AIKEN—A recent trip to Rome in support of vocations may have been more successful than the organizers dared hope.
They hoped the eight young men who went on the Father Kolbe Vocations Pilgrimage would come back with a deeper understanding of what it is to be a Christian disciple, said Father Jeffrey F. Kirby, one of the organizers and diocesan vicar for vocations.
“I told them at the start that we weren’t trying to sign anyone up for the seminary,” Father Kirby said.
But all things are possible. At least one young man said the trip erased his fears and opened his heart to a possible call from the Lord.
Will Connor Frei is a rising senior at Aiken High School and a member of St. Mary Help of Christians Church. He said he has always felt a tugging on his heart, but until this trip, that pull frightened him because he also wants a family.
After meeting the diverse group of seminarians in Rome and other religious in Austria and Poland, he said he is ready to accept the priesthood if that is his calling.
“Priests are some of the happiest people I know because everything they do is for God,” Will Connor said. “The parish is their family.”
The road to Rome started at St. Mary Church with a brainstorming session on how to increase vocations. At that meeting, Father James L. LeBlanc, Father Kirby and Peggy Wertz, principal of St. Mary Help of Christians School, decided to start a vocations club at the school.
Later, during dinner with a visiting priest, a club member suggested that the Father Maximilian Kolbe group visit their namesake’s grave at Auschwitz.
At first it was just a dream, but when Father Kirby found out he was going to school in Rome, they decided to make it reality.
Eight boys, ages 14 to 17, were chosen: Nick Adams, Matthew Ross, Patrick Judd, Will Victor, Aaron Kirby, Mark Tisler, Ian Demass and Will Connor Frei.
The group spent 11 days in Rome, Vienna, Krakow and Auschwitz. Their first sight was the square at St. Peter’s Basilica. Their first event was a celebration of Mass at the Basilica and praying vespers with the seminarians at The Pontifical North American College.
“We wanted to give them lots of opportunities to meet lots of priests and deacons, just to show them all the different personalities of the men,” Wertz said.
Some of the events that stood out for the young men included an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, meeting an Auschwitz survivor, and seeing St. Peter’s bones at the Basilica.
“It was just amazing, seeing Jesus’ best friend, right there,” Will Connor said. “I was so overwhelmed that it was all for St. Peter — a simple fisherman to Jesus’ right-hand man.”
He said the whole trip, especially the four days in Rome, helped bring the history of the church and the stories from the Bible to life.
“It was amazing. There just aren’t enough words to describe it,” he said. “Probably my favorite part of the trip was that it was all centered around God … and it helped me get a deeper relationship with Him.”
The young men kept a blog at Signo Press, where they posted photos and wrote briefly about their days. To read the entries and view photos, visit www.jeffrey-kirby.com/blog.