Forty Hours Help Inspire Vocations at Allentown Central Catholic

Students participate in the Eucharistic Procession. (Photos by John Simitz)

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer

“Years of grace have been poured out upon our school through the blessing of Forty Hours. Graces flowing down like a waterfall in abundance from the throne of our King have blessed this family and our students in so many ways, and inspired them to seek to live out heroic vocations,” Father Mark Searles, chaplain of Allentown Central Catholic High School (ACCHS), said in his homily at the closing of the Dec. 14-15 Forty Hours at the school.

“Several men have been called to be courageous soldiers and sharers in the sacred priesthood of Jesus Christ, bringing that same Eucharist to hungry and lost souls,” Father Searles said.

“Several women have called to be heroic missionaries, carrying the grace and love they received in this family into the world as religious sisters, brides of Christ testifying to his infinite love.

“And many men and women who truly encountered Christ in the Eucharistic heart of this school have entered into the profound unity of the sacrament of marriage where they can share the love they have found in Jesus and send their own children back to join us at ACCHS.”

“So many of our young people who have gone on to the priesthood and religious life have said that they received an affirmation of their vocation sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament at Forty Hours,” said Mary Ellen Strohl, ACCHS campus ministry retreat coordinator.

Father John Rother, assistant pastor of St. Catharine of Siena, Reading, and Father Brendan Laroche, assistant pastor of Holy Infancy, Bethlehem, are the newest priests who graduated from ACCHS, and Philip Maas is a seminarian.

Religious sisters who have graduated from the school and entered the Sisters of Christian Charity (SCC) are: Sister Elizabeth Kovacs (Elizabeth Kovacs); Sister Marie Jose (Sara de la Rosa); Sister Maria Angeline (Rachel Weiss) and Sister Josephine (Lauren Wagner).

Sister Immaculata Marie (Marie Policare) is a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia (OP), having entered the Nashville Dominicans.

Father Searles
“My own vocation was nourished with the Eucharist when I was in high school,” said Father Searles. “Our youth group prayed in front of the tabernacle, speaking to the Lord from our hearts in silence and with beautiful music to give him thanks and praise.

“Even though we didn’t know at the time the Lord was molding and shaping our hearts, and my own was being conformed in some small ways to have the courage to follow the path towards the priesthood.”

Father Searles recalled St. Faustina said, “Holy Communion assures me that I will win the victory; and so it is. The bread of the Strong gives me all the strength I need to carry on my mission and to do whatever the Lord asks of me.”

“The Bread of the Strong and the Bread of Life is what makes Central Catholic a mighty Viking Nation and a family with a Eucharistic heart,” Father Searles said.

“We are so blessed and praised by Jesus Christ that we try to teach every single one of our kids that they are loved and called to share Christ’s love in the world. I believe that because of Forty Hours, they will share that love and continue to grow in it long after their time here on Fourth and Chew streets in Allentown.”

Mary Ellen Strohl
Strohl explained Forty Hours began 15 years ago when Father Frans Berkhout was principal of ACCHS. He had placed Strohl and John Gribowich, now a priest in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, in charge of campus ministry “with a directive to work on increasing our Catholic identity.”

“Father Berkhout felt that it was essential that a Catholic high school student graduate with a proper understanding of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Confession,” she said.

Father Berkhout is now assistant pastor of St. Jerome, Largo, Florida.

“We know that students learn best through experience. Father Gribowich proposed an experience of Forty Hours, a two-day retreat for our students. This retreat would be appealing to young people with activities and guest speakers that would really engage adolescents. Adoration has become an essential part of an ACCHS student’s spiritual formation ever since,” Strohl said.

“Adoration involves the whole person, involves all of our senses: the candles, the monstrance, the music, the incense, prayer, kneeling. A student’s entire body and mind is asked to respond. They respond to the silence so beautifully.”

Father John Gribowich
Father Gribowich, former ACCHS faculty member, was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Brooklyn in 2015 and is assistant pastor of St. Nicholas of Tolentine, Jamaica, Queens, New York.

“The key thing about adoration is trying to be counter-cultural in a noisy world. The Church offers this to us to strengthen the Body of Christ,” Father Gribowich said in a recent interview.

Father Gribowich said in the silence of adoration the Body of Christ is strengthened, and this was manifested in the students and teachers at ACCHS. “When we encounter the Eucharist it strengthens how we encounter the Body of Christ in our brothers and sisters around us. That’s the lynchpin of why we were doing that.”

“I think it strengthens all different vocations,” Father Gribowich said of adoration, whether that vocation is a religious calling or married life. “It helps every person discern whatever they are called to – it’s an instilling way to discern things for everyone.”

Father Gribowich has been celebrant of a number of weddings for former ACCHS students since his ordination, the most recent Dec. 30. “They are really good couples who are going to church and taking their faith seriously. And the fact they want to be married in the Church these days says a lot.

