Emmaus Days watered the vocation seeds within 106 participants this summer

A water bottle bearing the Emmaus Days prayer is in the foreground during an outdoor discussion at one of two sessions earlier this summer at St. John's Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois in Champaign. Two other sessions were held in July at Peoria Notre Dame High School. (Provided photo)

“Everyone is given a seed of a vocation in their life by God,” said Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka, and during four Emmaus Days retreats this summer more than 100 boys and young men took time away to consider what might be planted in their own hearts.

Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka is introduced at Emmaus Days Session III by seminarian Ben Schoonmaker, who served as head prefect of the summer vocation awareness retreats. Schoonmaker was assisted by seminarian Jack Swoik. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

“That vocation may be to the priesthood for some of you,” said Bishop Tylka in a homily to the 36 incoming high school freshmen and sophomores attending the third session of Emmaus Days, hosted by Peoria Notre Dame High School from July 18-21.

“It might be the vocation of married life,” continued Bishop Tylka. “It might be the vocation of living your life as a single. It might be a vocation to a religious community. The question is, ‘How will we allow that seed to come to fruition?’”

Bishop Tylka celebrated Mass and answered questions (see related story here) at each session of Emmaus Days, which are sponsored by the diocesan Office of Vocations. The first two sessions, for college age/young adults and high school juniors/seniors, took place in June at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois. The final two sessions, for high school freshmen/sophomores and boys entering grades 7-8, were at Peoria Notre Dame.


Seminarians of the Diocese of Peoria had guiding roles in Emmaus Days, led by Ben Schoonmaker of Moline as head prefect and Jack Swoik of Pekin as assistant prefect. Both are studying at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Schoonmaker is scheduled for priestly ordination in 2025, Swoik in 2024.

“I was really impressed by the seriousness they had toward the retreat,” said Schoonmaker of the participants, who came from throughout the diocese. “They took their faith seriously, they took discernment seriously, they took prayer seriously, and they desire to be saints. That was encouraging to see.”

Father Chase Hilgenbrinck, diocesan director of vocations for recruitment, talks to Emmaus Days Session III participants gathered in Livingston Auditorium of Peoria Notre Dame High School. (Provided photo)

But while there were opportunities for Mass, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the sacrament of reconciliation, and a series of talks by diocesan priests and seminarians, Emmaus Days 2021 had its non-serious moments, too.

“We tried to make things more fun,” said Schoonmaker. There were a variety of team and individual contests. For example, younger groups were challenged to travel on a homemade “slip-and-slide” and not spill a cup of Gatorade. There was a Jeopardy-like game on Catholic belief and diocesan trivia; a relay race themed around serving; and even a contest to see who could vest in a cassock and surplice the fastest. (Twenty-six seconds was the record.)

Members of the winning teams were awarded pairs of Fulton Sheen-themed socks.


Swoik explained that Emmaus Days is “not a regular camp.”

Seminarians lead Emmaus Days participants in a eucharistic procession on the campus of the University of Illinois. (Provided photo)

“It’s always directed toward Jesus — the center of what we’re doing,” he told The Catholic Post. He also lauded the participants for being joyful, yet serious when the time came for that.

“Families are raising good kids,” said Swoik, who will be head prefect next year. “It’s encouraging.”

Both Schoonmaker and Swoik said Emmaus Days was influential in the discernment of their own vocations to the priesthood. Schoonmaker was grateful to work with Father Chase Hilgenbrinck, diocesan director of vocations for recruitment, whose first priestly assignments were in the Quad Cities as Schoonmaker was deciding his future.

“I was able to reflect and see how I’ve grown and how God has continued to call me,” said Schoonmaker.

Swoik said during his Emmaus Days experiences he “never thought I’d be leading this one day.” Both seminarians offered gratitude to the priests and staffs of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center and Peoria Notre Dame for their generosity in allowing use of their facilities.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Additional photos from Emmaus Days have been posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook. 

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