Impact on Parents of Seminarians

Project Andrew gives young men, parents, help discerning vocations
By Jessica Langdon
Leaven staff (The Catholic newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When Luke Doyle entered the seminary, his little sister was in kindergarten. “Her brother’s picture was posted on the wall of her classroom, which she was excited about,” said their mother, Jeanne Doyle. “But that doesn’t happen to most kids.”

Luke is now a fourth-year college seminarian at Cardinal Glennon Seminary in St. Louis. While he is taking an in-depth look at his faith and the priesthood, his family has been learning a lot about seminary life. “It’s really a process for the whole family,” said Jeanne Doyle. She and her husband, Dr. Tom Doyle, have eight kids. They belong to Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka. This month, they shared their experiences with parents of young men considering the priesthood during a Project Andrew event at their church.

Project Andrew gets its name from the Scripture passage where Andrew takes his brother Peter to meet Jesus, explained Father Mitchel Zimmerman, archdiocesan vocations coordinator. Every year in early October, young high school- and college-aged men are encouraged to attend one of these sessions to learn more about what God might be calling them to do. This is a place where the priesthood can be highlighted, said Father Zimmerman.

Not all attendees enter the seminary, of course. It’s not a recruiting event, although it does open a door for future contact between attendees and the vocations office. It’s about discernment. And it’s only recently that organizers have incorporated a parent component into it, at which visiting parents can hear directly from parents of current seminarians.

The Doyles believe it’s important for parents to open their children’s eyes to any path that might be the one for them. If they’re interested in the medical field, they try to introduce them to everything from dentistry to medicine to nursing.
The same holds true when it comes to religious vocations. “Every young person is called to discern God’s will for them,” said Jeanne.

In their presentation the Doyles shared what they’d learned about the years of formation with the gathered parents. They also noted that a man who enters the seminary won’t necessarily enter the priesthood. “It’s more of a discernment process,” said Jeanne. “Every year, they make the decision again.”

One of the things that surprised the Doyles when their son became a seminarian, they said, was that others would be praying for him. “Having people we don’t even know telling us that they’re praying for our son is a very humbling experience for us,” said Jeanne.

Prayer at home has been transformed for Rob Tinker, father of seminarian Evan Tinker. Rob spoke to parents at a Project Andrew session at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood. Evan, the oldest of four boys, is now in his second year of pre-theology at Kenrick Glennon Seminary in St. Louis.

“Every time I talk to him or he comes home, I see an increased level of confidence in his decision,” said Rob. He has visited Evan and seen that seminarians have opportunities to do everyday things. They go to dinner with friends and family or go to ballgames.

The Tinkers are members of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park. Growing up, Evan was an altar server. The family always made Mass a priority. Evan has known priests — including a good family friend — his whole life. Now, when Evan comes home, he includes his dad and brothers in morning and evening prayers. Friends from the seminary come to visit, too, and Rob has found morning prayer with a group of men in the living room a “unique and powerful” experience.

He believes it’s good to bring together parents at Project Andrew sessions. Many have similar questions. “We’ve found in most sessions that parents have an endless list of questions,” said Father Zimmerman. The young men have questions, too — everything from what seminary life is like to how they can visit one. In the relaxed atmosphere of the sessions, Father Zimmerman answers many. And Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, who is always the keynote speaker, addresses others.
And organizers never forget when they’re planning an event that they’re working with young men — who are known to bring big appetites. “We don’t fail to mention that there’ll be great food,” said Father Zimmerman with a laugh.

Have you had the ‘talk’ with your kids?

What talk is the vocation director thinking about?  Surely not the birds and the bees talk!  Parents are encouraged to talk to their kids about all kinds of things – about sex, about drugs, about relationships.  There is no substitute for parents knowing their kids.  I am writing this week about a conversation that I sense is getting skipped in our Catholic homes.  The conversation is about religious vocations.

Specifically, does your child know where you stand and how you feel about religious vocations in general, and your take on your own child possibly having just such a vocation?  I could lament, I suppose, some statistics showing that as many as two-thirds of Catholic parents are not supportive of their child becoming a priest or a sister.  But I see it as more of a challenge for my office to find a way to educate parents.  Most families do not have a religious vocation within the family, so there is more misunderstanding and unnecessary fear than ever.  I have found that God does not just call men and women from families who are supportive.  God calls whom He wants to call for the priesthood and religious life.  That means that all of our families need to have some competence and readiness should this call from Jesus come their way.