“Good vocations come from good homes and families, all part of the Body of Christ.”

Sister Immaculata Marie Policare
“As a student at ACCHS, I never wanted to waste time, and Forty Hours sounds like a long time,” said Sister Immaculata Marie, who is in her ninth year as a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia.

She graduated from ACCHS in 2009 and entered the Nashville Dominicans the following August. Sister Immaculata Marie professed her final vows in July 2016 and is teaching second grade at St. Gertrude School, Cincinnati, Ohio.

“The formation I received at ACCHS not only prepared me for religious life, but also in a particular way made possible my entrance right after high school – as I said, I don’t like to waste time,” Sister Immaculata Marie said.

“My intellect was nurtured by rigorous theology courses, but more importantly my heart was sustained by daily Mass, frequent confession and retreat opportunities that allowed me to experience communion both with my peers and the larger Catholic world.

“I have especially fond memories of the school’s annual Forty Hours Devotion, where I learned the infinite value of extended time ‘wasted’ before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

“I now realize what a privilege it was to have so much time in adoration as a high school student. I pray that the many future religious vocations from ACCHS will also learn this beautiful lesson: that time spent with Jesus in the Eucharist is never wasted.”

Sister Maria Angeline
After graduating from ACCHS in 2007, Sister Maria Angeline entered the postulancy of the Sisters of Christian Charity and on Aug. 15, 2017 “had the grace of making
my perpetual profession.”

“While I attended Central Catholic, I had the privilege of participating in the Forty Hours devotion each year,” Sister Maria Angeline said. “A few memories stand out in my mind from that time, including Father Berkhout taking a list of every student to the adoration chapel, and praying for each of us by name.

“The opportunity to sit quietly before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament was the perfect time to discern a vocation to the religious life. I will be forever grateful to Central Catholic for providing a place to learn how to pray and to grow in my relationship with God – a place always centered on the Eucharist.

“My senior year, before the Eucharistic procession of Forty Hours, our class was in adoration and the priest asked for a show of hands of whose lives were changed by
spending time in his presence.

“After many hands went up, Father looked at the Lord and said, ‘This is for you, Jesus.’ I still think of that moment and the Forty Hours devotion, when I thank God for my vocation.”

Sister Marie Jose de la Rosa
Sister Marie Jose graduated from ACCHS in 2007 and made her final profession as a Sister of Christian Charity Aug. 15, 2017. She is the director of nursing at the SCC’s personal care home/infirmary in Danville.

“As I sat in the car one night, I pondered my experience at Allentown Central Catholic. After all, it has been 10 years since I graduated. Then a song of praise that used to play during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament came over the radio, and immediately, I was brought back to those moments that opened my heart to a love of Christ and to a vocation to the religious life,” said Sister Marie Jose.

“The foundress of the Sisters of Christian Charity, Blessed Pauline von Mallinckrodt, said, ‘The Blessed Sacrament is my life, my bliss. To it, do I owe the grace of my holy vocation.’ It was during our time before the Blessed Sacrament, especially during Forty Hours, that my heart was opened to the love of God.

“I did not know it at the time. I would leave school and carry on with life as usual: sports, dances, etc. But something was silently unfolding. God was preparing my heart for a vocation as a consecrated religious.

“During my four years there, the vocation to the religious life was always encouraged, along with marriage and the single vocations. Allentown Central Catholic focused on our universal call to holiness and encouraged each student to discern what route God was calling them to follow to answer that call.

“The fact that our entire school would stop its normal routine to give praise and adoration to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, taught me the priority that my faith should have in my life. The deep faith and example of the faculty gave me the courage to say ‘yes’ to whatever the Lord was asking of me.

“I treasure my years at Allentown Central Catholic, for it was there that the stones of faith that were laid by my family and the sisters and teachers at Our Lady Help of Christians in Allentown were brought together to lay a foundation that I could stand up to say ‘yes’ to being a Bride of Christ.”

Sister Josephine Wagner
“When I was a student at Central, I always looked forward to the Forty Hours Retreat,” said Sister Josephine, a 2014 graduate of ACCHS and a second-year novice with the Sisters of Christian Charity.

“I still remember my first Forty Hours at Central and being so amazed when I walked into adoration. I had never been so close to Jesus for such a long period of time. That was when my relationship with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament began.”

“When I first visited the Sisters of Christian Charity I was struck by their devotion to the Eucharist. The Forty Hours retreats were definitely instrumental to my vocation to religious life and I am so thankful that I was able to be part of them throughout my high school years.”

Forty Hours 2017
With the theme “Love One Another,” Forty Hours began with the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament after the 8:30 a.m. Mass Dec. 14 until the closing at noon Dec. 15.

A praise session with music by Sean Malloy and Ryan Gutshall took place the evening of Dec. 14.
Parents, families and friends were welcome to spend time with our Lord in Masson Auditorium.
Forty Hours concluded with a closing procession and solemn benediction.