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Brothers who are now priests say strong family life key to all vocations

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- He had planned this moment for months, had thought about it for years. What would he say in this profound moment in his life and the life of his brother that both would remember for the rest of their lives?

Yet when Father John Hollowell came to his younger brother, Father Anthony Hollowell, to give him a sign of peace minutes after he was ordained a priest, all of his planning disappeared and he said words that he never considered: "I love you."

This moment, which Father John described as "a blessing of the Spirit," happened June 25 in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis when Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin ordained six men as priests for service to the church in central and southern Indiana.

When Father Anthony Hollowell became a priest that day, he filled out three sets of brothers who have been ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis since 2009.

All priests share a common brotherhood in their deep bond of ordained life and ministry. Fathers Anthony and John Hollowell, David and Doug Marcotte, and Andrew and Benjamin Syberg experience it at an even deeper level as brothers. And they hope their witness will deepen the faith of archdiocesan Catholics, and encourage them to make their families the seed bed of future vocations.

But while they recognize the importance that growing up in faith-filled families had on their future as priests, the priests acknowledged that growing up together came with more than its fair share of scuffles.

"Love fight," said Father Anthony while reflecting on the times when he and three of his brothers would wrestle their oldest brother John.

"In our family life growing up, we fought a lot," Father Anthony told The Criterion, the archdiocesan newspaper. "But, in my mind, it was never outside of the context of our love for each other. You could stretch it at times. But, even in our worst fights … there was always a deep love there."

Fathers Doug and David were the only children in their family, and were born less than two years apart.

"Just being the two of us, we played together quite a bit," said Father Doug, pastor of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Augustine parishes, both in Jeffersonville. "But being brothers, at times it ended up with a dispute and a fight."

Brothers also can be "partners in crime" in both their youth and adulthood, as Fathers Andrew and Benjamin found out when they were classmates for a period while in priestly formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

"We got into a little trouble," Father Benjamin said with a laugh. "We'd have too much fun sometimes. There'd be some slapping and giggling with us sitting in the back of class from time to time. We got along so well."

In the midst of all the fun times and fights they'd have as children, the brothers also had the faith planted in them by loving parents who then nurtured those seeds with love, but also in other ordinary ways.

One was an uncompromising dedication to attending Mass on Sunday.

"We were at Mass every single Sunday, unless you were bleeding or dying," said Father Doug, who was ordained in 2013. "You were there."

"If we were on vacation, Dad was going to find us a place to go to Mass," said Father Anthony, who is pursuing graduate studies in Rome.

These priests all cited their parents' example of living out their faith and their vocation to marriage.

"That was the first vocation that we were exposed to, and it was a very solid one," said Father Andrew, associate pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus.

His brother recalled the influence of his parents' dedication to spending an hour in adoration of the Eucharist each week at 2 a.m. on Tuesdays in a perpetual adoration chapel.

"Even as a kid, not being all that prayerful, I knew that my parents prayed and I knew that it was important," said Father Benjamin, who was ordained in 2014 and serves as administrator of Our Lady of the Springs Parish in French Lick and Our Lord Jesus Christ the King Parish in Paoli. "I believe that so much grace over the years has come from their continued dedication to do that. God is very rich in his blessings when we continually turn to him in that kind of way."

The Marcotte brothers also saw in their parents a witness to the importance of service in the church by "being active in a variety of things" at St. Michael Parish in Greenfield where they grew up.

"They both spent time in giving to God," said Father David, who was ordained in 2014 and serves as administrator of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Martinsville. "That helped us to think about what ways we could give of ourselves to the church as well."

As young adults, each of the brothers came to discern that God was calling them to serve as priests.

Among the six, the brothers who were ordained second acknowledged some influence on their own discernment from those that preceded them in the seminary. When they were in priestly formation, the brothers supported each other.

For all three sets of brothers, the importance of the family in fostering vocations is key.

"That is where vocations are found, that's where they're discovered, that's where they're fostered, that's where they grow," said Father Andrew. "That's where it starts. The family is so important to vocations, whether it's married life or (religious life) or the priesthood. Parents are the driving force behind that."

