soul and it is only then one truly realizes that indeed, all things are possible with God.
The retreat was a great way for anyone discerning a vocation to the priesthood, or any vocation for that matter, for it helped lead me to discern my vocation to marriage. Ultimately, the retreat was a great way to grow closer to God. It helped me to discern my vocation to marriage, and to lead other people to God by raising a good Catholic family, leading my future spouse and children to God. Today we have so many distractions, so many voices coming at us from all sides through the radio, iPod, TV, Internet, Facebook, and cellphone. Yet, in this retreat you put all of that aside and it really becomes just you, and God. It allowed me not only the ability to hear God a little better, but also the ability to listen. The Creighton Retreat Center was a great place to have the retreat being that it was with God’s creation in nature, which is a great way to physically see God’s love in the work of His Hands. During the time I took the retreat I was going through the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It was very fitting to be at the Creighton Retreat Center since Creighton is a Jesuit School and the Jesuit Order was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola. A great deal of my discernment was done in these spiritual exercises, and the retreat center was a great place for deep meditation and solitude which everyone needs from time to time to really understand God and listen to His Voice. Elijah heard the voice of God, and it was in the form of a tiny whisper. In order to hear and even more so to listen to and understand a whisper one must be silent. In the same way we must silence ourselves both externally and internally to hear, listen to and understand the Voice of God. Once we do that we realize that truly all things are possible with God, and we see not only how much He loves us but how much we actually love Him despite all of our imperfections. It is only then that we can truly realize and allow God to love us and therefore be able to hear His Voice, harden not our hearts, and follow Him using all of the gifts that He has given us, for His greater glory and therefore our greater good.


