Sunday, November 18, 2012

Vocations Testimony-A Parent's Perspective

St. Monica's Parish in Whitefish Bay hosted a special Vocations Mass and talks on Sunday, November 18th.  Fr. Luke Strand, the energetic director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, said Mass, and then spoke briefly after Mass about his own vocation story and his work with the young people in the Archdiocese as vocations director.  His talk was followed by three beautiful Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary who shared their own personal call stories.  Finally, yours truly was asked to speak about a parent's perspective regarding my son, John, who is a college freshman at St. Joseph's College Seminary at Loyola University in Chicago which will be followed by four years at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee.  The text of my talk is below.

John, on the right, with Domenick, one of  his brother seminarians

When I tell people that my son is a seminarian, I am often met with mixed reactions.  The majority of people congratulate me and I can genuinely feel that they think it’s wonderful for a young man to give his life to God.  But sometimes, I get questions that are tinged with disdain, such as “You’re son wants to be a priest and you’re ok with that?”  By their reaction I get the feeling that they disapprove of my encouraging John to the priesthood.

Have you ever heard the saying “No priest, no Jesus?”  Who else can bring about the transformation of a simple piece of bread into the very Body of our Lord Jesus but the priest at the altar?  And who am I to prevent this from happening by trying to hold back the hand of God when he chooses a young man to service in the Church?  If my son is called to the priesthood, then I am also called to support and encourage him.

But, I don’t intend to make it seem as though giving your child to the church is a terribly difficult situation, because really, all of our children are destined to grow up and move away, aren’t they?  Letting go can be difficult for everyone, regardless of the vocational call that our children receive. 

I’ll never forget when my fourth son, Jack, was born.  A woman from church came to the hospital to give me communion and she commented, “You poor dear!  Four sons!  They are all going to grow up and leave you when they get married!”  Shocked at the negativity of a stranger during a moment of great joy in my life, I shot back, “Well, maybe they’ll all grow up to be priests and leave me anyway!”  And I think it was at that moment that I became more aware of the need to be open to God’s will, not only in my life, but also in the lives of my children.  They belong to God, after all, and He has graciously seen fit to share them with me for a little while, to entrust their upbringing to the greatly unskilled hands of my husband and I.  And so I never prayed for my children to be healthy, successful, smart, or happy.  My constant prayer for all of my children has been “Please God, make them holy.  Help them to know You and Your will for them and let them follow it.”  I’m not saying that I don’t want all of these other things for my children, but just that God’s will always has to be first, and then everything else will follow according to His plan.

And so I look back at my son John’s life up to this point with a careful eye to the will of God and I wonder about so many things...
When John was two years old I picked up a book on a sale rack at Kmart of all places, about the life of St. Paul. Despite the fact that it was written in a fairly dry fashion, this book became one of John’s favorites and he asked me to read it to him over and over again which I did, even though I would have rather read something entertaining like Dr. Suess’ Cat in the Hat.  Could it be that God was planting the seeds of his vocation even then?  Had I insisted on reading Dr. Suess instead of the life of St. Paul, would that have thwarted God’s plan in some small way?  

And when he was in the fifth grade and first began to talk about an interest in the priesthood, Paul and I listened and offered encouragement, happy that he had a deep interest in his faith. And we smiled on the sidelines as he became increasingly involved in the Church as an altar server, choir member, lector, member of the Respect Life Committee, Youth Committee and Vocations Committee, and as he spent more and more time at the seminary participating in every program that they offered for youth.  We could see that he had a fire burning brightly in his soul and he eagerly participated in every opportunity that came his way.  But what if we would have discouraged his involvement in so many church activities?  Would he have tried to stifle the voice of God that was speaking to him so clearly?  

When it was time for him to enter middle school and he insisted on being enrolled at our parish school rather than continue in the public schools, we were astonished at his bold request, but we allowed him to attend the Catholic School where he felt closest to God.  Had we insisted that he remain in public schools, would that have dampened his zeal for the Lord? 

I may never have the answers to those questions, but I do know that John was feeling the subtle tug of God for most of his life and he was making his love for his Catholic faith known to us and like any parent who loves their child, we tried to support his desires which stemmed from our own values, and to encourage them. 

