Story and photos by Gregory A. Shemitz

Huntington—On a crisp, cool autumn day, under a brilliant blue sky, more than 400 people gathered Oct. 10 on the grounds of Immaculate Conception Seminary here for an afternoon of family-focused prayer, presentations and activities designed to underscore the importance of promoting a “culture of vocations” to the priesthood and consecrated life in homes and parishes throughout the diocese.

 Scroll down for slideshow of photos from the day.

The 2015 Family Fest was the kickoff event of a Bishop William Murphy-inspired initiative to encourage more young people to discern and respond to God’s call to serve the church as a priest or religious brother or sister.


“Bishop Murphy is trying to create a culture of vocations,” explained Father Joseph Fitzgerald, the director of the diocese’s vocations office, which organized Family Fest. “It has to start with the family. It has to be grass-roots. It has to come from the parishes.”


Saturday’s event coincided with the Synod of Bishops on the family, which is taking place at the Vatican. It also occurred two weeks after Pope Francis celebrated the closing Mass at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and three weeks before the beginning of National Vocation Awareness Week (Nov. 1-7). The timing of Family Fest helped highlight the need for Catholic families to take a pro-active role in promoting priestly and religious vocations.


“We wanted to bring the families together to pray and also speak about vocations and what they mean to the future of the Church on Long Island,” said Father Fitzgerald.


“We’re at a critical time,” he added. “The focus on religion and faith in our culture is becoming less and less. We need to establish opportunities for young people to engage and encounter Christ.”


Presentations and breakout sessions were led by Father Fitzgerald; Msgr. James McDonald, pastor at St. Aidan Parish, Williston Park, and former seminary rector; Father Brian Barr, pastor at St. Mary of the Isle, Long Beach, and former diocesan vocations director; Nolan Reynolds, campus minister at Holy Trinity Diocesan High School, Hicksville; and Caroline Gambale-Dirkes, co-founder of Central New Jersey-based 2TIM4 Ministries.


Early-arriving participants had the opportunity to learn about the history, architecture and artwork of the 85-year-old Spanish Romanesque-style seminary during a tour led by its rector, Msgr. Richard Henning. The tour was immediately followed by exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the main chapel.


The sacrament of reconciliation was available throughout the day as priests heard penitents’ confessions in the open field next to a huge tent that served as site for some of the presentations and Mass. Representatives of different religious orders, standing alongside tables that lined one of cloisters, provided information on the charisms of their specific communities.


A mix of catechetical lessons and fun activities kept younger participants engaged all afternoon. In addition to singing and praying during Eucharistic adoration and listening to stories about Jesus, children had plenty of time to enjoy inflatable bounce houses, slides and obstacles courses and to create crafts and decorate miniature pumpkins.


Bishop Murphy was the main celebrant and homilist at the Mass that capped the day. He was joined by Auxiliary Bishops Robert Brennan and Nelson Perez, retired Auxiliary Bishop John Dunne, and a dozen priests. Ten seminarians assisted at the liturgy, while a choir comprised of high school students from Chaminade, Holy Trinity Diocesan, Kellenberg Memorial, Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan, Sacred Heart Academy and St. Dominic’s led the singing.


Sue and Bruce Coffey of St. Martin of Tours Parish, Amityville, attended the festival with two of their children and eight grandchildren, ranging from ages one to nine.


“I’m not going to lie, I prodded my children into coming but they were very happy to be there,” said Sue Coffey, a campus minister at Holy Trinity Diocesan High School. “Everybody was happy to be there. We thought it was a beautiful day. All the presentations were wonderful.”


Other Family Fest participants shared similar feelings with Father Fitzgerald, who said he received numerous emails and text messages afterwards from people who thanked him for arranging the event.


“I think it was a really great day,” remarked Father Fitzgerald. “I’m very pleased and joyful and hopeful. Jesus did it with 12 and changed the world. A couple hundred people showed up here and hopefully the same spirit can sweep across Long Island.”