Local News

Annual vocations camp seeks to foster relationships, encourage discernment

By Katrina Genereux/Staff Writer, OND

Fosston, Minn. –  Fifteen young men from across the diocese attended this year’s Esto Vir Vocations Camp held at Sand Hill Lake Bible Camp near Fosston, Minn., Aug. 8-10.

Each day they participated in Mass, a holy hour, heard a conference and testimony and had time for recreation. Attendees also had the opportunity to sign up to go for a walk and have the opportunity to speak to a priest about anything the conferences stirred up.

“I was just really encouraged by the openness of the young men that were there and their desire and willingness to grow deeper,” said Father Matt Schmitz, Promoter of Vocations for the Diocese of Crookston. Father Schmitz was ordained in June and serves as parochial vicar of Sacred Heart, East Grand Forks; St. Francis, Fisher; and Holy Trinity, Tabor.

He led the camp, assisted by diocesan seminarians Samuel Hurst, John Wilebski, Solomon Liebl and Deacon Nathan Brunn.

Deacon Brunn presided at the daily holy hours and offered reflections before a time of silence.

“The guys have been able to spend some time in personal prayer just listening and asking what the Lord wants of them,” he said. “We have been celebrating the Mass everyday but also having intentional time of conversation from the seminarians with the guys who are here just spending time one-on-one and hanging out.”

Each day, Father Schmitz gave a presentation followed by time for questions. The first one focused on prayer, listening and vocation.

“A vocation is a call, especially when it comes to marriage, priesthood and religious life. All of those involve permanent commitments and it’s for the good of another,” said Father Schmitz. “My line to the guys was that your vocation is not about you. It’s about another person. As a husband and father, it’s about your spouse and children and growing in holiness together. As a priest, it’s about the people in your parish you’re called to serve. It’s not primarily about you. Our happiness comes from giving of ourselves to that vocation and giving of ourselves to another.”

He shared three different levels of vocation. The base is the call to holiness.

“All of us are called to holiness and that comes through having a relationship with God and so prayer and listening and spending time in silence so we can hear the voice of God in our hearts. That has to be the ground work,” Father Schmitz said.

The second level is the state in life – married, priesthood, religious life, generous single life. The final level is occupation.

The second conference focused on discernment and how to hear God’s voice after developing a life of prayer.

Father Schmitz said discernment is all about small decisions and acting on those decisions, then testing the result.

“I get a sense of where God is calling me, then I have to take courage and then I have to take a step in that direction,” he said. “We can’t discern just in our heads without taking a step.”

Some steps he suggested for those discerning a vocation to the priesthood include visiting a seminary or speaking to a trusted pastor or friend.

“From there, if we see there’s peace, if there’s joy, if there’s love there within the midst of the fear we experience … that’s a sign of God’s presence and can be seen as God’s affirmation of that step,” Father Schmitz said.

Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner celebrated Mass with attendees on Aug. 9. He encouraged the young men during his homily, saying, “As you discern, it is about the love of Jesus and persistence in prayer … whatever vocation you settle on as you work with Jesus, it will be right for you, it will be right for God.”

Esto Vir began seven years ago as an opportunity for men age 16 and older with an openness to the priesthood to come together with seminarians of the diocese.

“Our thought behind that is that when you begin the discernment process and when the call to the priesthood tends to come, it helps to have someone else who has gone through that before that you’re able to reach out to,” Father Schmitz said.

Mark Miller, a diocesan seminarian, was not able to be at this year’s camp, but attended his first Esto Vir when he was 16 years old. He said before attending Esto Vir he considered seminarians to be “aliens” or not normal people.

“When I went to Esto Vir the first time and I saw that they were normal guys who enjoyed all different types of things including sports, it opened my eyes to the possibility of the priesthood,” he said.

He met Father Schmitz and others who were available to talk with him about many things, including his discernment. Attending Esto Vir also connected him with diocesan events, such as St. John Paul II Middle School Camp.

Miller said attending these camps and different events allowed him to build relationships and be surrounded by other young people pursuing holiness.

“I continually went to Esto Vir and was attracted to the examples that a lot of the seminarians showed and that encouraged me to be more open to the thought of the seminary,” he said. “Ultimately it helped me decide to go to the University of Mary … where I accepted that vocation.”

Father Schmitz plans to take a group of men to a Come and See weekend at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona on the weekend of November 11-13. Anyone interested in attending the weekend, or speaking to Father Schmitz about the priesthood can contact him at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or by calling 218-773-0877.