After years of watching John grow ever more deeply into his faith and ever more involved in the church, the day to release him to God’s providence finally arrived.  We drove him to Chicago to begin his seminary career.   I am extremely proud of my son, despite any fears that I may have about how this long and difficult road will play out for him.  I don’t know if he or any of our seminarians will make it all the way through the eight arduous years of seminary life culminating in ordination to the priesthood, but I do know that they all have a much better chance of success with the support of our prayers behind them.  As a mother, all I can do is let go and trust that God has John exactly where He wants him and to thank God for allowing John to respond so beautifully to His call, and to continue to pray for him with all I’ve got.

And you can do the same thing for your children, as well as for the children of your friends and family members, that is, you can encourage them to listen to the voice of God speak to them and to respond in love.  How can you do this?

Pray for them!  Pray for the young people you know; encourage them whenever they show any interest in the Catholic faith.  And pray with them!  Lead them to holiness by your own example. Teach them to pray those prayers that have been passed down through the centuries as well as in their own words. Invite them to spend some time in silence before our Eucharistic Lord to hear God speak to their hearts. Take them to Mass, not just weekly, but can I be so bold as to suggest daily?  Try it for just one day a week.  See if you can’t make it work into your schedule and then watch how God works not only in the hearts of your children but in your heart as well.

In regards to encouraging and praying for an increase in vocations for all young people, I want to share a passage from one of my favorite authors, Caryll Houselander, from her book The Passion of the Infant Christ: 

"A young priest was celebrating his first Mass. In the front of the church his mother and his young brothers knelt. It was easy to know them by their likeness to him-a family of dark, golden-skinned boys, and the mother like them.

When the Mass was ended, and the new priest came back into the sanctuary for the blessing and the kissing of the consecrated hands, the family hesitated shyly, almost paralyzed by wonder and love; and before they could go first (as they should have done) to the altar rails, the crowd had pushed past them, strangers had taken their place. The faithful were flocking around their new shepherd, and his mother and his brothers had become part of the crowd, waiting their turn until the end.

For one moment the young priest looked over the bowed heads into his mother's eyes, and his face shone.

"My mother and my brethren are they who hear the word of God and do it."

Because the priesthood had made him the Christ of the people, he belonged to them; he was their kith and kin, their son and brother, their Christ, their priest at the altar.”

I like this passage because it clearly shows that every new priest who reaches his ordination day is a son to us all, a member of our own families.  Shouldn’t we all take an active part then, in helping to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life, in giving all of our sons a helping hand to the priesthood?  We’re all responsible for the growth of our Church.  So, here’s a few ways that you can help:

The MonthlyPrayer Request for Priests is a website where you will find all of the priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee listed in alphabetical order and I ask that you pray for each priest on his specific day.  You will also find the priests names listed in the Milwaukee Catholic Herald.  Some parishes also list the priests in their bulletin and if your parish doesn’t list them, perhaps you could ask them to begin!

Rosesfor Our Lady is a lay apostolate that has been active in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for over 30 years.  Our main purpose is to promote Marian and Eucharistic devotion.  We hold a monthly holy hour for vocations on the second Sunday of every month at St. Francis de Sales Seminary at 2 PM and everyone is welcome and encouraged to join us and to pray with us for an increase in holy vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  Our next holy hour will be on Sunday, December 9th and we will be led in prayer by Bishop Don Hying, our spiritual advisor. 

Finally, if you’d like to add some practical work to your prayer, please sign up to volunteer to help the vocations office with mailings, phone calls and preparing food for special vocation office events.  If you sign up to help with the practical work, I will be contacting you from time to time to help with events as needed.  (Dear reader:  Send me an email if you're in the Milwaukee area and want to help with this!  I'll be happy to include you!)

I thank you for coming here today to this special Vocations Mass and for your interest in helping to promote and increase vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and I particularly thank the vocations committee at St. Monica's for inviting me to share my story, my heart, with you.  May God richly reward you always and may He bring about the increase in vocations for which we pray!


  1. Beautiful Post Anne!!!!! Thank you for faithfully answering God's call and nurturing the vocation that God lovingly placed in your womb. Like the Blessed Mother, St. Hannah, St. Anne, and Blessed Zeli Martin, and so many others, your union with Holy Spirit, intense prayer, and consistent desire to do the will of God, while leading your children to also follow His voice, continues to bear much fruit. Thank you for being a conduit of His Grace.