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22 Gather for St. Andrew Task Force Retreat


Twenty-two high school men from around the diocese gathered at St. Mary Cathedral School in January for the annual St. Andrew Task Force Retreat. The theme for this year’s weekend was “Nothing but Net,” using a popular sports phrase to encourage the young men to focus on goals that lead to lasting happiness.

Fr. Don Geyman, Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Gaylord, welcomed the group and led the opening prayer. He also offered the first presentation noting that everyone has a common goal in life – happiness. Reflecting upon scriptures 1 Corinthians and John, Fr. Don explained that love is not simply an emotion, but a choice to offer oneself for others. “Jesus taught that the greatest love is to lay down our lives for others,” Fr. Don said. “We do that in many ways, according to our particular vocation. Husbands, parents, priests and others lay down their lives in heroic ways each day.” He encouraged participants to choose goals that will lead to lasting happiness, which can only be found through truly loving others.

Fr. Gerald Okoli, one of the newest priests ordained for the Diocese of Gaylord, shared his personal vocations story during a talk on Saturday. He compared himself to Jonah of the Old Testament, who initially ran away from God’s call. Fr. Gerald first sensed a calling in his native Nigeria, and entered seminary. He withdrew from seminary and pursued other studies in Europe and the United States, but realized he was not happy. He decided that he “could not keep running away from God.” By God’s grace, he was ordained a priest for our diocese just last year.

Fr. Gerald also encouraged the young men to never stop praying. He carries a card in his wallet “prayer is the key.” He also advised them to have a spiritual director or advisor with whom they can discuss their goals in life. Fr. Gerald concluded his talk asking the young men to “be sure to appreciate the great blessings we have in this country, and use them to do great things.”

Dr. John Olesnavage, who assists Fr. Don is leading the Vocations Advisory Committee and has worked as a consultant for the diocese for many year, spoke as a father, grandfather, husband and counselor. He spoke about the need for young men to find their “voice” in the world. Dr. John noted that “St. Joseph is the model for husbands and fathers, yet we have no words of his in scripture. He found his voice in his actions, protecting and caring for his family in carrying out God’s plan in Christ Jesus.” He added that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, regained his voice only when he acknowledged God’s plan for him as a father. “Many men do not have a real voice today because they are not living out the heroic love to which God calls them,” Dr. John said. “We only find our true voice when we are in tune with God’s plan.”

Bishop Hebda joined the retreat to spend both some informal time with the young men as well as offer his own insights. He encouraged the young men to “think about what part God wants you to play in the Body of Christ.” To do so requires listening to God, he said, and growing in a life of prayer as we discern our particular gifts. Bishop Hebda reminded the young men that “if we are generous in offering our gifts to God, God will be even more generous with us in spiritual blessings because God cannot be outdone in generosity.”

The bishop also offered a time of open forum in which he fielded questions from the retreatants. He also celebrated Mass with the young men and their families on Sunday morning.

In addition to the great talks, fellowship, sports and food, a special highlight of the weekend was to pray with St. Mary Cathedral parishioners and guests at Mass on Saturday evening and attend the inaugural Vocations Recognition Dinner.

For the first time, the retreat concluded with a breakfast for both the retreatants and their family members. Participants were also given t-shirts created and provided by Vocations Advisory Committee members Bernie and Pat Gallagher. The Gallaghers are also parents of Fr. Daniel Gallagher, a priest of the Diocese of Gaylord, who is currently serving in the Latin Section of the Secretariat of State at the Vatican.

“I am very grateful to all the members Vocations Advisory Committee for the work they did for this weekend,” Fr. Don added. “These retreats, in fact many of our vocations efforts, would not happen without their efforts and the support of so many others in the diocese.”

Meals, chaperoning and activities were cared for by Kim Machurski, Chris Panetta, Peggy LeBlanc, Bill and June Brown, Ken Arndt, Ben Hahnenberg, Todd Zielinski, Dr. John Olesnavage and Fr. Don Geyman. Seminarians Michael Wigton, Chris Jarvis, Tyler Bischoff, Will MacMaster, Sean Farkas and Chet Collins also joined the young men to lead prayers and activities.

The retreat is funded in part through gifts to the annual Catholic Services Appeal. The next retreat is being planned for junior high school boys and is scheduled for June 10-12 in Harbor Springs. On that same weekend Seminarians Joseph Ortega and Peter Wigton will be ordained transitional deacons in Petoskey and Cedar, respectively.

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