Talk to your kids about whether or not you would support their going to seminary or to a convent.  At what age would you be alright with your child entering formation, if at all?  Would you accompany them on a visit to a seminary or monastery or convent?  Would you support your child considering the priesthood or religious life as a first option, or do you expect them to save it as a last resort after all other options have been exhausted?  Do your kids know whether a vocation to the priesthood or religious life would make you happy, or sad, or both?

Trust me.  Your talking to your kids about vocations, married or religious, is important.  Your kids need to know where you stand.  They may not share everything with you, and they may or may not want to talk about it with you, but knowing of your support is critical if they are to succeed in listening to the voice of Christ, and in trying to do whatever He tells them (Jn 2:5).

Parents' Impact on Their Children

The following is a recent column in the web publication "Today's Catholic News" of the Diocese of Ft. Wayne - South Bend. It's a nice reflection on the impact of parents in their child's life and vocation.

Formula for a vocation

I attended a freshman prayer breakfast yesterday with my daughter at the local diocesan Catholic high school. It allowed me a chance to catch up with Rita, an old friend whose daughter is also a freshman. In conversing with her over poppy seed muffins and scrambled eggs, I came to find that her son just entered the seminary. She is thrilled, as well she should be. I think she is already sewing vestments.

So now, two of my friends have sons in the seminary. It’s a beautiful thing to see vocations blossom, and while God certainly is the one calling, the family is the fertile ground that prepares and allows a young man to say “yes.”

It is said that a particular priest once visited a convict in prison. In talking with him he discovered a scrawling on the wall: “Mothers are the Fate of Men.” When asked about it, the prisoner replied that in prison one has a lot of time to think about many things, and the result of this particular prisoner’s reflection was this saying. “You see,” he continued, undoubtedly speaking from experience, “a good mother is a blessing for the children; a bad mother, however, is a terrible curse.”

I am writing this column on the feast of St. Therese, who lost her mother when she was very young. Yet, in her autobiography, “Story of a Soul,” she writes of the strong influence of her mother on her life. At one point she writes, “God was pleased all through my life to surround me with love, and the first memories I have are stamped with smiles and the most tender caresses. I loved Mamma… very much.”

And later in the book she writes, “Ah! How delicate a mother’s heart really is, and how it shows its tenderness in a thousand little cares that no one thinks about!” It’s amazing to realize that St. Therese was merely 4 years old when her mother passed, yet she recalls with great clarity many instances that formed her involving her mother. She sums up with a profound and sobering thought: “Having nothing but good example around me, I naturally wanted to follow it.” Undoubtedly, a mother’s influence is important in the awakening and nurturing of religious vocations.

While a mother’s impact is important in the blossoming of a religious vocation, I think a father has a particularly significant role in vocation-discovery for young men. He is the leader and head of the Catholic family, and if a mother is good, holy, pious and adhering to various religious devotions, a father can unduly unravel this goodness with a simple scoff or sarcastic look, or a pattern of bad example.

For a young man to truly consider the vocation of priesthood, I believe that the father has to present it as a viable option. For despite the devoted love and concern of a doting mother, it is a father who teaches his son to become a man, and demonstrates through word and action how this manhood can and should be played out. Specifically, a father’s example of principled living and devotion to God influences a young man in ways no mother, sibling, friend or book can.

Additionally, a father suggesting the vocation of priesthood as a possibility to his son legitimizes the option as an accepted and viable one, and allows the son to consider freely whether God might be calling him to this beautiful and sacrificial way of life.

My father, grandfather to almost 50 children, has a beautiful, ornate golden chalice that he purchased while on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland. He gathered the grandsons upon his return and told them that this chalice was going to be a gift to the first priest in the family. He spoke of the specialness of the vocation and explained that without priests we would have no Mass and no holy Eucharist. A way to ensure priests in the future is to value and revere the vocation, and respect those who have been called to service in this way.

Pope Benedict XVI has declared 2009 a Year for Priests beginning with the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 19 and ending with an international gathering in Rome June 9-11, 2010. This is a perfect time to reflect on how we can support and encourage the priests we know, as well as ask ourselves what God may want for us in our families. We should be asking our sons if God might be calling them to a religious vocation. If one is not asked, it might be difficult for one to say “yes.”

Posted on October 7, 2009, to:


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