When Mary and Joseph McHale were told that their six-month old baby boy had spinal muscular atrophy and three months to live, their fellow parishioners at St. Joan of Arc Church in San Ramon had an answer: prayer.
Danny, a freshman at Monte Vista High School in Danville, is a big sports fan — so much so, he dressed as the World Series float for Halloween. He's a bright student — algebra is his favorite subject. Danny's friends help his family with an annual fundraiser to raise money to find a cure. The McHales' annual fundraiser, Concert for a Cure, has raised $1.3 million for research. The next concert is May 9 at the Diablo Country Club. (See www.concertforacure.org for details.)
"God gave us this so we could change the world for everyone else," said Mary McHale.
Danny and Robby McHale were among the more than 60 altar servers honored at the 2014 Bishop's Vocation and Priest Recognition Dinner sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. The dinner, at Carondelet High School in Concord on Nov. 15, drew more than 600 guests who showed their support for diocesan priests, seminarians and altar servers, as well as religious order seminarians, sisters and brothers.
The knights raised $12,000 at the dinner, bringing their total collected for support of vocations this year to close to $40,000.
Danny McHale received the inspirational leadership award from the Knights of Columbus.
Pastoral excellence awards were presented to Rev. Ishmael Gutierrez, parochial administrator of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Concord; Rev. Robert Rien, parochial administrator of St. Ignatius of Antioch Church in Antioch; and Rev. Mark Wiesner, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Livermore.
The diocesan seminarians were recognized, with special applause to Deacon Peter Tu Nguyen, who had been ordained to the transitional deaconate earlier in the day.
Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, gave a special word of thanks to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who gave the use of their Garaventa Center for the dinner. The sisters, he said, even played a role in his own vocation. He noted that his grandmother and his mother had been educated by the sisters at Star of the Sea School in San Francisco.
"Those sisters taught my grandmother and mother the faith, and they taught it to me," he said.
In his invocation, the bishop prayed: "If there are any young people you want to follow you more closely in the life as a sister, brother or priest, open their hearts to respond."
Rev. Neal Clemens, director of vocations, reported that 21 men are studying for the priesthood. Ten of them are at St. Patrick's Seminary and University in Menlo Park; five are in the pastoral year program, serving in parishes throughout the diocese. The others are studying in Rome, Mexico, Oregon and at Ohlone College in Fremont.
In addition, Father Clemens said, five men are in the inquiry phase.
In addition to praying for vocations, Father Clemens entreated the gathering to develop vocations by encouraging young people to consider if they have calling.
"I do not regret a minute of it," Father Gutierrez said of his vocation. He was ordained in 2004. "It is making my life meaningful."
He recalled that, as a child, "No one invited me to be an altar server."
It's different today at St. Francis of Assisi, where Father Gutierrez is known for inviting both students at the parish school to participate as altar servers, as well as young people from the parish. "Now I say, 'What an opportunity,'" he said.
Father Rien, who is celebrating 40 years as a priest, said, "If I were given the choice to do it all over again," he would.
He thanked "the families who taught me what it means to be a priest."
Father Wiesner told the audience there were two things he thought he'd never do: Be a priest and join the military.
After his ordination in 1995, he served as a chaplain in the Air Force.
"The witness of the joy we have in our faith, and the passion for our relationship with Jesus is something we can tend to long before we encounter anyone who might have a vocation," he said. "Be joyful, passionate people in our relationship with God. That will harvest the field. When people see that in our lives, how can they not respond to that in their lives?"
Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Dominicans of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, told her vocation story to the gathering. She teaches religion at Marin Catholic High School.
A member of a large, loving family, Sister Teresa Benedicta told the audience she began to think about her vocation when she, a home-schooled teenager, took a driver's education class.
"All my life I have been surrounded by love and faith," she said, comparing her life to that of some of the troubled youths around her. "If I have received all this from God, what am I doing with it?"
She used that new driver's license, she said, to go to daily Mass. Her fellow parishioners suggested to her that she might have a religious vocation.
"I didn't know young people my age still did that," she said.
Accepting an invitation to a retreat, she found her sisters, "young, like me, filled with joy."
"I just saw their joy," she said. "That's what drew my heart.
"What a joy it is to be Christ's."
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