November 1, 2010
Written By: Fr David Muenchrath


Recently Pope Benedict the XVI addressed all the seminarians around the world, and his words of challenge and encouragement and something we should all take some time to reflect on.
- Fr. David Muenchrath
Dear Seminarians,
When in December 1944 I was drafted for military service, the company commander asked each of us what we planned to do in the future. I answered that I wanted to become a Catholic priest. The lieutenant replied: “Then you ought to look for something else. In the new Germany priests are no longer needed”. I knew that this “new Germany” was already coming to an end, and that, after the enormous devastation which that madness had brought upon the country, priests would be needed more than ever. Today the situation is completely changed. In different ways, though, many people nowadays also think that the Catholic priesthood is not a “job” for the future, but one that belongs more to the past. You, dear friends, have decided to enter the seminary and to prepare for priestly ministry in the Catholic Church in spite of such opinions and objections. You have done a good thing. Because people will always have need of God, even in an age marked by technical mastery of the world and globalization: they will always need the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the God who gathers us together in the universal Church in order to learn with him and through him life’s true meaning and in order to uphold and apply the standards of true humanity. Where people no longer perceive God, life grows empty; nothing is ever enough. People then seek escape in euphoria and violence; these are the very things that increasingly threaten young people. God is alive. He has created every one of us and he knows us all. He is so great that he has time for the little things in our lives: “Every hair of your head is numbered”. God is alive, and he needs people to serve him and bring him to others. It does makes sense to become a priest: the world needs priests, pastors, today, tomorrow and always, until the end of time.
The seminary is a community journeying towards priestly ministry. I have said something very important here: one does not become a priest on one’s own. The “community of disciples” is essential, the fellowship of those who desire to serve the greater Church. In this letter I would like to point out – thinking back to my own time in the seminary – several elements which I consider important for these years of your journeying.
1. Anyone who wishes to become a priest must be first and foremost a “man of God”, to use the expression of Saint Paul (1 Tim 6:11). For us God is not some abstract hypothesis; he is not some stranger who left the scene after the “big bang”. God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. In the face of Jesus Christ we see the face of God. In his words we hear God himself speaking to us. It follows that the most important thing in our path towards priesthood and during the whole of our priestly lives is our personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ. The priest is not the leader of a sort of association whose membership he tries to maintain and expand. He is God’s messenger to his people. He wants to lead them to God and in this way to foster authentic communion between all men and women. That is why it is so important, dear friends, that you learn to live in constant intimacy with God. When the Lord tells us to “pray constantly”, he is obviously not asking us to recite endless prayers, but urging us never to lose our inner closeness to God. Praying means growing in this intimacy. So it is important that our day should begin and end with prayer; that we listen to God as the Scriptures are read; that we share with him our desires and our hopes, our joys and our troubles, our failures and our thanks for all his blessings, and thus keep him ever before us as the point of reference for our lives. In this way we grow aware of our failings and learn to improve, but we also come to appreciate all the beauty and goodness which we daily take for granted and so we grow in gratitude. With gratitude comes joy for the fact that God is close to us and that we can serve him.
2. For us God is not simply Word. In the sacraments he gives himself to us in person, through physical realities. At the heart of our relationship with God and our way of life is the Eucharist. Celebrating it devoutly, and thus encountering Christ personally, should be the centre of all our days. In Saint Cyprian’s interpretation of the Gospel prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread”, he says among other things that “our” bread – the bread which we receive as Christians in the Church – is the Eucharistic Lord himself. In this petition of the Our Father, then, we pray that he may daily give us “our” bread; and that it may always nourish our lives; that the Risen Christ, who gives himself to us in the Eucharist, may truly shape the whole of our lives by the radiance of his divine love. The proper celebration of the Eucharist involves knowing, understanding and loving the Church’s liturgy in its concrete form. In the liturgy we pray with the faithful of every age – the past, the present and the future are joined in one great chorus of prayer. As I can state from personal experience, it is inspiring to learn how it all developed, what a great experience of faith is reflected in the structure of the Mass, and how it has been shaped by the prayer of many generations.
3. The sacrament of Penance is also important. It teaches me to see myself as God sees me, and it forces me to be honest with myself. It leads me to humility. The Curé of Ars once said: “You think it makes no sense to be absolved today, because you know that tomorrow you will commit the same sins over again. Yet,” he continues, “God instantly forgets tomorrow’s sins in order to give you his grace today.” Even when we have to struggle continually with the same failings, it is important to resist the coarsening of our souls and the indifference which would simply accept that this is the way we are. It is important to keep pressing forward, without scrupulosity, in the grateful awareness that God forgives us ever anew – yet also without the indifference that might lead us to abandon altogether the struggle for holiness and self-improvement. Moreover, by letting myself be forgiven, I learn to forgive others. In recognizing my own weakness, I grow more tolerant and understanding of the failings of my neighbour.
4. I urge you to retain an appreciation for popular piety, which is different in every culture yet always remains very similar, for the human heart is ultimately one and the same. Certainly, popular piety tends towards the irrational, and can at times be somewhat superficial. Yet it would be quite wrong to dismiss it. Through that piety, the faith has entered human hearts and become part of the common patrimony of sentiments and customs, shaping the life and emotions of the community. Popular piety is thus one of the Church’s great treasures. The faith has taken on flesh and blood. Certainly popular piety always needs to be purified and refocused, yet it is worthy of our love and it truly makes us into the “People of God”.
