Around 50 teens, chaperones, priests and seminarians piled into a school bus and cruised around the diocese on Aug. 6, the feast of the Transfiguration. Organized by the diocesan Office of Youth Ministry, the Transfiguration Tour took them to seven historic churches in the greater Fort Wayne area.
At the beginning of the tour John Pratt, director of Youth Ministry, explained that the goal of the tour was to encourage a lifelong process of vocational discernment. Along the way, Father Tom Shoemaker and Vicki Lortie gave testimonies of how they found their vocations. Pratt, inspired by Pope Francis, asked the teens to utilize the restlessness they feel in their hearts to actively seek a vocation that allows them to make a gift of self every day.
Propelled by that restlessness and a desire for self-gift, the tour commenced at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne, where the participants were immediately drawn to the ornate, dark-wood high altar of the cathedral. As they genuflected and approached the altar, the guides explained that many years ago this would not have been possible because previously, a marble rail prevented anyone from walking up to the altar. However, the rail has been removed, and its remnants can be seen to the far right of the altar and around the baptismal font.
After ascending to the altar, the teens then descended into the cathedral crypt. The bodies of many diocesan bishops lie here, including Bishop John H. Luers, Bishop Joseph G. Dwenger, Archbishop John F. Knoll and Bishop John M. D’Arcy. Interestingly, the bishops are not the only ones laid to rest down there: Immediately next to the crypt is a Native American burial site. The diocese agreed to not disturb this historically important site during the construction of the cathedral.
One block away from the cathedral is the Cathedral Museum, located in the Archbishop Noll Catholic Center. Here the group was greeted by Father Phillip Widmann, who invited them to wander the museum and its countless items that illustrate the history of the diocese and entire Catholic Church. Father Widmann made special note of a bowl dated to the time of Abraham and a relic of the True Cross. Two students approached the most holy relic, one asking the other in awe, “Can you believe Jesus died on this piece of wood?”
From the museum, the group was driven a few minutes south to St. Peter Church. Father Widmann, former pastor of the parish, met the group to provide the church’s history. He mentioned that Bishop D’Arcy had said it was the most beautiful church in the diocese. With all the lights of the high altar illuminated, one can easily understand Bishop D’Arcy’s amazement.
While the group toured St. Peter, organ music played in the background. Not until climbing the stairs up to the choir loft did the teens realize it was being played live, by an organist who has been with the parish for 58 years.
Leaving the city limits, the tour’s next stop was St. Louis, Besancon in New Haven. Surrounded by cornfields, the church’s campus was beautiful, complete with a flower garden. Father Ben Muhlenkamp greeted the group and laid out a few of his unique Roman-style vestments. He explained that his mom is a great seamstress and “loves him too much,” which has resulted in his ample collection. Father Muhlenkamp also told the group that the church rarely has to pay for flowers, because they are either provided by the parishioners or come from the church’s garden. The teens indicated that they could sense the feeling of community.
The next stop was lunch at St. Rose of Lima in Monroeville. Over turkey sandwiches, Father Shoemaker told of his journey from being a dentist to becoming a priest. Although by age 27 he was a successful dentist, Father Shoemaker said he kept wondering if “there is anything bigger out there.” Eventually he applied to the seminary and realized the answer to his wonderings was, “Yes!” Now the pastor at St. Charles Borromeo, Father Shoemaker still maintains his dental license. What Father said he hoped the teens would take away from his testimony is that the Holy Spirit can call one to a vocation at any age, “so do not stop listening.”
Another vocation talk was held at the next church, St. Mary of the Assumption in Decatur. Lortie, who is the youth minister at St. Jude, detailed how she took on many different roles, from teacher to mother and back to teacher, and finally to youth minister. Particularly inspired by a prayer of Bishop D’Arcy’s, Lortie never stopped discerning her vocation, demonstrating the lifelong processes that vocational discernment is meant to be.
Lortie also provided the group with an interesting fact about the St. Mary of the Assumption: that in the mural behind the altar there is a diamond in Mary’s collar. Small, yet beautiful, features like this are what make each of the churches in the diocese so uniquely beautiful and precious.
The final two stops of the Transfiguration Tour were St. Aloysius in Yoder and St. Joseph – Hessen Cassel, Fort Wayne. At St. Joseph – Hessen Cassel, the group celebrated Mass, which was followed by a family-style cookout and yard games. The day concluded with a vocations panel consisting of priests, seminarians, ministers and lay people. The teens wrote down their vocation-related questions on note cards, which panel members answered before the group. As with Father Shoemaker and Lortie, a major theme that emerged was that God can communicate one’s vocation at any time in life, be that high school or, perhaps, once one is already a practicing dentist.
Ending the day with restless hearts but not-so-restless legs, after touring seven churches, the teens left the Transfiguration Tour inspired to hear God’s call for their lives.
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