Category Archives for "Vocation Stories"

Sep 02

A Taste of Mexico

By From the Heart | Catholic Culture

Summers are a busy time of year for everybody, and that also includes seminarians. Whether we are working a job for the summer, helping out with Totus Tuus and Vocations Camps, or serving patients in hospital ministry, we definitely keep busy. This summer in particular, Patrick Hoeft, Brady Keller, David Trout, and I (Tom Skaja) were in Mexico. We spent eight weeks in Queretaro, a city two hours north of Mexico City. My hope is that this blog post will give you a taste of what our summer was like, especially in looking at our experiences and travels.

We landed in Queretaro on Sunday, June 3rd, and moved into our host family’s home. It was a simple home, but we had everything we needed. There were two seminarians per home, and my “familia” spoke little to no English. I am very grateful that my abuelita (grandmother) was such a phenomenal cook, for she would make all sorts of excellent Mexican food, from tasty guacamole to scrumptious quesadillas. Speaking of food, the meal times took me a while to get used to. Breakfast was usually from 6-7am, lunch (the main meal of the day) was from 2-3pm, and there was a light supper around 9pm. It took a few weeks to adjust to these times when we arrived, and a few weeks to adjust back to the Minnesota eating schedule when we returned.

The first day after we arrived, we began our classes in a small language learning school located in the historic section of town. We began classes at 8am, and had one-on-one tutoring sessions with our teachers until about 2pm, Monday through Friday. Needless to say, I now know what Spanish immersion is all about, because we went from speaking English to total Spanish literally overnight! If there was ever a question about a certain vocabulary word or concept, for example, the teacher would respond to us only Spanish. In class, we focused on grammar, conversation, and practice, which included meeting strangers on the street or in reading the Lectionary and parts of the Mass in Spanish. We all improved over the two months in Mexico, and now the challenge is to keep studying so it doesn’t slip from our minds.

In our time in Mexico, there were many opportunities for travel. We traveled to the town of Bernal one weekend, and at the center of this small town is the monolith “La Peña.” Fun fact: a monolith is basically a giant rock that comes straight out of the ground, almost forming a column. This particular monolith is said to be the third largest in the world. We only made it about half the way up or so because of the steepness… we thought it would be wise to turn around at the small shrine to St. Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes. We also visited the Pyramids of Teotihuacan, where the ancient Pyramid of the Sun remains to this day. In our travels, we learned a lot about the culture of the Mexican people, and in learning about the culture, it makes it easier to learn the language.

Of all our travels, the journey to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe was my favorite trip. It is located in Mexico City, a city with the population of almost nine million people (more people than the entire state of Minnesota). We stayed with the Missionary of Charity Fathers for a weekend, and it was a great weekend to slow down from the hustle and bustle of the summer in order to rest at this wonderful place. The original “tilma” of St. Juan Diego looks remarkable… especially considering that it is almost 500 years old. One thing that struck me about this visit was a short sentence that the Virgin Mary told to St. Juan Diego: “No estoy aqui yo, que soy tu madre?” In English, this translates to, “Am I not here, I who am your Mother?” In all of our struggles, it is easy to forget about our Mother, how she is always present and ready to come to our aid. On a larger level, especially in regard to the current scandals in the Church, Mary is telling each one of us, the laity and the clergy, “Am I not here, I who am your Mother?” It might be helpful to write this expression on a Post-It note, and to stick it some place seen often. She is always here to intercede for us as our Mother, to lead us closer to the heart of her Son, Jesus.

Our trip to Mexico was a fruitful one, and I am thankful for the opportunity to have been able to study down there for two months. With that said, we were all happy to arrive back to central Minnesota. I missed the lakes, woods, peace and quiet, and the family farm, and not to mention Mom’s home cooking. As I conclude, I would humbly ask for your prayers as we seminarians begin another year of formation, that we might become men on fire with the love of Jesus and His people. Thank you for all of your prayers and support.

Tom Skaja is a seminarian studying for the priesthood at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Tom is the son of Mike and Kim Skaja and is a member of Annunciation Parish in Mayhew Lake.

Aug 21

Surprised by God, a vocation story

By From the Heart | Catholic Culture

Have you ever been surprised? I have…sometimes by joy, sometimes by grief. Among life’s unexpected happenings, being surprised by God has opened me to experiences and perspectives I could have never even imagined. Here are a few musings from my journey of discernment, seeking peace and purpose in my life.

Born in Forest Lake, Minnesota, I was the eldest of six children. My love for nature was nurtured by growing up on a farm; I especially loved working with horses who taught me much about relationships. My ability to work collaboratively with others was strengthened by participating in 4-H. As I grew into adulthood, my assumption that I would get married, have children, and become a veterinarian or an engineer did not happen!