5. Above all, your time in the seminary is also a time of study. The Christian faith has an essentially rational and intellectual dimension. Were it to lack that dimension, it would not be itself. Paul speaks of a “standard of teaching” to which we were entrusted in Baptism (Rom 6:17). All of you know the words of Saint Peter which the medieval theologians saw as the justification for a rational and scientific theology: “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an ‘accounting’ (logos) for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15). Learning how to make such a defence is one of the primary responsibilities of your years in the seminary. I can only plead with you: Be committed to your studies! Take advantage of your years of study! You will not regret it. Certainly, the subjects which you are studying can often seem far removed from the practice of the Christian life and the pastoral ministry. Yet it is completely mistaken to start questioning their practical value by asking: Will this be helpful to me in the future? Will it be practically or pastorally useful? The point is not simply to learn evidently useful things, but to understand and appreciate the internal structure of the faith as a whole, so that it can become a response to people’s questions, which on the surface change from one generation to another yet ultimately remain the same. For this reason it is important to move beyond the changing questions of the moment in order to grasp the real questions, and so to understand how the answers are real answers. It is important to have a thorough knowledge of sacred Scripture as a whole, in its unity as the Old and the New Testaments: the shaping of texts, their literary characteristics, the process by which they came to form the canon of sacred books, their dynamic inner unity, a unity which may not be immediately apparent but which in fact gives the individual texts their full meaning. It is important to be familiar with the Fathers and the great Councils in which the Church appropriated, through faith-filled reflection, the essential statements of Scripture. I could easily go on. What we call dogmatic theology is the understanding of the individual contents of the faith in their unity, indeed, in their ultimate simplicity: each single element is, in the end, only an unfolding of our faith in the one God who has revealed himself to us and continues to do so. I do not need to point out the importance of knowing the essential issues of moral theology and Catholic social teaching. The importance nowadays of ecumenical theology, and of a knowledge of the different Christian communities, is obvious; as is the need for a basic introduction to the great religions, to say nothing of philosophy: the understanding of that human process of questioning and searching to which faith seeks to respond. But you should also learn to understand and – dare I say it – to love canon law, appreciating how necessary it is and valuing its practical applications: a society without law would be a society without rights. Law is the condition of love. I will not go on with this list, but I simply say once more: love the study of theology and carry it out in the clear realization that theology is anchored in the living community of the Church, which, with her authority, is not the antithesis of theological science but its presupposition. Cut off from the believing Church, theology would cease to be itself and instead it would become a medley of different disciplines lacking inner unity.
6. Your years in the seminary should also be a time of growth towards human maturity. It is important for the priest, who is called to accompany others through the journey of life up to the threshold of death, to have the right balance of heart and mind, reason and feeling, body and soul, and to be humanly integrated. To the theological virtues the Christian tradition has always joined the cardinal virtues derived from human experience and philosophy, and, more generally, from the sound ethical tradition of humanity. Paul makes this point this very clearly to the Philippians: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8). This also involves the integration of sexuality into the whole personality. Sexuality is a gift of the Creator yet it is also a task which relates to a person’s growth towards human maturity. When it is not integrated within the person, sexuality becomes banal and destructive. Today we can see many examples of this in our society. Recently we have seen with great dismay that some priests disfigured their ministry by sexually abusing children and young people. Instead of guiding people to greater human maturity and setting them an example, their abusive behaviour caused great damage for which we feel profound shame and regret. As a result of all this, many people, perhaps even some of you, might ask whether it is good to become a priest; whether the choice of celibacy makes any sense as a truly human way of life. Yet even the most reprehensible abuse cannot discredit the priestly mission, which remains great and pure. Thank God, all of us know exemplary priests, men shaped by their faith, who bear witness that one can attain to an authentic, pure and mature humanity in this state and specifically in the life of celibacy. Admittedly, what has happened should make us all the more watchful and attentive, precisely in order to examine ourselves earnestly, before God, as we make our way towards priesthood, so as to understand whether this is his will for me. It is the responsibility of your confessor and your superiors to accompany you and help you along this path of discernment. It is an essential part of your journey to practise the fundamental human virtues, with your gaze fixed on the God who has revealed himself in Christ, and to let yourselves be purified by him ever anew.
7. The origins of a priestly vocation are nowadays more varied and disparate than in the past. Today the decision to become a priest often takes shape after one has already entered upon a secular profession. Often it grows within the Communities, particularly within the Movements, which favour a communal encounter with Christ and his Church, spiritual experiences and joy in the service of the faith. It also matures in very personal encounters with the nobility and the wretchedness of human existence. As a result, candidates for the priesthood often live on very different spiritual continents. It can be difficult to recognize the common elements of one’s future mandate and its spiritual path. For this very reason, the seminary is important as a community which advances above and beyond differences of spirituality. The Movements are a magnificent thing. You know how much I esteem them and love them as a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Yet they must be evaluated by their openness to what is truly Catholic, to the life of the whole Church of Christ, which for all her variety still remains one. The seminary is a time when you learn with one another and from one another. In community life, which can at times be difficult, you should learn generosity and tolerance, not only bearing with, but also enriching one another, so that each of you will be able to contribute his own gifts to the whole, even as all serve the same Church, the same Lord. This school of tolerance, indeed, of mutual acceptance and mutual understanding in the unity of Christ’s Body, is an important part of your years in the seminary.
Dear seminarians, with these few lines I have wanted to let you know how often I think of you, especially in these difficult times, and how close I am to you in prayer. Please pray for me, that I may exercise my ministry well, as long as the Lord may wish. I entrust your journey of preparation for priesthood to the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy, whose home was a school of goodness and of grace. May Almighty God bless you all, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
From the Vatican, 18 October 2010, the Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist.

