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  • Writer's pictureAugustinian Vocations

How to Support Young People as They Begin School

On Friday, August 19, our Vocations Director, Father Tom McCarthy, O.S.A., was interviewed on Relevant Radio's Morning Air program. Click the play button above or read the text below to explore the interview: how can you support your children as they start school, at what age should you talk to them about a vocation, how can you build a culture of vocation in your own home ...


Relevant Radio: We begin a brand new school year, so many young people went back to school this week or over the last couple of weeks. For other parts of the country it will come up after Labor Day. When our kids go back to school, what should we do to support what they do, going back to school? Not only their academic studies, but also maybe to put them on a path to a specific vocation. It could be a vocation to the religious life or the priesthood. Let's talk about that now, with Father Tom McCartney, who ... Tom McCarthy, excuse me, who is an experienced teacher and administrator, retreat director. He is an Augustinian Father, and he is based at Villanova University where he is the vocation director for the mid west and eastern provinces of the Augustinians. Good morning Father, welcome back.

Fr. McCarthy: Good morning John, good to be back, thank you.

Relevant Radio: We had such a response the last time that your were on the radio we couldn't wait to get you back on. I'm glad your schedule allows some time for us this morning because our Relevant Radio audience absolutely loved your joy and your faith.

Fr. McCarthy: Thank you.

Relevant Radio: We're very grateful for that. We have something up on our Morning Air Facebook page, as long as we're talking about education, that is getting a lot of traction and a lot of responses. This is a sign that's gone up at a Catholic school in Arkansas. It's a little bit of tough love. It's right on the front door of the school and there's some graphic of a stop sign and it say, "If you're dropping off your son's forgotten lunch, books, homework, equipment, etc., please turn around and exit the building. Your son will learn to problem solve in your absence." The response that we're getting from our Relevant Radio listeners, here is one listener who says, "My kid's Catholic school also have this point of view. There's nothing wrong with teaching responsibility." We've had responses from public school teachers who said, "Gee, we wish we could put those signs up on the front door." Talk about that lesson of responsibility and how we communicate that to our kids, be they in elementary school, middle school or high school.

Fr. McCarthy: Well, I think it's a wonderful sign. I spent 21 years in ministry at Saint Rita High School in Chicago, and I saw that at the high school level. People coming in, parents running in and I think what it does is we can teach our young people that Mom or Dad will always be there. We need to teach them responsibility. I mean we don't leave them hanging out, of course, we know that. We do need to teach them, okay, if one day you don't have your lunch and if you're hungry, guess what? The next day you won't forget your lunch. You know, or you're going to have to learn how to share. Someone will have to share their lunch with you. I do agree whole-hardheartedly that we need to teach and sometimes we are taught best by making a mistake. I agree with that sign. I applaud the school community for doing that.

Relevant Radio: Using that gift of common sense that the Holy Spirit has given all of us. It remains dormant in a lot of us, even when we become big kids.

Fr. McCarthy: Right, right.

Relevant Radio: We just have to keep-

Fr. McCarthy: I'm sure they also receive some complaints from parents who maybe think it's too harsh.

Relevant Radio: What's interesting is among the comments, on our Morning Air Facebook page, is a Mom whose son goes to that school in Arkansas. She's said it's helped take that student body of young people and turned them in, and I'm using her words, "responsible men." She said, "This school is graduating classes of responsible men." Pretty powerful words.

Fr. McCarthy: That's awesome.

Relevant Radio: It really is awesome. Really is awesome. As we talk about getting our kids ready to go back to school, of course there's that anxiousness of the first day of school. Even after summer vacation, even when you're in the fifth grade, sixth grade or you're a junior in high school. At what point in time do I start talking to my sons and daughters about their vocation. Whatever that might be. How do I prepare them for that? To give them that little extra focus as they begin their academic studies for the beginning of a new school year Father Tom?

Fr. McCarthy: Well, from the studies that I've read, wonderful groups of Catholics that have done studies on when do we start talking. The best I heard was sixth grade. Now, I think sixth grade is when we start. I think I can remember when I was in sixth grade and I was in the Catholic school and Sister Catherine came in and asked all of us, "How many want to be a priest?" It was just the boys. The girls were in another room. I don't know what they were asked. I think half of the class raised their hand. I remember that. How many years ago was that? I'm 51 years old, so that was a long time ago but I remember that. I remember that somebody asked me. Got me thinking.