Instead, in college the Franciscan friars at Steubenville, Ohio, inspired me by their joy and authentic Gospel witness. At the friars’ invitation, I became a Secular Franciscan and later helped begin a new fraternity of enthusiastic young adults in Minneapolis/St. Paul. We were committed to common prayer and service among those who were poor and marginalized; still, I yearned for a more intensive shared life, prayer, and ministry. I was haunted by a relentless restlessness, a hunger for something more.

In time, I discovered that what I had resisted for so long (religious life) was actually what I wanted with all my heart! When that became clear, I responded and became a Franciscan Sister of Little Falls. Now 31 years later, I am grateful for communal living, seeking to live in communion with God and fostering community wherever we are. In religious life we, together with Associates, friends and partners in ministry, and whomever we live and work among, share in a collective quest for God, and seek to foster right relationships with others and with the gift of creation. I love it! This is worth living for!

Hawaiian Luau celebration with Franciscan Community Volunteers, Companions and Sisters at Welcoming House

My service over the years has ranged from parish ministry in Fargo, North Dakota to accompaniment in a barrio of Managua, Nicaragua, and from parishes/retreat centers in the Bay Area of California to our Sister Community (the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph) in the Homa Bay Diocese in Kenya. Currently I serve through our community’s Franciscan Life Center and Companioning Ministry, and am part of the Franciscan Community Volunteers program in St. Cloud. What a blessing to live in an inter-generational community of Franciscan Sisters and young adult men and women—all of us committed to spiritual growth, communal living and service!

Indeed, life is an adventure in ongoing conversion as we turn anew to God and to our neighbors. We are invited each day to deepen our spiritual lives, increase our capacity for mutual relationships, and give ourselves in service through life’s challenges and joys. From the earliest biography of Saint Francis of Assisi we hear:

Living within himself and walking in the breadth of his heart, [Francis] prepared in himself a worthy dwelling place of God. (1 Celano 43).

So may each of us prepare within ourselves “a worthy dwelling place of God”, risking to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit in our lives!

Sister Michelle L’Allier is a Franciscan Sister of Little Falls who writes from the Franciscan Welcoming House in St. Cloud where she lives in a mixed community of Sisters and young adult Franciscan Community Volunteers. Currently she serves at the Franciscan Life Center based out of Little Falls by offering retreats, workshops and spiritual direction, as well as in Companioning Ministry as she accompanies persons in vocational discernment.

Aug 17

Former principal Sister Adela Gross has lived an amazing life

By From the Heart | Catholic Culture

This story is written by guest blogger Tom Hintgen, eighth grade student of Sister Adela at OLV in 1961-62.

Former Our Lady of Victory School Principal Sister Adela Gross, known in Fergus Falls as Sister Mary Peter in the 1960s, has fond memories of her service to others. She is 87 and resides at the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls campus.

After leaving Fergus Falls in the late 1960s she served as a missionary in Peru, worked with migrant farm workers in south Texas and other areas and served the Hispanic community in Melrose.

The aforementioned would deserve praise in itself. But it doesn’t stop there for Sister Adela.
From 1991 to 1997 she served with the Catholic Bishops Conference in Washington, D.C., coordinating ministry to people on the move.

“Part of our work included assistance to those who ministered to carnival and circus workers,” said Sister Adela to some OLV parishioners who visited her at her residence in Little Falls on May 5.
“Over the years I’ve been so thankful for the blessings of good health and a satisfying ministry,” she said.

Sister Adela never forgot her years in Fergus Falls at Our Lady of Victory School. She returned for OLV school reunions over the years and has kept in touch with former students and members of the OLV congregation.
Former students at OLV remember Sister Peter bringing her class to the audio-visual room and seeing on TV the launch of astronaut John Glenn on Feb. 20, 1962. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth.
Others recall the annual OLV eighth grade class trip to Duluth.

She always strived to attain more education, and in 1980 completed a Master’s Degree in religious education from Fordham University in New York.
Sister Adela traveled to China and for two weeks she assisted with the Catholic Church ministry in that country.
She never slowed down. Even in her late 70s she continued to minister to Hispanics in and near Melrose. She served close to 200 Hispanic families.

Her duties in Melrose included arranging for priests to celebrate Catholic Mass every week in Spanish, head sacramental preparation and religious instruction, and perform outreach.

On top of that she assisted with translating, helping people with forms and assisted those applying for housing and medical assistance.

She was a nun highly respected all across the Diocese of St. Cloud. In 2000 Sister Adela was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the Office of Migration and Refugee Services in recognition of her service to migrant workers.

Her life has indeed been a life well lived in service to others.

Guest blogger Thomas Hintgen is a semi retired newspaper reporter who writes part-time for area weekly newspapers in Otter Tail County. He previously worked full-time for Fargo Forum, Fergus Falls Daily Journal and Pelican Rapids Press and spent several years in public relations for Otter Tail Power Company. He and his wife Sharon are members of Our Lady of Victory Church in Fergus falls and have two adult sons, Mark and Paul.