College and high school students, priests, religious from our diocese and Bishop Paprocki attend
By ANDREW HANSEN
ST. LOUIS — A week of grace, joy, spiritual insight, newfound friendships, and cherished memories unfolded for thousands of Catholics during the SEEK24 Conference in St. Louis from Jan. 1-5. More than 100 high school students, college students, adults, religious, and clergy from the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois joined approximately 20,000 Catholics from across the country at the conference, where each individual experienced a profound encounter with the Lord through activities such as daily Mass, confession, eucharistic adoration, and insightful and inspirational faith talks delivered by prominent Catholic speakers.
“SEEK helped me get more excited about my faith,” said Liam Hoeferlin of Edwardsville who is a student at the University of Illinois. “There is a plethora of resources at SEEK from a lot of different and knowledgeable people. It has really helped me realize the thoughts I have about the (Catholic) faith — I am not alone in what I think about the faith. There are plenty of other people my age who are super excited about the faith which gets me even more pumped for it.”
“My favorite thing at SEEK was the talk by Father Mike Schmitz,” said Chibiogo Okolie, who is an international student from Nigeria and attends Eastern Illinois University. “He talked about the Mass, how to pray. We always talk about ‘getting stuff’ from Mass, but I liked how he talked about when you go to Mass, you can give a sacrifice.”
The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois had a large presence at the conference, with about 100 young adults coming from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Eastern Illinois University, Quincy University, and Millikin University. Several high schools and parishes also sent students. The diocesan curia hosted a booth, promoting the great things happening in our diocese while also engaging college students to consider becoming a teacher in a Catholic school in our diocese, a Totus Tuus missionary in the summer, or pursuing other career opportunities with the Church.
Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, several priests, seminarians, and religious such as the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in Alton, also attended. On Jan. 2, people from the diocese were invited to a reception dinner hosted by Bishop Paprocki in St. Louis for food and fellowship.
“I loved being gathered with the community and seeing all the priests walking down the aisle at Mass and all the young people gathered,” said Isabel Lee who recently graduated from Eastern Illinois University. “My friend, Macie, and I like to pick a word of the year every year, and this year, I chose the word ‘joy.’ It was really cool going to adoration. It was just silent and still, and I was able to read a reflection, and it made me realize that my word of the year being ‘joy,’ I should always feel the joy of the Lord in my life.”
“My favorite part of SEEK was meeting all the new people and how many people who were there that are my age,” said Madaline Habing who attends Eastern Illinois University.
FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) hosted SEEK24. FOCUS is a Catholic apostolate whose mission is to share the hope and joy of the Gospel on college campuses. FOCUS missionaries encounter people in friendship, inviting them into a personal relationship with Christ and accompanying them as they pursue lives of virtue and excellence. Through Bible studies, outreach events, mission trips, Mass, and social events, missionaries inspire and build up college students in the faith, ultimately sending these young adults out to live a life of Catholic mission wherever they go. In our diocese, the Newman Catholic Community at SIUE hosts a FOCUS team. Elsewhere in Illinois, FOCUS also has missionary teams at Illinois State University, Northern Illinois University, the University Illinois-Chicago, and the University of Illinois in Champaign. In total, FOCUS has missionary teams at 193 U.S. college campuses.
“Some of the things I want to bring to my classroom are the lives the saints that I have come to know about (from looking) at the booths at SEEK,” said Blake Malatestinic, who graduated from Eastern Illinois University in 2021 and now teaches fifth grade at St. Anthony Grade School in Effingham. “I took a video of the Salve Regina song so hopefully my students are inspired to see thousands and thousands of other Catholics and see it truly is a universal Church.”
SEEK25 is Jan. 1-5 in Salt Lake City.