I think that is key for vocation ...I'm talking about all our vocations. Whatever God's calling us to. We have to ask. I think we do it, age appropriateness. Start with young people. "Hey, one day, you're going to be a Mommy. You're going to be a Daddy. You might be a priest. You might be a Sister. You might be a Brother." You know, "You might be a wonderful lay person like your Aunt who does great things." As long as we keep talking about this and especially age appropriateness, that's where we get young people thinking. Not just, "What do you want to be? Do you want to be an astronaut, you want to be a fireman." What about how Jesus is calling you?

I think in our prayer and our families and our schools to just constantly be talking about it. Our prayers of the faithful at Mass. Do we include prayers for our young people? Do we include prayer asking them and asking God to help them be open? You know, open their hearts. They're hearing it from the secular society in so many ways.

I think we as Catholics need to constantly, not beat people up, but have it become so natural. I like to talk about it as a vocation culture. A culture of vocations. That it's just normal. When a young person says, "You know, I think I am thinking about being a priest." Or a Brother, or Sister, or Deacon, a lay minister. Nobody's saying, "Oh my goodness, where did that come from?" It's just normal. They're saying, "Oh wow, that's wonderful. How can we support you?"

Relevant Radio: It's just like breathing, it just becomes a part of who you are.

Fr. McCarthy: Absolutely.

Relevant Radio: In doing that, those witnesses, Father Tom, that happen in our families, that is great. I hate using this word, counterculture, because I really believe we are setting the culture as more of us just stand up and say, "We are Catholic" here in the United States of America. That's my particular bent on that thing. The counterculture in the context of this conversation is the secular media, social media and all of those other external stimuli that is telling a young man or a young woman, "Ooo, come over here to the next shiny thing. You'll be rich."

Fr. McCarthy: Right, right. Everything the world says. That was Saint Augustine. He tried everything that the world said would make him happy, and he was miserable because it was shallow.

Relevant Radio: Father. Excuse me Father. I was going to ask, is a better question really instead of asking young people, "What would you like to do when you grow up?" but "How would you like to best help others?" Is that maybe a better question?

Fr. McCarthy: Wow. I like that. Absolutely. In our prayer, what does Jesus want you to do? What is Jesus calling you to do? I really think this culture of just asking, and then age appropriateness. You know, I love when you see the little videos on Twitter or YouTube about you know, a little boy dressing up to say Mass. There's something about the witness. That little boy might not understand everything, but he's being attracted because when his family's going to Mass, he's seeing that priest and he's saying, "I want to be like that." I think in our vocational callings, or when people are choosing what profession or job they might want to do, attraction is so big. If somebody wants to be a firefighter and what do they love? They love when the firetruck is going down the street. They get excited and they say, "I want to be there." Or they're in their classroom with their teacher. They see their teacher teaching and touching the hearts of young people and they say, "I want to do that." Or they're listening to John on the radio saying, "Wow. I want to be like him."

Relevant Radio: Very few people say that, Father. Just so you know. Just to set the record straight because we are dealing in truth here.

Fr. McCarthy: I just think that culture and the culture of vocation is so important. I think at times we can forget that. I was giving a parish mission in Wisconsin. Probably about 8, 9 years ago. I was talking to some young people after Mass, and Mom and Dad were there with 3 of their kids. They were all teenagers. I just said, "Have any of you thought about discerning a vocation?"

Do you know what the Dad said? He said, "It is their duty to discern." I was like, wow. If every parent as part of their vocation realized that it is their duty to help their children discern, I just think that again, it becomes so natural. It's not something that's out there. It's not something that's weird. It's something that's natural.

Especially in our Catholic schools and our religious ed programs. If we did that and we created that so that the young people would encourage their fellow classmates and say, "Hey, I think you'd make a great priest." "Hey, I think you'd make a great Sister." All these things, where it becomes natural. When it's weird, when it's abnormal, that's when it's an uphill struggle. That's why I truly feel the more we talk about this, the more we pray about it, the more we make it on the front burner. How do you want to serve Jesus? How are you being called to help serve others? To talk about the different vocations. I think that's where we get the culture and I think that's where unbelievable things can happen.

