For the children at the Church of St. Mary in Lake Forest, this year’s summer offering had a bit of a twist. Instead of vacation Bible school, the children spent a week in vocation Bible school, learning about the vocations of marriage and priesthood and religious life. The campers, aged 4 to 10, did all the things they always do during vacation Bible school: There were games and snacks and crafts, as well as talks and prayer. On July 26, the craft was to use markers and yarn and other supplies to turn a generic cardboard cutout of a person into an image of what campers believed they would become when they grow up. There was a marine biologist, a mom and several athletes. There was also one religious sister in a black habit. That was also the day that Sister Jessi Beck, a sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, spoke to campers about religious life. Far from wearing a black habit, she wore a T-shirt and sandals. When she asked the students going into first and second grade what it meant that she used the word “sister” in front of her name, several thought it meant that she was a sister to siblings in her family. She is a sister in that way, she told the students. In fact, her sister and brother-in-law and their children were coming from Iowa to visit for the weekend, and she was looking forward to it. Then she explained that a Catholic sister is something different, with a life centered around prayer, community and service. In a talk to older children, someone asked how she knew she wanted to be a sister. “I didn’t want to be a sister,” she told the children. “I didn’t really know anything about Catholic sisters.” But when she got to know a couple of sisters when she was in college, she was inspired. Sister Jessi taught at Our Lady of Tepeyac Elementary School for several years. Now she works at the school one day a week as technology coordinator and does vocation work for her congregation the rest of the time. At St. Mary’s, she told the children that sisters pray every day, alone and in community, and that they spend most of their days helping people. any are teachers, but she also talked about women in her community who started a transitional shelter for women with kids in New Orleans, and the work retired sisters in Dubuque, Iowa, do to help homeless people in the area. The important thing, she told the campers, was that they pray and ask God to help them know what they are called to be. “Everybody has a different way that they are invited to follow Jesus,” Sister Jessi said. Jeannie Brunk, the director of religious education at St. Mary, said the parish deliberately chose vocations as a theme because it is one of the main initiatives of Renew My Church. In addition to learning about vocations, campers also raise money for the archdiocesan vocations office. The week-long session brings together children who are students in the parish school with students in religious education, Brunk said, and even a few out-of-towners who come to visit grandparents or other relatives during vacation Bible school week. Sarah Campbell, who leads the program, said she likes the way it brings the whole community together. St. Mary’s program is similar to those run in dozens of parishes during the summer, almost always with the help of parents and middle- and high-school students. Vacation Bible schools give children a chance to have some fun, see old friends and make new ones and learn about God in a low-pressure environment. Kim Egan, a parent volunteer who worked in the craft room this year, said she sees vacation Bible school as a throwback to more innocent times. “I went to vacation Bible school as a kid, and I have good memories of it,” she said. After hearing how the program would not work without volunteers, she stepped forward. “I didn’t want to see it go away,” she said. “There’s something really sweet and innocent about it. There’s nothing competitive. And I’m always surprised to hear from my kids the things that stay with them.” One camper, Giada, who is going into fourth grade, said one of her favorite things is the Bible quote on the camp T-shirts: “Be strong and courageous for God will be with you” (Jos 1:9). Like most vacation Bible schools, St. Mary also relies on middle-school-age and high-school-age volunteers to help. The teens and pre-teens are all assigned to shepherd groups of campers from station to station. Some do it because the need to get required service hours for confirmation or for their schools, but most of them say they do it because they enjoy it. Mariella, 13, will be an eighth-grader at St. Mary in the fall. “I like working with the little kids,” she said. “I always wanted to do this."