September 9, 2010
Written By: Fr. David Muenchrath

As many of you know I love to run and a friend of mine sent me this great article from Catholic News Agency about two Bishops running in the Denver marathon. I hope you enjoy it.


Two Catholic bishops will take part in a Denver marathon in October. One is running to raise funds to pay off the $2.07 million debt on his diocese’s cathedral, while the other is joining local Catholics to increase prayers for and awareness of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Bishop of Springfield, Ill. Thomas J. Paprocki, a longtime marathon runner, has announced he is training for the Oct. 17 event. In a statement from the Diocese of Springfield, the 58-year-old prelate said he enjoys running and has participated in 16 marathons.

“This year I have decided to dedicate my marathon effort to help pay off the debt of the recent restoration of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield,” said the bishop, who took over the diocese in June.

“Catholics in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois can take rightful pride in our beautiful mother church, especially the many people who have already contributed generously to help pay the restoration costs,” he commented.

However, he explained that “unexpected expenses” had caused the debt and he would like to “retire this debt completely.”

He invited tax-deductible pledge donations and asked for prayer intentions for him to include while he is running and praying.

“As sacred Scripture says, ‘Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us’ (Hebrews 12:1). Your support will be greatly appreciated by me and all Catholics who gather and pray at our magnificent Cathedral,” Bishop Paprocki wrote.

The “Rock ‘n’ Roll Denver Marathon” website says that the time limit for the full marathon is six hours, a pace of 13:45 minutes per mile.

Auxiliary Bishop of Denver James Conley will also take part in the event.

Natalia Fletcher, executive assistant in the office of priestly vocations, responded to a CNA inquiry about the bishop’s participation. She reported that Bishop Conley and Bishop Paprocki attended graduate school together in Rome. Conley later told CNA in an e-mail that the two had run together in Rome, but not in a marathon.

The Denver auxiliary bishop will join archdiocesan vocations director Fr. Jim Crisman and two St. John Vianney seminarians as part of a relay team to increase support for and awareness of vocations. He will run 8.9 miles of the course and is following a training regimen of 15 miles per week.

In the past he has run in the Colfax 1/2 Marathon, the Chicago Marathon, the Rome Marathon, the Monte Carlo Marathon, the Pikes Peak Ascent and the Rome-Ostca 1/2 Marathon.

According to Fletcher, the archdiocese asks other runners and teams of runners to sign up for the event. Rather than seeking financial donations, the archdiocese asks that runners seek pledges of prayers for vocations to holy orders and to the consecrated life within the Archdiocese of Denver.

“There is a great need in the Church and world today for men and women who are willing to lay down their lives in service to others,” Fr. Crisman commented in a press release. “Please pray for an increase in vocations to Holy Orders and Consecrated Life, and pray for those already living these heroic vocations.”