Relevant Radio: Father Tom McCarthy is joining us this morning from Philadelphia. He's assigned to Villanova University, he is the vocation director for the Midwest and Eastern provinces of the Augustinians and we're talking about helping your children discern their vocation. Helping them focus, especially now at the beginning of the new school year. We'd like to hear what you do as moms and dads on the Catholic Order of Forester studio line at 877-766-3777. As moms and dads, what's that conversation like with your kids? How do you help your children discern their vocation? What's the dialogue like? What do you talk about? 877-766-3777. Let's share your stories as we continue on Morning Air, right after today's gospel from the 22nd chapter of Matthew on Morning Air on Relevant Radio.

Speaker 3: This is today's gospel reading from the New American Bible.

Speaker 4: Matthew. Chapter 22, verses 34 through 40.

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them a scholar of the law, tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

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Fr. Rocky: People say, "Well, I'm a nice person and God expects is me being a nice person." The Year of Mercy confronts that, I think in the most merciful way says, "Isn't there more to life that just trying to shave our personality and our hearts? Is there something deeper? Deeper encounter?" If we encounter Christ in the sacraments and through the Church's teaching, then we see Christ in the poor. Mother Teresa did that so well for us.

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Relevant Radio: 20 minutes after the hour it's Morning Air on Relevant Radio. It's Friday morning, Msgr. Dan Malconberg joins us from the Diocese of Tulsa. Look ahead to Sunday's Gospel reading. That's coming up this morning on Morning Air on Relevant Radio. Right now, we're focusing on your sons and daughters here at the beginning of the school year. Giving them focus beyond just that academic focus and that spiritual, we're talking about a spiritual focus as well. Talking to them about vocations. When is the age appropriate time to start talking about vocations? Whatever God may be calling them to. Father Tom McCarthy who is an Augustinian priest and the vocation director for the Midwestern and the Eastern provinces of the Augustinians is joining us from his post at Villanova University this morning. We're asking you how you talk about vocations to your kids at 877-766-3777. How do you help your children discern their vocation? Marita is joining us on the south side of Chicago, Father Tom. Good morning Marita, welcome to Morning Air.

Marita: Well, hey how you doing?

Relevant Radio: We're doing great. Love the joy in your voice.

Marita: Oh yeah. Father Tom, it's Marita, you know me.

Relevant Radio: Oh, good morning Marita. How are you?

Marita: I'm great. I was just talking to the producer about what our oldest son Jim and his wife have done with their 8 children and that is to invite the priest over for dinner. To start the conversation. It's very relaxed, it's very natural. The priest is not wearing his vestments, he's just dressed in regular clothes. I think it's a great way to introduce the topic to the children.

Fr. McCarthy: I think it's wonderful.

Relevant Radio: To follow up on Marita's comment, Father Tom, to follow up on Marita's comment. That also helps you as a priest because then you get to see a real family in action so to speak. That's got to help you in your ministry.

Fr. McCarthy: It's certainly does. It's certainly does. It builds up the community all around. I have been in people's homes for many different events, for parties. I've been to Marita's home, I think it's a wonderful thing. Also, I can remember growing up, priests and sisters were in my home, but I never thought of it, Marita. Great job. Great job.

Relevant Radio: Don't we also need to do that to really build community in our parishes as well. Community in most parishes happens Saturday evenings through Sunday evening, but we really have to figure out a way to stretch that through the other 5 to 6 days a week.

Fr. McCarthy: Absolutely. I couldn't agree with it more.

Relevant Radio: Marita, with your son inviting the priest over for dinner and his 8 children, your 8 grandchildren seeing that, what's been the response from the kids?

Fr. McCarthy: They're very comfortable talking about their faith. My son and his wife have done a fabulous job of establishing a Catholic family culture. They celebrate the children's birthdays, but they also celebrate the feast day of the Saints that they've been named for. They celebrate their baptism day. They celebrate the solemnities and they do it with food, they do it with a little party, you know. At Pentecost, they go to the beach. They live in California. They go to the beach and light a bonfire. I mean they do all kinds of things to create the Catholic culture and I think that's super important.

Relevant Radio: That's good. Good point Father Tom, is to create the Catholic culture and have fun doing it at the same time. Very often we divorce fun from Catholic. There's fun with faith, there's food with faith, there's family with faith, there's joy with faith.

Fr. McCarthy: That's right. How many times has Jesus had a party in scripture? How many times is Jesus with people eating and drinking? How did he know people? He knew people because he sat down with them over food and drink and got to know them. He went to their house. Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus come down, I'm coming to your house for dinner.

Relevant Radio: Marita, thank you so much for your witness and give our best to your son and his wife and the 8 kids.

Marita: The 8 kids. Have a great day.

