Seventeen teenage boys heard a call to visit Christ the King Seminary, and they answered. They gathered at the East Aurora education facility to learn about the priesthood and get to know the men who have already answered their vocational call.
The day began with a 10:30 morning Mass, followed by a brunch and tour of the grounds. Christ the King is unique among seminaries as it has several buildings on its campus, rather than one building for classes and residences. This is because Bishop Joseph Burke, who founded the campus, wanted the seminarians to get exercise by walking from building to building.
The students saw the seminary chapel, dining hall and the renowned library. The CKS Library has over 200,000 volumes to meet the curricular, research and study needs of the seminarians. There is also a display dedicated to Sister Karen Klimczak, SSJ, to mark the 10th anniversary of her murder. The students also visited the gym and the media room, where seminarians spend their free time.
The teens heard from a couple priests, a few seminarians, a transitional deacon, and a young man who followed the vocation of marriage. The stories had a common form - all the men thought about joining the priesthood at a very young age. During high school they put those thoughts aside, but in college, through prayer, they found themselves able to hear God's call.
Dave Warner recalled people telling him he would make a great priest and a great husband. "I felt God talking to me through those people," he said. He didn't date much in high school and had only one girlfriend in college. After praying the rosary in grad school, he heard the call to priesthood.
"There were a lot of things in life I wanted clarity on. I wanted to hand it over and say, 'God, take the wheel. Show me where I'm going. Show me where you want me to go.' It was a real amazing revelation. I had one of those God moments where I clearly heard Him say to me, 'Dan, I want you to discern priesthood,'" he said.
Then he met Sarah, whom he described as his best friend. She supported his discernment. Now unsure of his call, Warner sought out spiritual direction and spent time in adoration. He then felt called to marry Sarah.
Father David Richards, parochial vicar of Queen of Heaven Parish in West Seneca, was running Iron Man triathlons in California when he got engaged. The closer he got to his wedding day, the more he felt a tug into the priesthood.
"If your truly called to the priesthood, go for it, consider it. I don't think you'll be sorry. I've felt nothing but unbelievable happiness and joy," he said about his final decision to enter the seminary.
He advised anyone who feels they have a call to speak with a spiritual advisor, adding that people should not be afraid to follow through on their vocations.
Father Andrew Lauricella, director of Vocations for the diocese, said there is always a next step to take.
"If you really feel God is calling you to that, it would be a big mistake to keep denying it," he told the teens. "I think anyone who is a priest has done that a few times, but if God is calling you to be a priest, you won't be happy any other way. You won't be fulfilled any other way. If God is calling you to be married, you won't be happy any other way.
"God made all of you for a purpose. God didn't make any of you to be spare parts to be kept aside. You are all very important parts of the Body of Christ. The sooner you find your place, the better the whole Church will be."
In between talks, the teens shot hoops and took advantage of the 70-degree weather by taking a hike through the hills of the campus. At 132 acres, Christ the King Seminary is larger than Vatican City.
Nicholas Dalessandro came to the retreat to see where his father does his diaconal studies.
"I think it was a very eye opening event. I never really considered the priesthood seriously until after this. I don't know if it could be a possibility, but it could definitely could be," the 15-year-old said.
Hearing from the priests reassured him that when he finds the right vocation, he will know it.
"The perspective from the priests, how they don't regret it and how much they love it. I was always worried that I wouldn't like it if I was ever going to it, but I might do it now. I'm not sure," he said.
His cousin Christian Cappello, 17, is going into his senior year of high school, and is unsure of his college plans.
"It's good to keep an open mind about everything. It's good to get the priests perspective on everything and go to these retreats even if you're not going to be a priest or anything, just to keep an open mind," he said.
The Serra Club, an international organization that promotes vocations to the Catholic priesthood and religious life, sponsored the April 17 event that was open to all high school students.