To “seek” is defined as “an attempt to find (something).” In scripture alone there are multiple uses of the word: in reference to seeking out a resting place (Numbers 10); seeking the good of a people (Esther 10); seeking to dwell in the Lord’s house all the days of my life (Psalm 27); or seeking the kingdom of God (Matthew 6). And most recently the Church celebrated the story of shepherds seeking out Jesus, the newborn king (Luke 2).
SEEK is also the name of a conference in which the SSND North American Vocation Team recently participated. SEEK24 was a gathering of 20,000 people (mostly college students) who descended upon St. Louis, Missouri, from January 1-5, 2024, to search for something – community, meaning, God, friendships, direction in life, answers and more.
Below are some experiences of our encounters with these young people in their seeking. It was a treasured way to welcome in the New Year and give witness again to what it means to accompany young people. Enjoy!
~ Sister Bridget Waldorf
Peace and all good things
This was our first time at a SEEK conference. We had plenty of opportunities to engage with those who stopped by our booth which was in a location offering good traffic flow and many visitors. From our ever-popular Plinko board which offered inspirational quotes, to our photo-op with a life-sized Blessed Theresa and our generous supply of cookies with SSND-themed labels, who could stay away? The Blessed Theresa and God’s Cause stickers were also popular giveaways. (Order yours here.)
Our booth theme, “That All May Be One,” dovetailed well with the conference theme of “Be the Light.” With all that is going on in our troubled world, we especially wanted to offer an opportunity to be about peace, so we decorated our booth with origami peace cranes (after learning how to make them) and invited people to “be an artisan of peace” by folding a crane to be shared for peace in our world. In the course of the week, we taught a good number of people how to fold peace cranes, to which some added a small personal message. We promised to share their cranes with our sisters in various countries and thanked all for helping to send peace out to the world.
We were surprised how many people were interested in participating in our peace project! A few came multiple times and brought others along each time. Some students even became our teachers, showing us how to fold a star, plus a slightly different pattern of a crane, and even a flower. And one person shared with that ours was her favorite booth at the conference because we had so many interactive activities!
In addition to student engagement, we connected with some of our colleagues along the way. The Dominican Sisters of Peace, Springfield Dominicans and FSPAs from LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and a few others we knew were also at SEEK this year. Next year’s SEEK conference will be in Salt Lake City, Utah. We don’t know yet if we will attend but are so grateful we attended this year.
~Sister Jill Laszewski
We were gifted with many graced connections at the SEEK24 conference. These connections began immediately when Sister Anna Nguyen from the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon needed to stay with us at Sancta Maria in Ripa (our St. Louis campus) because her Airbnb cancelled. She was joy to get to know and collaborate with and there is no doubt we will continue to connect. At our booth, we connected with the grandnieces of two of our sisters, the Goddaughter of another, and a young woman from Germany who had attended our SSND school in Munich. With more than 20,000 people in attendance, it could only be by God’s hand that these connections were made. There were also completely new connections with young adults as well as new and old friends from other religious communities. It was both exhilarating and exhausting – God truly present in it all with us.
~Sister Stephanie Spandl
I knew SEEK24 would give me opportunities to meet and accompany young people, but I had no idea of the surprises God had in store for me regarding what those connections might reveal! Early in the week, I greeted two young students at the Plinko board who told me they were freshman from St. Anthony High School in Effingham, Illinois, and had come with a parish group. I said that St. Anthony’s was my home parish where I also had gone to school, and I noticed that one of them had the last name “Henning.” Asking who her parents were, then showing my nametag that I was a “Dust” and my cousin married a “Henning,” the surprise was that my cousin was her grandmother and so the two of us were actually cousins, too! We had never met before SEEK!
On the third day of the conference, I invited two young women who were standing near our booth to try the Plinko game, and as I’m handing the game piece to one of them and wanting to address her by name, I looked at her nametag which was turned backwards and said, “And what’s your name?” She promptly turned the nametag over to reveal the name, “Gina Raquel,” and said she was coming as a guest from the University of Monterey in Mexico. I made the connection that my niece is named Gina and that we have a Sister Raquel from Honduras with whom I had lived when I was in mission there. This young woman then exclaimed “I’m from Honduras!” I replied, “I lived in El Progreso,” to which she replied, “I’m from El Progreso!” The excitement grew stronger, the conversation continued, and I was surprised that Gina actually knew of our SSND school and did volunteer work with our Sister Teresita at the COPPROME organization. Then we discovered that I knew her grandfather who had a woodworking business very close to our school and convent where I had often purchased items, as well as often connected with him personally on business levels while I served at our school there almost 30 years ago! Gina quickly grabbed the phone in her pocket and exclaimed, “I’m going to try to call Papi right now!” Not only did she call, but she FaceTimed, he answered immediately, and we got to greet each other after so many years. I even promptly held up a wooden bowl from his shop which we were actually using in our booth to hold our stickers! I could not have dreamed that I would re-connect with Honduras while at SEEK in St. Louis!
~Sister Carol Jean Dust
Our presence at SEEK24 would not have been possible without the assistance of many special helpers before and during the conference. Sister Regina Kabayama taught us how to make origami peace cranes and made several for us to use in the booth decor. Sister Kathy Brice designed labels for the packages of cookies we handed out. Sisters Marie Jo Lazzeri and Mildred Glosemeyer placed the labels on 1,000 cookie packets. Sister Cindy Brune drew a world map on the globe (bowl) we used to collect the origami peace cranes. Sister Francine Koehler, a new Area Vocation Minister (AVM), spent an entire day in the booth with us at the conference! And Laurie Lindauer, our communications manager, made sure we were well-stocked with all needed materials and brought her entire family to set up the exhibit booth on New Year’s Eve. The five-day event took a great deal of planning and stamina but we felt the prayers and support from everyone back home and are most appreciative.
Did you know?
…that we now have a life-size “cut-out” of Blessed Theresa from the image of her that was unveiled during her beatification ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome? It’s a special gift we had created to accompany our booth at SEEK. Now she’s ready to accompany us at many other moments with young people (and with SSND and Associates, too!). Note: When you stand by her and look at her face, her eyes even follow you! Perhaps she’s saying: “Focus your eyes and your heart steadily on Jesus!” (Letter #3520)
>>Watch replays of SEEK presentations here.