Father Benjamin agreed. "It's about the family. And, to go deeper, it's about marriage. Two people who love each other completely and live that out in the church are the greatest thing that can produce vocations to the priesthood."

The church, Catholics and the broader society should do all they can to bolster families, Father Doug said.

"I don't think we are going to solve the priesthood crisis -- or the marriage crisis -- without strengthening our families," he said. "That doesn't mean that there are not priests who come from less than ideal family situations."

"But, I think we do have to acknowledge that strong families help people to be able to say, 'Yes,' because they've been formed day in and day out."
  • Published in Nation

Studies track effect of family encouragement on vocation pursuit

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- There is no single answer to what spurs a young man or woman to consider a vocation to religious life or the priesthood.

"Vocation is a very complex chain of events," said Mark M. Gray, a senior research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

There is no doubt, according to Gray, that the influence of family contributes to a son or daughter's decision on whether to pursue a religious vocation. But, just as parents can encourage a vocation, they also can discourage consideration of a vocation.

Gray, who is director of CARA Catholic Polls, points to a study issued jointly last year with the National Religious Vocation Conference, "The Role of the Family in Nurturing Vocations to Religious Life and Priesthood," as particularly telling on a family's effect on vocations.

Family members of seminarians, priests and religious are usually Catholic themselves and are more likely than Catholics in general to have attended a Catholic school, according to that study. They are more likely than other Catholic adults to say that their faith is the most important part of their daily life. One in five also had a priest or a religious already in their extended family, according to the study.

These family members report a more engaged prayer life than do other Catholic parents or other Catholic adults in general, the study said. Nearly nine in 10 pray daily, compared to just over half of U.S. Catholic adults and just over a third of Catholic parents. They also feel more strongly than Catholic adults in general that it is important that younger generations of the family grow up Catholic.

"We know it's obviously a consideration," Gray told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.

"The importance of family is in encouraging. But it takes more than one person," Gray said. "If it's just your mom ... or just your dad, that's probably not enough. If two people encourage you or three people encourage you," one is more likely to consider a vocation, he added. Friends, priests and sisters can assist in this process.

"Unfortunately, it's just as often that sometimes parents are the people that discourage you" from consideration of a vocation, Gray said. That's the reverse from two generations ago or more, when families were happy to have a son or a daughter enter a convent or the priesthood.

"There's a real sense of 'that's not my role,'" Gray said. Those attitudes, he added, stem from "a sense of individual autonomy that people should pursue their (own) interests -- 'I want my children to follow their dreams' -- rather than some sort of negative attitude toward the church."

One reason parents may discourage a vocation is that, with lower birthrates, they have fewer children to follow their own dreams.

In "New Sisters and Brothers Professing Perpetual Vows in Religious Life: The Profession Class of 2015," issued in January, CARA asked those new members of religious orders, both male and female, about the size of their family. Only 4 percent reported being an only child. 

The most common response from both men and women was that they had three siblings; 25 percent said so, and close to 25 percent reported they had one sibling. But 15 percent said they had two siblings, 9 percent said four siblings, and 22 percent said they had five or more siblings.

Catholic heritage is another indicator of openness to vocations, with 78 percent of the Class of 2015 saying both parents were Catholic. Moreover, 28 percent said they have a relative who is a priest or a religious.

While parents may be encouraging their children to think about religious life, more survey respondents said they got encouragement from parish priests, other religious and friends. 

Mothers did more encouraging than fathers, but new male religious got more encouragement from parents to pursue a vocation than did women religious by roughly a 2-to-1 margin.

A 2012 study, "Consideration of Priesthood and Religious Life Among Never-Married U.S. Catholics," examined family discouragement in some detail. 

Encouragement was highest by the grandmothers of ethnic groups that weren't white or Hispanic, with 14 percent saying they had gotten a nudge from their grandmother. Ten percent of white respondents said their mother, and 9 percent said their grandmother, encouraged a vocation -- the highest percentages among this group. Among Hispanics, 10 percent of "other family members," other than parents or grandparents, encouraged a vocation.

