Members from 15 different religious orders “rapped” about how much they loved Jesus in front of nearly 500 sixth-grade Catholic school students from the San Gabriel Region during a rally at the inaugural Focus 11 Vocation Day. The event was held Feb. 7 at St. Therese Church in conjunction with the Carmelite Sisters’ St. Joseph Center in Alhambra.

Sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Vocations and the Department of Catholic Schools, the rally kicking off the first Focus 11 was intended to help open students’ hearts and minds to vocations with a mix of fun and enthusiasm. Father Samuel Ward, associate director of Vocations, rapped, “My name is Father Sam and my rapping is atrocious, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

The St. Joseph Center erupted with laughter.

The jovial sixth-graders were the focus of the vocation day activities. Research indicates that most children are especially open to a priestly or religious calling at 11 years of age or in 11th grade.

“It is never too early to sow the seeds of a priestly or religious vocation in our students and to foster a new culture of vocations in the Church,” said Father Ward.

Members of NET (National Evangelization Teams) Ministries, young adults who teach youth ministry to high school students, taught the priests and religious how to rap for the opening rally and a skit that they presented before adoration. WAL — also known as We Are Loved, a music group led by brothers Matthew Leon and Michael Paul Leon — performed uplifting worship music.

“It was great for the students to see that there are exciting and rewarding ministries available for young adults to serve in the Church,” said Father Ward.

Father Jon Meyer, associate pastor at St. John the Baptist Church in Baldwin Park, and Sister Joanna Strouse, vocations director for the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, were the emcees for the day and presented most of the opening remarks.

Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell, episcopal vicar for the San Gabriel Pastoral Region, celebrated Mass with the youths, and recounted his own calling to the priesthood during his homily. Growing up on a small farm in Ireland, Bishop O’Connell had to walk to school in a village three miles away. He frequently got jumped. For help, he prayed the rosary as he walked to and from school.

“It was Mary that put into my heart to be a priest even though I was getting into trouble all of the time,” said Bishop O’Connell.

Bishop O’Connell shared with the children that he has “loved being a priest.” He encouraged the sixth-graders to get into a “relationship with Jesus and a friendship with Mary.”

“You need to discern what Jesus wants for you to have a blessed life,” said Bishop O’Connell. 

Following Mass, members of priestly and religious orders set up booths providing information about their orders for the students. Sister Strouse created a passport book for the students to take with them as they went from booth to booth. Each child received a sticker for every question they asked at the booths. Questions ranged from, “When did you enter your religious order?” to “Do you play a musical instrument?”

“It’s cool we get to come here. I learned more about vocations and I didn’t really know about them before,” said David Mendoza, who is in sixth grade at San Gabriel Mission. 

Students had another chance to interact with and get to know priests and religious during the vocations panel. During the question-and-answer session, novices, seminarians, priests and sisters answered questions asked by the grade-schoolers. 

“I learned about the different vocations and how they learned how they wanted to be a priest or a sister. I was inspired,” said Janna Yap, who is a sixth-grader at St. Andrews School.  

Focus 11 ended with a Holy Hour at St. Therese Church. Students took home with them the knowledge that there are many callings in life, from being single to married to religious life.

“This is like a new Pentecost. They all look so inspired and energetic. They truly look open to the Holy Spirit,” said Sister Madonna-Joseph, who is a Carmelite Sister.