Real Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
When a young man is discerning a vocational call to the priesthood, often it raises many questions and concerns for the parents and family. In an effort to address these fears or concerns and provide experienced insights, what follows are actual responses from parents of seminarians and newly-ordained priests in the Archdiocese of Washington.
What is it like to have a son who is a seminarian?
My Sons the Seminarians (from Columbia Magazine)
It is a tremendous joy and blessing to have two sons attending St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington, D.C. Brendan Jr. entered the seminary as part of the new school’s inaugural class in the fall of 2011. James followed him in the fall of 2014. When Brendan entered, I knew I did not control his vocation and learned to simply let go. I asked the Holy Spirit and Mother Mary to guide him in his discernment and spiritual formation.
Since then, I have not experienced any anxiety about what the future holds for my two sons because God is so evidently with them. My wife Beth and I are incredibly joyful as we witness our sons’ response to God’s call. Their openness is truly inspiring. There was a time when I helped teach and guide them in their faith, but now I learn from them — a role reversal that has been both humbling and rewarding.
Keep reading in the Knights of Columbus Columbia Magazine here.
Comments from other parents:
“A true blessing! It is wonderful to have a son who is so prayerful and faith filled. He sets an incredible example for the entire family and friends.”
“It is a great blessing to have a son studying as a seminarian and discerning a possible call to priesthood. You become more aware of the priesthood itself and have the opportunity to interface with the other seminarians and their families which is a tremendous support. He is our oldest child and so it changed the dynamics of our family life. At first we missed him terribly, but as we witnessed his own happiness and peace (and with the advantage of Voyage and Skype) that was diminished. It is great to have him back in the area now and those years of study went very quickly.”
“While unique, it is pretty special. Our friends and family are all genuinely interested in his formation.”
“Great. We were very impressed with the faculty and seminarians at the seminary. We could witness firsthand his growth in maturity, spirituality, and commitment. Our visits with other seminarians and faculty both at the seminary and at other venues increased our confidence that he was being well formed and lovingly schooled.”
What was your first reaction when you learned that your son wanted to study for the priesthood?
“It was not really a surprise, we knew from an early age that this could be a potential career calling. In 5th grade he said he wanted to be the first priest to go to the moon.”
“Amazed. We knew that he had accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior in his personal life and was moving toward greater involvement in the Church. He, after suggestions and nudges from priests and lay people, began to consider that maybe he had a vocation but he was not sure how it would evolve.”
“There were always signs in terms of the way he spent his time and his questions and openness to God in his life. Then in high school and college he did some serious dating so we weren’t sure if he was still looking in that direction. Eventually, at the beginning of his senior year in college, he called to tell us he had met with the director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Washington. The plan was to finish his degree, continue to pray and stay close to Our Lord and enter the following fall if accepted. And the rest is history!”
Has your son been happy?
“He is very happy. He is surrounded by wonderful seminarian brothers: true men who share interests in academics, sports, life and most importantly, Christ.”
“Overall I would say a definite YES – he has been happy. Of course, there are struggles as in all vocations (just ask any married couple!) but he does seem content and fulfilled with his life as a priest. We watch as he celebrates Mass or ministers to others and continue to be amazed that our son has been called to this life. It’s beautiful. There is a strong bond between him and his fellow priests and this is crucial to his growth in holiness. Maintaining family relationships is also important and he does make time to come by for dinner and participate in family events when possible. We attempt to keep him rooted in reality and humility which is easy with siblings who see him first as their brother – not their priest.”
“He has been extremely happy. The seminary is full of outgoing, fun, competitive guys. We have been lucky to have his fellow seminarians visit us while we were living in Germany. This is great bunch of exceptional gentlemen who are normal, hilarious, and love to have a great time together.”
“Yes, very happy. As we celebrated with him his first year of ordination, he said, ‘I’ve never been happier in my life’. He is blessed to have been assigned to a holy and experienced pastor and this, plus his close relationships with other diocesan priests, have served as a vital support system for him.”
How do you express your support for his vocational discernment?
“From the beginning our son has been in our prayers. We also regularly pray for him during the prayer of the faithful at Mass which gives us an opportunity to share with other parishioners about his progress and service to the Lord and the Church. We visited him regularly at both college level seminary and major seminary where he studied theology. As he was discerning and being formed, we let him know that he has our unconditional love and support whether he ultimately was ordained or not. When we saw our son at Eucharistic Adoration, at his elevation to acolyte, lector and ordination to transitional deacon, we knew that the Lord was forming, gracing and empowering him and we could trust that process.”
“We treat it as his career, professional decision, similar to those of his siblings. We talk weekly, and have the opportunity to visit him regularly at the seminary. As a family, we treat him no differently than we did before he made this decision. We keep him grounded; he is still our son, a brother, and vital part of his extended family.”
“While he was still studying in the seminary, we always tried to make him feel part of the family while home. We prayed for him daily as we do for all our seminarians and we reminded him of that fact. We never placed any pressure on him in his discernment process. In fact, I recall one phone conversation when I mentioned some ‘sad news’ – that one of the seminarians had ‘discerned out’ of the seminary. He stopped me and reminded me that this was not ‘sad’ but simply part of the process and to be grateful to God that he had been open to discern in the first place. (That particular individual is happily married and a father now so apparently he was called to married life.) He also reminded me that he needed permission from us to feel free to do the same if at any time he was not completely certain of his calling prior to ordination.”
“Our son has been called to follow Christ in an exceptional way. We treat his decision as we would treat the professional decisions of our other children. We communicate weekly over the phone and we are blessed to be in the position to visit him often. We keep him up to date on all family issues and love learning the details of his life and activities in seminary.”
What else would you like to say to parents of prospective or new seminarians?
“We would remind these parents just to love their son and to pray for him to be led by the Holy Spirit to whatever vocation God is calling him. As an aside, people in our parish would often comment about how they had prayed for one of their sons to be a priest and were so disappointed when that didn’t happen. They seemed genuinely surprised when we acknowledge that this was never our prayer. Our prayer as parents (and our kids know this) was and is to pray for each one to be open to and to discern whatever life God is calling them to so that they can be with Him in eternity – and that should be the prayer of all parents. Encourage them to strengthen their relationship with the Lord and things will fall into place. And remind them to draw strength from the fact that there are many in the church who pray constantly for all of our priests and seminarians.”
“These seminarians are exceptional in many ways; or rather they are pretty normal guys with an exceptional calling. Visit one of the seminaries and talk with the guys; you’ll come away with a very different view on this calling.”
“Be at peace and know that the Lord God who loves you completely and unconditionally loves your son equally. You are privileged and blessed to witness an exciting and completely fulfilling life unfolding in your son’s walk with Jesus Christ and His Church.”
“Embrace the incredible calling of your son. The men who hear God’s call are normal, good men: athletes, musicians, academics, film enthusiast. We have had the opportunity to host many seminarians at our home in Germany and found all of them exceptional. Visit a seminary, or get to know seminarians assigned to your parish for the summer. You will discover your son is in good company!”