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 | Keishla Espinal

Schools Rally Around Vocations

Caption: Students high-five Brother Apollo Rodriguez, OSB, during the Focus 11 event.

Photo Credit: Keishla Espinal

November 16, 2022 | Over 800 sixth graders from across the Tampa Bay area traveled to Saint Leo Abbey in Pasco County November 7th-9th. They were there to participate in the Focus 11 program hosted by the Diocese of St. Petersburg Office of Vocations. They got to hear from Bishop Gregory Parkes, Studio 3:16, priests, and religious local men and women talk about their vocation’s story.

Bishop Parkes shared what life was like for him prior to joining the seminary and fielded many questions from the curious students including: Do you make any money? Have you met the pope?

“Bishop Parkes stated that he has met all three of the last popes. He told us one pope he met asked him how tall he was and another asked if he played basketball,” said Nick Tanis, Christ the King Catholic School Principal who attended the event along with fifty-nine of his students.

“For me and our students at Christ the King, it was even more personal since the bishop described feeling called in the chapel at Christ the King, where all of our students have been to Mass or Adoration,” said Tanis.

Twenty-seven diocesan schools and a group of homeschool students attended the event which included panel discussions where students asked questions they had on priesthood and religious life. They also learned how to pray Lectio Divina, a method of praying with the Scriptures, and listened to talks from the monks of the Abbey. 

Father Lucius Amarillas, OSB, had the opportunity to talk to the children and share what his ministry has been like. He said, “It is always a joy talking to the youth, the future of the Church; but it is a challenge since I need to talk to them on their level without leaving out important details about our faith and monastic life.”

For Tanis, these events are important to raise awareness for the different types of religious vocations and plant a seed that might not have otherwise been planted or to water one that was beginning to form.

“Highlighting a devotion to religious life or priesthood is not what they are typically fed through social media, TV, movies, YouTube, or other media influencers, so it is important to show them some joyful alternatives,” he said. 

He said his students were left with memorable experiences that can help them along their personal journey toward holiness. 

“When one of our students turned in his reflection about Focus 11 a few days after the event, he said, ‘I learned there were so many different types of vocations, and I learned that I want to be a priest,’” Tanis said. 

During Focus 11 each year, the Serra Club Video Contest takes place. This year, the theme was "Come to the Table." The top five videos were shown during Focus 11 and the winners will recieve an ice cream party with Father Chuck Dornquast, Diocesan Director of Vocations.

Top 5 Winners were:

1st: St. John Vianney Catholic School

2nd: Guardian Angels Catholic School

3rd: Espiritu Santo Catholic School

4th: Bishop Larkin Catholic School

5th: St. Joseph Catholic School

The videos can be watched on Instagram:

And Facebook:

You can also watch the preparation videos at:

Thank you to the following religious communities who attended Focus 11:

Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco from Villa Madonna Catholic School

Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist from St. Anthony of Padua Parish in San Antonio

Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus from Bishop Larkin Catholic School

Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary from Miami

Servants, Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Miami