Father John Moneypenny first recognized his calling for the priesthood in the third grade.
Born and raised in Orange County, Moneypenny says his parents were involved in the ministry at their parish and at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Costa Mesa, where his interest in the vocation was nurtured.
“My experience there was where the seed of vocation was planted,” says Moneypenny, who became vocations director for the Diocese of Orange in 2012. “Seeing the priests at the parish and [retired principal] Sister Mary Vianney—they were an influence on me to think about the priesthood. And my mother, being a nurse, also brought that spirit of giving and service to me.”
For parents, practicing the faith can be the biggest tool in recognizing and understanding their children’s calling in life, whether it’s taking on a bigger role in spreading the faith or entering a life of vocation.
“Parents have to be involved in their faith, to be regularly participating in life in the parish community,” Moneypenny says. “I think it’s really showing by example. Faith is important. It’s not just something you do on Sundays, where we do it for an hour a week and put it back on the shelf. Faith is an integral part of who we are and we should be involved in it every day by being involved in our parish. If they are involved in the ministry, that sets an example for children. It tells them, ‘It’s OK for me to live my faith beyond just merely sitting in the pews.’”
In Catholic schools, children are encouraged to participate in religious events throughout the year and they are often asked to step up in roles of leadership, whether it’s talking in front of people or using their talents in other ways.
Parents can nurture that by pinpointing those attributes that would best serve God, Moneypenny says.
“It’s finding their own skillset in the context of their faith and encouraging their talents and their strengths in that context,” he says.
Around the fourth grade, there is a day of prayer on vocation where children are invited to spend time with nuns and priests and ask them about their vocation, he added.
“It’s planting the seed of vocation in children,” Moneypenny says.
Middle school is also a prime time for parents to talk to their children about their future, says Sister Kit Gray.
“Like so many other things in child development, talk to your children, point out things and ask questions,” says Gray, who first found her calling for the sisterhood in middle school, where she met teachers that would inspire her decision to lead a vocational life.
Sr. Gray, who credited her parents’ involvement in the faith to her religious life, also suggested that parents read books to children about heroes and heroines and people in the church, so they can see people’s different paths and encourage a conversation about vocation.
Ultimately, how parents approach faith is how children will determine their faith future, Sr. Gray says.
“Parents ought to have a deep sense that our baptism calls us to be holy and to give service,” she says. “We are part of this body of Christ, part of this family of God, and what they do is help our world and our church and others. God has given us unique gifts to do that. It’s fostering that in themselves.”