Relevant Radio: Thanks Marita.

Fr. McCarthy: God bless, Marita.

Relevant Radio: As an only child growing up, I remember my dad talking about ... He would always say to follow your heart. I'm saying, "Well, what does that mean Dad?" I think I was probably in about the fifth grade when we started talking about things that I was interested in becoming ... When I became an adult. I said, "What does that mean? How did you know you wanted to become an artist?" He was a commercial artist by profession. He said, "I prayed." That floored me. I was 10 years old. I never heard somebody say that. Especially my dad. My dad was a very faithful man and we practiced our faith with great joy in our family, but to hear that in that kind of intimate conversation with your dad, talking about the rest of your life and he said, "I prayed." He said, "I knew I had this talent, and I knew that God gave it me. I prayed to him to ask, 'How should I use it?'" Wow. Here we are 51 years later, I'm still talking about it.

Fr. McCarthy: I think your Father was a very wise man.

Relevant Radio: He was. You know, they grounded me. My Mom and Dad grounded me in my faith and I always practiced my faith, was very close to my faith. When I was 3, I would put a green blanket around myself. It was ordinary time, Father Tom. I remember when mom and dad moved into their first house, I was 3 years old. Father Bill came over to bless the house and I had the green blanket around me. He said, "Some day, you're going to be my assistant." Well, God had different plans, but here I am. I guess in some way through this conversation, you and I are God's assistants touching a soul like Marita or somebody else.

Fr. McCarthy: Absolutely.

Relevant Radio: John is joining us in Chicago. I just want to get all the calls in before we run out of time this morning. We're talking about how you help your children discern their vocation. John, good morning, welcome to Morning Air with Father Tom McCarthy.

John: Good morning. Good morning Father.

Fr. McCarthy: Morning, John.

John: ... you'd know me if you saw me. We've been together for many years. Old friend at Villanova. What I'd like to maybe get across to the folks is that, maybe the priests should also take they're initiative and say, "I want to be invited to your houses for dinner." I don't think I've ever heard that, but I have had priests talk to me in private and say, "You know, no one ever invites me to dinner." I think a lot of people today are afraid to do that, or just don't even know to do that. That you would be willing to actually come to our homes for dinner. I'd like to shout it out to the priests and religious to say, "You know what folks? Invite us over." It doesn't have to be a meal. Maybe for coffee, just to meet the kids, to play whiffle ball in the back yard. We're here to serve.

Fr. McCarthy: I think that's wonderful, John. Excellent advice.

Relevant Radio: To break down some of those perceived barriers that we have that the priest is sometimes unapproachable. There is again, as we have talked about Father Tom, in inviting a priest over to dinner, not only is there that great witness for your kids and discerning their vocation but they get to see their faith in action in a very human way.

Fr. McCarthy: That's right. We're all real. The way we get to know each other is to be with each other. There's nothing better than food and drink to do it.

Relevant Radio: Right, right. As we talk about helping children discern their vocation, in the 90 seconds we have remaining, let's do a little quick recap Father Tom. How do I start that conversation if I've not had that conversation? I was mentioning when I was 10 years old. 10 or 11, as you said, probably age appropriate to have that conversation about career. How do you start that if you've never had that with your son or daughter?

Fr. McCarthy: I would start with your own vocation as a mom or dad. As a husband or wife. Say, "You know, Mommy, Daddy... I really feel that Jesus called us to this. We just want you to be open as you go on because Jesus is calling you. He will call you and He will lead you somewhere. Wherever that is." Give examples. Use examples of the different people in their lives. Their priests, or their Sisters or their Brothers, the Deacons at church. Say, "Hey, you might be like so-and-so someday. Or how about Aunt Teresa?" Like mine, who was a single woman. Or different people that they know and say, "You might be like that."

Relevant Radio: Sure.

Fr. McCarthy: Be open and let Jesus show you the way. It's very simple.

Relevant Radio: Then also maybe introduce the phrase, "Jesus, I trust in You." That very powerful 4 word prayer. "Jesus, I trust in you."

Fr. McCarthy: Amen.

Relevant Radio: Father Tom McCarthy is the vocation director for the Midwest and Eastern provinces of the Augustinians based at Villanova University, talking about how to have that conversation with your children to help them discern their vocations. Father Tom, thank you. I look forward to our next conversation.

Fr. McCarthy: Thank you John. God bless you.

Relevant Radio: 29 after. This is Morning Air on Relevant Radio.


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