But by the same token, 10 percent of other family members of Hispanics also discouraged a vocation. As a result, the difference between encouragement and discouragement was a wash, as it was with the other family members of other ethnic groups. Mothers, fathers and grandmothers recorded single-digit "net encouragement rates" across nearly all categories, but their percentages were lower compared to those rates for priests and priest chaplains.

Schooling also can play an important role in the choice of a vocation, since parents have the final say in what schools their children attend.

A CARA study done with Holy Cross Family Ministries and conducted in the fall of 2014, "The Catholic Family: 21st-Century Challenges in the United States," showed that only 11 percent currently sent their child to a Catholic elementary, middle school or high school; 5 percent, to a youth ministry program; and 21 percent, to a parish-based religious education program. In all, more than two-thirds, 68 percent, said they did not have any of their children enrolled in formal Catholic religious education.

"Even those in the highest income brackets are still relatively unlikely to enroll children. Among those in households earning $85,000 or more per year, only 14 percent have a child enrolled in a Catholic elementary school and 4 percent in a Catholic high school," the study said.

Family influence might have been greater when more Catholic children went to Catholic schools, but also when young men and women attended seminary or convent high schools, which were more plentiful in the post-World War II era. They provided a direct path to priesthood or permanent vows.

With men and women making the choice for a vocation later in life, family influence wanes, Gray said. "At CARA we're constantly looking at the next layer," he added. CARA recently received a grant to determine the impact of social media on vocations.

Women in particular, according to Gray, are "looking for religious institutes online" for one that matches their interests -- if they don't already have a relationship with a religious order. But, Gray cautioned, "you have to have an institute with the ability to work through social media to be found," and for many leaders of religious congregations, "the internet isn't something they grew up with."
  • Published in Nation

Family time is precious to Thomas Van Dzura

How much does Thomas F. Van Dzura love his three children?

So much that the die-hard New York Jets fan became a runner like his sons and wife; not just any runner, but a runner who is willing to run a "princess half marathon" at Walt Disney World after just a year on what his wife calls "the couch to 5K plan."

But more importantly, Van Dzura shows his love for his children by putting them and their mother–his wife, Brenda–first, and with her by supporting them in all their endeavors, by offering unconditional love and passing on to them the Catholic faith.

"My faith is very important to me," said the chief financial officer for the Society of St. Edmund and principles of accounting instructor at St. Michael's College in Colchester.

He enjoys "the best of both worlds" being a father and working for the Edmundites and the college they founded.

A 1989 graduate of St. Michael's, Van Dzura met his future wife there when he was a senior; they married in 1993. He worked in accounting positions in New Hampshire and in Montpelier before becoming controller for the Edmundites in 2000 and CFO in 2007.

As a student, faith was "part of the fabric" of the New Jersey native's life. "It wasn't just going to Mass and receiving the sacraments. My faith helped determine what I wanted to do in life," he said. "I can't imagine going through life absent that faith. It is a source of strength and motivation."

Van Dzura considers being a husband, father, advisor to the Society of St. Edmund and teacher all as his vocations; he is thankful he can live them.

His family time is precious to him, and he acknowledges he felt somewhat le_ out when his wife and sons ran together. Though their events were fun for him to watch, he wanted to participate with them; so last year he decided this year would be his first half marathon. "I knew how much running meant to them. I thought they'd be thrilled and excited for me to become part of it."

And they were.

His son, Darren, a member of the Essex High School Class of 2016, learned from his father the importance of fun. "Enjoy what you do and never be afraid to try something new," he said.

"I was inspired by them and wanted to be part of that" sport, Van Dzura said.

In fact, his sons often inspire him. "I wish I were more like them as an adolescent: comfortable in their own skin and believing everyone they encounter has something meaningful to contribute," he explained. "They are not always worried about what other people think as long as they are doing the right thing and setting a good example."

He described them as "very giving, very unselfish and very compassionate."