He encouraged participants to form their teams as soon as possible so they have time to train and to pray.

The Office of Priestly Vocations has set up a section for the marathon in the “Run” section of its website

July 26, 2010
Written By: Fr. David Muenchrath


"Women & Spirit" offers history museums across the country an opportunity to display artifacts and images that have rarely been seen by the general public. With a balanced approach that draws upon first-hand narratives, visitors will discover an untold story in American history about the impact of Catholic Sisters on the United States. The exhibit will be coming to The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa February 2011 - April 2011. We invite all Catholic faithful and those interested in history to come and learn about this fascinating story.

From the time the Ursulines arrived in New Orleans in 1727 up to today, women religious have made an incalculable contribution to this nation. Running schools, hospitals and orphanages from America's earliest days, these women helped foster a culture of social service that has permeated our society.  Over the centuries these courageous women overcame many obstacles--both physical and cultural--to bring their civilizing and caring influence to every corner of the country.  Understanding and celebrating the history of women religious is essential to understanding and celebrating the history of America.

—Cokie Roberts, news analyst and author


June 15, 2010
Written By: Laura Downey


On Thursday, June 3rd, seven young women of the Diocese of Des Moines piled into a Ford Expedition and hit the road, driving together to visit three religious communities and returning to the diocese on Sunday, the 6th. This year’s “nun run” is the first that the diocese has offered, and hopes are that it will become an annual event. The nun run serves as a new opportunity for young women who are interested in learning more about the religious life to meet those who live it and to receive insight into how they can better discern their own vocations, whatever those vocations may be.

For clarification, a nun run is a vocations road trip meant to provide young women with the opportunity to be exposed to a sampling of different religious orders in the United States. Participants of such a trip travel by car and go from one convent to another, learning about the life of the sisters, their service to the Church, and their spirituality. Along the way, they get to pray, eat, and play with the sisters, Four students from Dowling Catholic High School and three women in their twenties attended this year’s nun run. Their first two destinations landed them in Lincoln, Nebraska. The participants spent a couple of hours visiting with a cloistered contemplative order called the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, affectionately known by many as the “Pink Sisters” because of the carnation pink habits that they wear. It was here that the girls began the first stop of their journey in the Adoration chapel with the Lord.

            Following this visit, during which the young women were able to talk with a few of the sisters in a visiting room and to ask them questions about their lifestyle, the participants made their way to the School Sisters of Christ the King, a young order with which the group stayed until the morning of the 5th. The girls were kept busy during their visit, rising early in the morning to pray the Liturgy of the Hours with the sisters and to participate in daily Mass. Between community prayers, the girls’ activities with the sisters included a bonfire, talks about vocational discernment, pulling weeds, playing softball, asking questions, and having time for personal prayer in the chapel. 

            The last leg of the journey took the Des Moines group to Kansas City, Missouri, where they spent much of June 5th and 6th with the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order whose apostolate is to serve in homes for the elderly poor and whose foundress (St. Jeanne Jugan) was one of the five new saints canonized in October of 2009. While there, the young women were able to take part in the sisters’ apostolate by visiting with the elderly residents of the home, helping to feed them at meal times, and taking them for walks outside. The participants were also able to visit with and eat with the sisters. Their journey ended as it had begun—in Adoration of the Lord (the last day of the trip being Corpus Christi Sunday). 

            Praise God for the success of this trip and the blessing it has been in the lives of those young women who attended it! They return to Des Moines with new insight into the beautiful part of the Church that the religious life is. They also return with guidance for the discernment of their own vocations from God and for growth in holiness and in love as all Christians are to do. May He bless the young women of our diocese with many more opportunities such as these! 

