The Baltimore Sun reports that a panel of Roman Catholic priests, brothers, sisters, and deacons faced an audience of lively fifth graders Thursday (Oct 27), offering snippets of their personal history histories and the motivation for their career choices. But many children were so unfamiliar with a nun's habit and veil that several directed remarks to "the lady in the blue dress."
"We have regular teachers, not nuns," said Craig Kelly, a student at St. Ursula School in Parkville who attended a conference Thursday at Notre Dame of Maryland University. Classmate Cathyrose Odoh added, "They are not the ordinary people we see every day."
In Maryland and across the country, the Roman Catholic Church is looking to inspire younger students with a zeal for religious life and help stem decades of decline in the ranks of nuns and priests. National research suggests that students start to consider the priesthood or sisterhood at as young as 11. But overcoming students' unfamiliarity — even at Catholic schools — can be a challenge.
Sister Patricia Dowling, CBS vocation director for the Sisters of Bon Secours and co-chair of the event, helped organize the first Focus 11 in Maryland and is planning several others. It drew students from Catholic elementary schools throughout the area. Focus 11 includes activities like a quiz game between the children and panelists, who included a priest, a brother, a deacon and two nuns. The back and forth showed the children that vocations come from people leading ordinary lives.
"Nobody is born a priest or nun," said Sister Fran Gorsuch, CBS, who played emcee for the game. "God called them to that life. And, that life is anything but boring."
When she asked which panelist was a Phillies baseball fan and a motorcyclist who worked in the Dominican Republic, the children chose one of the men — not the correct answer (it was Sister Mary Beth Antonelli, OSF). They erred about who had mastered fencing. It was the "lady in blue," Sister Mary Grace Dateno, FSP. Emma Crowhurst, a student at Our Lady of Grace School in Parkton, said, "It is interesting how these ordinary people became priests and sisters."
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