A priest in the family

My brother being ordained to the priesthood in July 2007.

A few weeks before Easter 2007, I was using the photocopier at the newspaper and the editor came by to check his mailbox. We talked for a few minutes, and he again thanked me for a nice job with my piece for the Walk for Life.

He asked if I had plans to visit my family for Easter. Sadly, I told him no. This would be the second year in a row that I wasn’t able to spend this special time with my family. As a senior in college, I had participated on a retreat during Holy Week in Rhode Island.

I forget how the topic of conversation turned to my family in this way, but the editor acknowledged that my brother would be ordained a priest that summer. And he asked if I was interested in writing a piece about that for an upcoming special section on religious vocations, to write about what it’s like, this idea of having a priest in the family.

I was thrilled! What a consolation for not being able to spend time with them in person.

I drafted a list of questions for my parents and emailed them. I don’t know if I was afraid of conducting a phone interview with them or what, or maybe I felt it was best that they share their answers in writing. But that’s the approach I took. It was so cool to get their feedback in this way, to give them the opportunity to reflect on my brother’s journey and discernment process. They responded to me separately, and it seemed like such a gift to share this kind of writing experience with them.

I talked on the phone with my brother for a little bit, but mostly he directed me to use excerpts from a piece he had written of his own journey.

Unlike my experience with determining how to weave elements together for my first article, this one seemed to come together seamlessly. Of course, I did have several days to fine-tune my draft, so I’m sure that played into it. But I remember really enjoying the editing and drafting process for this one; that it seemed easier and actually fun.

Like the first piece, I also compared my final draft with what was printed. I rated this one as 95% in tact from what was submitted. I was incredibly proud of this piece, figuring it would be something I could never top.

A Priest in the Family: A Privilege and a Transformation

Published April 2007

“When a child is growing up, he or she has so many possibilities that I don’t see how anyone could predict what they will be when they grow up,” my dad explained. “Andrew seemed like any normal kid.”

Looking back I remember my older brother’s passion for collecting comic books, his love for playing soccer, and his determination to capture the spotlight in our family videos. I remember having countless pillow fights with him on our parents’ bed and building forts out of pillows, blankets, and couch cushions. It amazes me to think that in three short months, at the age of 26, my brother will be ordained a priest for the diocese of Charleston in South Carolina.

Andrew and I were born and raised in a small town in  South Carolina. We grew up Catholic, but never really talked about our faith together as a family; however, my parents played their roles, offering us an example of how to live serving Christ.

My mom set the example of having a visible daily prayer life, decorating our house to give it a Catholic identity—a crucifix in every room, plenty of rosaries and various images of Christ and Mary.

My dad, on the other hand, showed his faith through volunteering. He taught Sunday school classes, served in the prison ministry known as Kairos, helped with various Cursillo weekend retreats, and sang and played guitar for the choir.

Both of my parents have maintained their early morning holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament since our parish started Perpetual Adoration in 1996. Our parents also made the sacrifice for us to attend Catholic schools so that we had a proper foundation in our faith.

Andrew first started thinking about becoming a priest in the fifth grade when his religion class watched a movie about Blessed Damien, a priest who gave his life serving the lepers of Molokai, Hawaii. “I was really impressed how this young missionary priest gave up his life to serve the lepers and by his tremendous courage and faith, trusting in God to keep him healthy as long as he was to serve the people.” Andrew explains. “I thought it would be cool to change so many lives as a priest.”

From fifth grade on he began seriously considering becoming a priest, but the idea of not being able to get married held him back. Instead, he pursued being a writer or a teacher, professions where he could get married.

As he got older, my parents remember Andrew becoming more serious. Mom recalls Andrew during middle school: “I could see that Andrew was different than most of the boys his age. He was more mature and more caring of others. He was left out of parties and social events, I believe, because of this. He was even called ‘Reverend’ at one point. So I think that from that time onwards, I had this feeling in the back of my mind that Andrew was leaning more to the spiritual life. In fact, we would pray the family rosary, a lot at his suggestion.”

When Andrew was in high school, Dad remembers one specific Sunday when they drove home from church together. “I told him that God may be calling him to become a priest, and that he should give it some thought. I also encouraged him to help out teaching CCD at about that time.”

So Andrew began helping with the seventh grade CCD class. As the year progressed, the regular teacher wasn’t able to make some of the classes, so Andrew taught the class on his own. “This,” says Dad, “may have been a way for him to get his feet wet doing some of the things that priests do.”

It wasn’t until his freshman year of college when Andrew received God’s grace to accept the sacrifice of celibacy when he listened to a tape of Fr. John Corapi’s conversion story. “Through Father’s talk,” Andrew explains, “I realized that it was only in following my vocation that I would be truly happy. Marriage is a tremendous gift: a wife and children. For those called to the priesthood, the priesthood is an even greater gift that will bring even greater happiness!”

He recognized celibacy as a gift, and that, in a way, he would be trading in the treasure of wife and children for an even greater treasure: “giving myself to the spotless Bride of Christ and having countless spiritual children!”

With this renewed sense of commitment to follow God’s call, Andrew had to find a way to explain this to our parents. Since our parents have always shown support for our decisions and encouraged us to seek God’s will in our lives, Andrew’s main concern was that Dad might be disappointed in not having a grandson to carry on the family name.

Our parents did support Andrew, but they worried about how he would explain this decision to his current girlfriend. This is how Andrew told her:

“I think I am called to be a priest. I have to follow this call. If I really love you, it would be wrong for me to stay with you because I know I am not called to be married. I know I will only be truly happy if I follow my call, and I know I will regret not becoming a priest if I get married.”

Andrew entered the seminary at the beginning of his third year in college. I would love to say that this joyful decision has brought nothing but blessings, but that would not be true. There are many sacrifices, some more challenging than others. Aside from not having grandchildren, the biggest sacrifice my parents have faced is the idea of not being able to spend much time with him in the future. He will be living at his parish and tending to his flock.

Time has been the biggest struggle for me. Andrew and I have just begun our adult lives, a maturing process through which we have become closer and more open with each other. It is hard to sacrifice this deepening friendship, knowing that he will now have many other people to put first—his parishioners. Despite this challenge, though, I wouldn’t dare change anything because it makes the times we do share together much more precious and meaningful.

As Andrew’s ordination nears, no one doubts that he is called to the priesthood “I am very proud of him, and I support him all the way,” Mom says. “I can see his love for the church and the people. I can feel his holiness and sincere desire to be a priest.”

My dad feels the same. He believes Andrew has been given the gifts he needs to be a good and effective priest. “I think it will be very rewarding to watch how God works through him as he goes through his years as a priest. I look forward to observing how people relate to him as a priest and pastor.”

Parents, as the first teachers of faith, play an important role for their children, especially as they consider the priesthood and religious life. Mom advises parents to “pray for and with their children that God’s will be done. Parents should encourage their child by their own spiritual life of prayer and love of the Lord.”

Andrew encourages all who are actively discerning a religious vocation to seek guidance–a parish priest, for example, or vocation director, or a religious brother or sister.

“Don’t be afraid,” Andrew continues. “Know that God can use you to do great things even if you think you are not worthy or that you won’t be able to do them.”

I can’t imagine a greater gift than a priest in the family. It has been a privilege to witness the Holy Spirit transforming Andrew, and it is a transformation! Andrew has become not only a great older brother who is encouraging and supportive of me, but also a role model (whether or not he wants to be) of surrendering to God’s call. I only hope I possess the same amount of strength to accept my calling as wholeheartedly.


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