May 12, 2010
Written By: Fr David Muenchrath and Melody Taninies

The month of May is full of great opportunities for both women and men to discern how God is calling them in their lives. There will be a Women's Religious Vocation Discernment Day, two Quo Vadis meetings for young men in high school (Sunday, May 16th at  5:30 p.m. at the Dowling Priests Residence in West Des Moines and Sunday, May 23rd at  Queen of Apostles Rectory in Council Bluffs at 5:30 p.m.). If you are a young woman in high school or college interested in learning more about religious life don't forget to sign up for the Nun Run by the end of May--and that's not all.


On this Sunday, May 16th, there is a great opportunity for all lay men and women who feel God is calling them to a little something more in their life. If you have ever felt God was calling you to something more, but family or other obligations kept you from pursuing this idea, then I invite you to attend a "Come and See" event that the Secular Fransican Order will be hosting at 12:00 p.m. at the Basilica of St. John. The event will take place in the old school building next to the Basilica, and is open to any lay men or women who want to learn more about Third Orders and how to be part of a religious order as a lay person.


If you know nothing about Third Orders in our Catholic Church I invite you to check out the article below written by Melody Taninies and join her and others at the Basilica of St. John this Sunday. As always, if you have any questions about this and any other vocational discernment, please feel free to contact the Office of Vocations.


Peace and Blessings,


Fr. David Muenchrath



The term Third Order designates persons who live according to the Third Rule of a Roman Catholic religious order. Their members, known as Tertiaries (Latin tertiarii, from tertius, third), are generally lay members of religious orders, i.e. men and women who do not necessarily live in a religious community and yet can claim to wear the habit and participate in the good works of some great order.
A "Secular Order" (also called a "Third Order Secular") is defined according to Canon Law (1983) of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church in the following way:
Associations whose members share in the spirit of some religious institute while in secular life, lead an apostolic life, and strive for Christian perfection under the higher direction of the same institute are called third orders or some other appropriate name.". (Can. 303) Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church.
The general idea of lay people affiliated to religious orders, as seen in the Benedictine Oblates or confraters is too natural for there to be any need to seek its origin. Founders and benefactors of monasteries were received in life into spiritual fellowship, and were clothed in death in some religious habit. A Benedictine Oblate is a lay or clerical, single or married, person formally associated to a particular monastery. Since the sixth century Oblate have sought to live a life in harmony with the spirit of Saint Benedict as revealed in the Rule of Saint Benedict and its contemporary expression.
Also among Religious Orders born of the 12th-13th centuries it is often said that there was the first order or the Male Religious who were first in establishment, then the second order or the "Nuns or Sisters" who were often established second, and then the third order of laity who were established third. Saint Francis of Assisi, for example, is said to have established the Friars Minor, the Poor Clares, and the Secular Franciscans.
In some cases the members of a third order, wished their order to become regular, meaning that they wanted to live in a more monastic and regulated way of life. Thus one finds the term Third Order Regular.
1.      Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel -- The Lay Carmelites are the Third order associated with the Carmelites. It was established in 1476 by a bull of Pope Sixtus IV and is known for devotion to Mary, under her title as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (The Discalced branch is termed Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites.)
2.      Third Order of St. Francis -- The Third Order of St. Francis in the Roman Catholic Church is part of the Franciscan family of religious orders. It is the best known and most widely distributed of the third orders, and has both regular and secular branches. The Franciscan Third Order has always been the principal one, and it received a great impetus and a renewed vogue from Pope Leo XIII in 1883, in his approval of a new Rule for the seculars. Pope Paul VI in 1978 caused the separate Rules for both regulars and seculars to be recast and made more suitable for the requirements of devout men and women at the present day. The secular wing of the Order was renamed as the Secular Franciscan


