By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — “God wants us to talk with him. It’ll be easier for us to figure out what he wants us to do in our lives,” Father Thom Hennen told students at All Saints Catholic School.
“Through prayer to God, we will know if we are called to be priests, Sisters, teachers or principals.” Prayer can be done anywhere – at home, school or somewhere else. “It’s our conversations with God,” explained the director of vocations during a Catholic Schools Week talk Jan. 30.
Fr. Hennen spoke to students by grade level — kindergarteners through second-graders first, then third- through fifth-graders and sixth- through eighth-graders. He began each talk by introducing himself as the person in charge of recruiting candidates for the priesthood and finding others who want to enter religious life as a Sister or a Brother. But he also helps people discern what God is calling them to do.
He asked the students what they want to be when they grow up. Answers ranged from veterinarians and lawyers to an NFL football player and an archaeologist.
“When I was your age I wanted to be a teacher or lawyer or fighter pilot,” Fr. Hennen said.
When he was in fourth grade, the future priest got glasses, so he knew being a fighter pilot was not in the picture. “You have to have really good vision.”
Then he thought of being an archaeologist like the star in the Indiana Jones movies. But he learned that career choice wasn’t as fun in real life as it was in the movies.
Because he attended public school in Ottumwa, Fr. Hennen attended religious education classes there. “I didn’t get the benefits of Catholic school.” But during preparation for reconciliation in fourth grade, his religious education class toured the church and got to go in the confessionals prior to making their first confession.
“I sat down in the back of the church and thought, ‘I want to become a priest.’”
But he put it out of his mind. In high school he started learning that God has limited him in some of his choices. Being under 5 feet tall entering high school, he figured he would not be a pro-basketball player. He did not excel in math, so he certainly would not be an engineer. But he loved history and geography and was on the debate team doing lots of speaking.
“The thought of priesthood came back to me. I took the next step and tried seminary at St. Ambrose.” He knew he could give it a shot and if he decided it wasn’t his calling, he could change majors and study something else. “It was what God wanted for me.”
Fr. Hennen said he took baby steps on his journey to the priesthood.
He encouraged the students to figure out what God is calling them to do. It’s not always crystal clear, he noted. Ask, “What does God want me to do.” And the answer is to pray.
One student asked him when he knew for sure that he wanted to be a priest. “It wasn’t until the bishop put his hands on my head during ordination,” Fr. Hennen said.
Another student asked if Fr. Hennen was scared when he was studying to be a priest. “Yes.” He said everyone has fears especially when they start college. “Fear is not always bad.” He noted that people need to overcome their fears in order to grow.
Another student asked if he liked being a priest when he first tried it out. “Yes! And I still do.” He said there are parts of the job he likes and there are parts that are difficult. “But that’s part of life.”