As a Catholic mom, I’m a little awed by those couples whose kids grow up to be a priest or religious, so I interviewed six of these couples to get their advice. Here’s what they said.
by Jean Schoonover-Egolf
As a Catholic mom, I am always a little in awe of those couples whose kids become a priest or religious brother or sister. In these days when a kid can attend Catholic school for thirteen years without ever meeting a religious sister or brother, talking to our children about vocations discernment seems a thing of the past.
The dismal period of decline in priestly ordinations and women entering the convent from the 1960s to 2013 led to a shortage of priests and vowed religious in the U.S., leading many Catholics to wonder, “Where did we go wrong?” Blessedly, the last few years has seen an increase in the number of priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters. I interviewed members of six families who are successfully fostering a calling to the religious life to find out what they did right.
The Klees: Emphasizing religious vocations as a blessing on the family
“My parents always presented priests and nuns to us as worthy of great respect,” recalls John Klee, brother of Father Joseph Klee whose “coolest-vocations-story-ever” can be found at the Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference blog.
John also counts daily family rosary and Mass among the ingredients that nurtured his brother’s priestly calling. “I would say my parents lived the Catholic religion to the fullest as lay people, and my brother absorbed that love of the faith from them.” But John also has this suggestion: “The one thing I remember my Dad always saying is that it would be good if every Catholic family had at least one religious vocation from among its children, and he hoped the same for his children. He never targeted any one child, he just made the blanket wish for one vocation in our family.”
The Dowdells: Immerse your children in the faith
Cheryl and Patrick Dowdell are the parents of nine kids, including 20-year-old Benjamin, who has been accepted into the priestly formation program of the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio.
“Live in the world but not of the world,” Cheryl says. “Immerse your children in the faith. We live the faith every day, not just Sunday.”
Among the ways their family lives the faith, Cheryl listed attendance at youth group and parish activities, taking time during family vacations to explore an area’s local churches and shrines, and reading stories about the saints. As homeschoolers, the Dowells use Seton Home Study Program, which incorporates Catholicism into every lesson. They strictly limit the children’s social media, encouraging only face-to-face peer interactions. They have ongoing, deep conversations with the children about standing up for and defending the faith, as well as the importance of purity and chastity in a world that fails to value either. Cheryl and Patrick’s 11-year-old daughter is now discerning the call to become a religious sister.
The Conways: Praying for kids to follow the vocations in their souls
Melissa and Joe Conway credit their traditional Catholic family values and a daily family rosary for being blessed to have four of their eleven children discerning religious vocations.
“And with every rosary I say this prayer: ‘May my children follow the vocations in their souls with love, courage, and joy,’” Melissa says.
Daily Mass as a family, as often as possible, is another piece of advice the Conways have to offer. They also make it a priority for their kids to attend religious retreats and “come-and-see” types of vocations awareness events.
The Schuberts: Introducing vocations through play
While Christina and Jeffrey Schubert’s children are still way too little to enter the seminary or the convent, Christina has a very unique perspective on ways to foster religious vocations in her young family. Her sister is entering the convent in two weeks, and Christina herself spent time discerning her own calling. She lived with two different communities of sisters over a period of ten years before ultimately giving her life to the vocation of marriage and motherhood.
“There are many customs I learned from living the monastic life that I will implement in living out the liturgical life of the church in the home,” she says. “Even at three and four years old, my boys have a beautiful little wooden Mass kit and vestments. They love to ‘play Mass,’ processions, etc. I plan on collecting the saint dolls from the Dolls From Heaven collection for our little girl.”
Christina also plans to foster a deep, personal, joyful prayer life in each of her children. More creative ideas from the Schuberts include inviting your parish priest over for dinner and going on family retreats to monasteries.
Emily Jaminet: Allow love of the world to inspire vocations
“My parents went out of their way to give us an amazing childhood that was very balanced with enriching activities and tons of love,” recalls Emily Jaminet, co-author of Divine Mercy for Moms and The Friendship Project.
Emily and her three siblings, one of whom is an ordained priest, agree that their parents (mother a “cradle Catholic” and father a convert) were willing to be different than the mainstream culture.
“But we were taught how to swim with the other fish. We did sports, swim teams, and summer camps. We played kickball with neighborhood kids in the evening and attended Catholic schools. They didn’t parent out of fear of the world, but allowed the world to inspire each of us to be a light.”
As for Emily’s advice on how to encourage religious vocations in our own families, she says her parents provided them with meaningful experiences like pilgrimages to Rome and Marian apparition sites, as well as family prayer.
“But, honestly, they focused on teaching us to love God and do his will through a happy childhood, that true happiness comes from doing God’s will,” she says.
Sister Maria Vianney: Don’t hold your children back
“Don’t hold back your children,” was the unexpected advice offered by Sister Maria Vianney Kysely, OP, director of religious education at St. Patrick Parish in Columbus, OH.
Sadly, many Catholic parents discourage their children from religious vocations. Fear of the child being overwhelmed with the demands of the priesthood, geographic distance (which Sister Maria Vianney reassured me was negated by a deeper spiritual relationship with your child) as well as longing for grandchildren were concerns that came up among some parents I interviewed.
Even so, all the parents I spoke with were right on board with her closing words to me: “The sacrifice of giving your child back to God will bring more rewards than you know.”