3.      Third Order of St. Dominic -- This was one of the earliest developments of St. Dominic's Ordo de Poenitentia. It was not indeed the primal organism from which the Friars Preachers evolved, but rather represents that portion of the Order of Penance which came under Dominican influence. At first vaguely constituted and living without system or form, its members gradually grew more and more dependent on their spiritual guides.
4.      The Third Order of Servites -- The Servite Order has had both a secular and regular Third Order. The secular Third Order was established in the United States in 1893. The Sisters of the Third Order of Servites was founded by St. Juliana Falconieri of Florence, who received the habit ca. 1385 from Philip Benizi, then Prior General of the Servite friars.
5.      Third Order of St. Augustine -- These are the men and women who follow the spirit of the Rule of St. Augustine in their daily lives under the spiritual guidance of the Augustinian friars.
  1. Third Order of the Holy Trinity – Men and women who follow in the footsteps of founder St. John De Matha and Patron St. Benedict Joseph Labre.
With the advent of the Second Vatican Council came an elaboration of the lay vocation. The lay vocation is a vocation distinct from that of the consecrated state. It involves the sanctification of ordinary life, of ones work, of family life, of all the various secular occupations. It is the leaven in the midst of the world to order the temporal world to God. See Christifedelis Laici (by Pope John Paul II)
As the various third orders secular began to look at each of their houses after the Council they began to revise their Rules and Statutes. This has been a long and fruitful process. The Orders, as they felt they were ready, often after drafts and experimentations, have submitted one by one their new Statutes or Rules or Constitutions to the Holy See for review and approbation. Thus the new Statutes etc. are steeped in the doctrine of the Council regarding the universal call to holiness and the theology of the lay vocation including the secular character of the laity. Interestingly the various Orders have opted to change the name from "Third Order Secular" to "Secular Order" (or add least add it to usage) to emphasize the secular nature of the Order or they used the term "Lay or Laity" to the same effect. Of course "third order" and "tertiary" is still used but other names were added or used in a formal sense. The various documents show how the laity of the various Orders are part of the Order (or family etc) but fully within their particular lay and secular state. They show how tertiaries are to live fully their Christian lay vocation, as well as how they are to live the charism of the Order they belong to within secular life. They also provide various means to tending towards holiness in the midst of the world, which very much is part of the vocation of the tertiary—to strive for Christian perfection (CIC 303).
Mostly established in the 19th Centry, members of secular institutes are "in the world and not of the world, but for the world." They live in whatever providential circumstances God gives them, but they wholly consecrate their lives to God through the evangelical counsels of poverty, obedience, and chastity. They are the newest vocation in the Catholic Church, and many say they are the vocation of the new millennium. See United States Conference of Secular Institutes
One of the more widely known secular institutes is Opus Dei, formally known as The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei, an organization of the Catholic Church that teaches that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity. The majority of its membership are lay people, with secular priests under the governance of a prelate (bishop) appointed by the pope. Opus Dei is Latin for "Work of God", hence the organization is often referred to by members and supporters as "the Work".


April 20, 2010
Written By: By Sr. Ramona Kaalberg, CHM

Inviting and Empowering Others to Use their Gifts


Who might you invite to consider a call to religious life? One quality we might look for is the ability to exercise leadership which invites and empowers others to use their gifts.
This quality indicates that one is not wrapped up in oneself, but is able to be attentive to others and to recognize their gifts as well as ways these might be called forth. It means realizing that every person has gifts to be shared.
As Jesus called his disciples this was a quality that appeared to be important to him. There was a great amount of diversity among his followers, but he touched individuals in a way that invited them to develop and share the gifts they had.
Several years ago, Sarah visited a woman who seldom joined others for experiences of any type. She simply stayed home, seemingly preferring to exist by herself. She seldom showed signs of experiencing happiness. After several visits she was invited to help organize some recreational experiences for people at a nearby senior center and she decided to give it a try. Her experience was a positive one, for the attentive Sarah had noticed her gifts and her needs and kept them in mind. It wasn’t long before the woman began to change. No longer content to have an isolated existence, she began to reach out to the people at the center and to enjoy being with them.
This quality of leadership is often found in people who are quiet and non-threatening, as well as in others who are extroverts. It challenges one to call forth the best in others, rather than seeking to be Number One. It means emphasizing, “We,” rather than “Me,” and being comfortable with one’s own gifts and limitations as well as the gifts and limitations of others.
We might look for women with the ability to invite and empower others to share their gifts as we encourage people to think about religious life.

