Discernment series is a success

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Ann and Caine Thomas speak to University of Iowa students during a discernment night at Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City earlier this year.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — When University of Iowa students showed a lack of interest in traditional, gender-based discernment groups, staff and student fellows at Newman Catholic Student Center reevaluated how to reach out to those contemplating God’s call.

Last fall, Newman Center began offering monthly discernment nights on a variety of topics. These events require less commitment and are applicable to different stages of vocational discernment, said student Renee Thomas, whose fellowship includes planning faith formation activities.

The first few events focused on general aspects of discernment, including the universal call to holiness, spiritual gifts and the relationship between discernment and personal desires. In the spring, topics addressed the vocations of marriage, priesthood, religious life, consecrated single life and the diaconate.

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Typically, discernment nights begin with students addressing reflection questions in small groups, Thomas explained. Then, participants gather as a large group to learn more about the topic, either from a video or guest speaker. Students return to their small groups to read Scripture and to reference the Catechism related to the topic and to discuss how to apply those insights to their discernment.

Guest speakers included Brother James from St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana, retired diocesan priest Father Ken Kuntz and Thomas’ parents, Caine and Ann, who have been married for 25 years. About 30 students attended the marriage discernment evening. “I think that we all gained a deeper understanding not only of what marriage looks like, but how the self-gift in marriage, with its accompanying joys and sorrows, is truly sanctifying,” Renee Thomas said.

Student Christina Pagano, a member of the Faith Formation lead team, believes the discernment nights were appealing because they focused on everyday discernment. “I think oftentimes people do not really understand what discernment means, and this year our goal was to break down the word and make it easier for students to understand how to utilize the tools of discernment throughout life, no matter your vocation.”

Student and Faith Formation lead team member Kolbe Schnoebelen said he appreciated the discussions on priesthood and religious life. “I was intrigued by Father Ken Kuntz’ testimony about his discernment… he described how living out his vocation has led him to experience a great level of joy, which is something I took to heart.”

Christine Wissink, director of outreach and education, believes the “named, organized and consistent” nature of the discernment nights contributed to their success. Newman Center also offers a priest discernment group.

Schnoebelen believes it’s easy for college students to get wrapped up in selfish desires and leave God out of the discernment conversation. “However, God has a plan for us and his plan will bring us a level of joy that we never thought was possible if we open our hearts and listen to his voice. … God is calling us to do great things, and we can’t answer his call if we do not comprehend the fullness of each vocation.”


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