Vocation-themed bus trip provides glimpse of diocese, builds bonds of brotherhood
Seventeen churches. 16 campers. Five chaperones. Three days. One bus.
A lot can happen when 16 young men in grades seven through 12 board a bus to tour churches around the diocese as part of a vocation camp experience.
When they first boarded the bus early the morning of June 18, no one really wanted to talk to each other, said chaperone Kevin Soenneker, who attends St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul. But by the end of the first day, bonds had already formed.
“That was one thing I reflected on — how we are all brothers and sisters in Christ,” Soenneker said. “Despite our differences, we learned we have a lot more in common. Through conversation and spending time together, that really shone through — the commonality we have as brothers.”
Earlier this summer, Jack Tyrrell, 16, and his dad were talking about how cool it would be if the diocese offered a tour of its churches.
Just a couple days after their conversation, Father Doug Liebsch called the Tyrrells and told them about the “Faith of Our Fathers” bus tour hosted by the diocesan Vocation Office.
“I was like, ‘I better go.’ I really wanted to do this,” Jack said.
Tyrrell first met Father Liebsch when he was serving as a transitional deacon at their parish, Sacred Heart in Staples, before he was ordained to the priesthood in 2016. Father Liebsch has been serving as associate pastor at St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Augustine Parish in St. Cloud since his ordination. He has been re-assigned as the associate vocation director for the diocese as well as the chaplain for Cathedral High School beginning June 28.
The bus tour, planned by the current associate vocation director, Father Ben Kociemba, stopped at numerous churches including Belle Prairie, the first parish in the diocese, as well as places of significance like the Crosier Priory in Onamia and St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville.
Camper Andrew Mead, a junior who is homeschooled and attends Immaculate Conception Parish in St. Anna, said St. John Church in Meire Grove was probably his favorite stop on the tour.
“The way that it looks like it is all gold in the front, it reminds you of heaven. And they have a lot of angels,” he said. “Seeing all the different churches, the differences between how the Irish, German, Slovak and Polish people have built their churches, they are all really unique. It’s really cool to see the different styles and sizes.”
Mead has attended several vocation camps in the past, including those hosted at his family’s home for 10 years. The tour included a lunch stop at the Meads’ home in Avon. Mead hopes one day to be a chaperone on a future tour.
Father Liebsch said it was exciting to see the enthusiasm of the youth growing throughout the tour.
“It was fun to hear their comments going from being bored to being excited about what the next church would be like. It was a real testament to see them realize that yes, we can pray anywhere but when churches are built so beautifully, it really does help us pray well and draws our attention to the altar,” Father Liebsch said. “It was good for me to reflect on that, too.”
As a former athlete, Father Liebsch also enjoyed the opportunity for games like kickball and swimming.
“One of the other aspects of the tour that has been good for the kids is that they not only get exposed to the churches in the diocese, but also to the priests who serve in them. It does broaden their view of the priesthood,” he said.
For Tyrrell, the tour has been another step in his own discernment. Even before the tour, he had been considering the possibility of entering the seminary after high school. He said this was another way God was speaking to him.
“In the public school, I don’t get to see a lot of kids who have the same passion for their faith as me. Now on this tour, I have gotten to see kids who have more [passion] than me and are more holy than me. It’s just really inspiring,” Tyrrell said.
“I came here not knowing anyone and now I know mostly everyone,” he added. “I also know more of the churches, more about the diocese and I have a deeper love for God.”
One additional vocation camp will take place at Sand Dune State Forest Lakeview Camp July 9-11. For more information or to register, visit http://vocations.stcdio.org/vocations-camps.