April 6, 2010
Written By: Fr David Muenchrath

Yesterday was one of my favorite days of the year, Opening Day. After we celebrate the great joy of Easter nothing reminds more that Spring has finally arrived than enjoying a beautiful day of baseball with good friends. Now I love baseball because I believe that it helps us to learn the virtue of courage. As you stand in the batters box with a baseball coming at you 80 or 90 miles per hour, you know the only way for you to succeed is to take a swing. If you are afraid to swing at the ball you will strike out, and go no where, but if you have the courage to swing eventually you will land on base and follow the path to home plate.


In our lives as Christians, God is constantly throwing balls in our direction, calling us to be not afraid, and to have the courage to swing at the baseball of his grace. Once you get on base and start to follow the path home, you may discover that you can't make it home on the path that you are following. You might get called out and have to start all over again, but if you have the courage to to keep swinging you will find the path that leads you home. Maybe that path is priesthood, maybe its marriage, maybe its consecrated life, or maybe it's the deaconate. Whatever God's path for you is, as long as you are true to it and follow it God will lead to the true home plate, Heaven.


This year we saw a great story about a young man named Grant Desmse. A young man who was playing baseball professionally, but he had the courage to leave that profession when he felt that God was calling him down the path of priesthood. We all need to pray for Grant as he discerns if this truly is the path God has called him down. (I hope this is his true path, because I think he will make a great priest.) Of course Grant is not the only person to leave baseball to find their true path in the priesthood. Fr. Burke Masters, the Current Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Joliet, IL and a classmate of mine at Mundelein Seminary, was himself a baseball standout at Mississippi State University.    I encourage you to read their stories of how they found their path to God's home plate, and I encourage you to keep swinging until you God's path for you.


Peace and Blessings,

Fr. David Muenchrath

March 31, 2010
Written By: Fr David Muenchrath

NUN RUN !!  What?!?  yes - a NUN RUN !!
Laura Downey (DCHS grad '07) and Fr. David Muenchrath will be at Dowling Catholic High School on Thursday, April 1 to speak to any girls who are interested in exploring God's call to the religious life.  They are planning a fun trip they call a Nun Run - which is a trip with a group of young women to visit several religious communities and pray with the sisters there.  If you are interested in this trip or talking casually with Laura and Fr. David about the religious life please contact the Office of Vocations.

March 31, 2010
Written By: Fr David Muenchrath

For almost every seminarian a part of our formation is serving as Pastoral Intern at a parish very different than the one we grew up in. For me that meant serving with Fr. Paul Strittmatter at the parishes of St. Patrick in Dunlap, IA and Sacred Heart in Woodbine, IA. 

I will never forget the lessons that Fr. Paul taught me about being a priest. Like all of us he was imperfect, and had his idiosyncrasies, like getting two haircuts a year one for Christmas, one for Easter, but he strove to bring Christ to all people. 

Often we would travel together in his Geo Metro down the dirt and gravel roads of rural Iowa to visit someone far off the beaten path. There was one woman in particular who you could tell rarely got any visitors expect for Fr. Paul. Her house was a mess, and the cats seemed to have taken over, but none of that bothered Fr. Paul. All he cared about was bringing Christ, in the Holy Eucharist, to this one woman who so many others had forgotten about. 

That is one lesson about the priesthood that will never leave my heart. Much like Jesus himself, we as priests are not here for the righteous, but we are here to seek out the broken, the forgotten, those who are suffering, those who are struggling with their sinfulness, and we are to bring the love, the healing, the heart of Jesus Christ. 

In his life Fr. Paul strove to do just that. At this time of great sorrow our prayers go out to Fr. Paul and to his immediate and church families. We pray that he will now know for all eternity the love he shared here on earth.