The best things he has done for his sons are to love and support them unconditionally, help them make good choices and mentor them.

The oldest of four children–he has three younger sisters–Van Dzura learned from his father how to be patient and forgiving. (John "Jack" Van Dzura died in 2006.) He also learned from him how to discipline his children in a loving way and to show them affection. "Not a day goes by that at least one of the boys doesn't say 'I love you Dad,'" he said.

His son, Joseph, an Essex High School sophomore, hopes to emulate his compassion, kindness and patience.

Van Dzura's maternal grandfather, Frank Smith of New Jersey, is another of his important role models. When Van Dzura was in college, "Grandpa Smith" used to send him notes, sometimes with a little cash for an ice cream. He'd always include "Knowledge is power" in his missive. Now he does that for Kyle.

Smith is a man of strong faith, attends daily Mass and puts his wife and daughters before him.

Emulating him, Van Dzura puts his wife, his sons, his faith and his relationship with God and Jesus first.

One of the greatest compliments he ever received came from his grandfather who told him if he had had a son, he would want him to be just like Van Dzura.

Other important influences in his life are members of the Society of St. Edmund who model "unselfish service to others" and "evangelize by reaching out through things like education," he said.

Van Dzura would have given serious thought to the possibility of becoming an Edmundite if he had not met and fallen in love with Brenda.

A resident of Essex Junction, Van Dzura, 48, is a member of St. Pius X Church in Essex Center and a former chair of the parish Finance Council. He enjoys reading–mostly biographies, business and sports–and spending time with his family.

Darren enjoys time with his father going to movies and taking family trips. "What's great about my dad is that no matter what we are doing we find a way to enjoy it," he said.

"Tom puts his children and their interests before his own," his wife said. "I often see parents pushing their children towards the parent's interests. Not the case with Tom. He has always encouraged our boys to 'be themselves' and to do what makes them happy."

In fact, son Kyle, a rising junior at Providence College, said the most important lesson he learned from his father is to "always be true to myself."

"My dad will always go out of his way to make sure that I am happy, even if that means putting me ahead of himself," he continued. "What really makes my dad a great dad, though, is that he follows his own path. He knows what it takes to be a great dad and proves that every day. Just by being himself, he is the best dad a kid could ask for."

Van Dzura has been a member of the high school band boosters and a Cub Scout leader, and he has chaperoned the boys' cross-country team. "He helps out in whatever way he can, all to be supportive of his children," Mrs. Van Dzura said. "The boys know they can come to him about anything. He has a goofy sense of humor, which all the boys have inherited."

Van Dzura–who with his wife has presented a talk on marriage for a Leap retreat for young people at St. Anne's Shrine in Isle LaMotte–always thanks God in prayer for the blessing of his wife and children; he prays for their health and happiness and for the health and well being of all his family, friends and members of the Society of St. Edmund. He also prays for those who are suffering and those who are lonely, isolated, sad and lacking faith.

"He shows me what it means to be selfless, to be thankful for what you have and to thank God for all of the blessings in our lives," Kyle said.

As he looks ahead, Van Dzura wants to focus on continuing to be a good husband and father, continuing to communicate with this family, continuing to be self aware and continuing to be patient.

He'll also continue his running efforts: This Father's Day he will be in Worcester, Mass., running a half marathon with his wife and one son while the other two sons are working at Camp Fatima, a Catholic camp in New Hampshire where all of his sons work.

"I take every day as a blessing," he said. "I savor it. I don't wish it to go by fast."

Article and photo by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer.

  • Published in Parish

Reflections on Parenting

Each year we celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day. More than just a Hallmark holiday whereby we send cards of greetings, these special Sundays hold great meaning to parents and children alike. It is a way to honor those who give life.

It is within the family unit that children first experience love and learn to love themselves and others. Pope Francis emphasized this when speaking with a group of parents in Rome recently. "Dear parents, your children need to discover by watching you that it is beautiful to love another," he said.

We can agree that the American family has changed profoundly in recent decades. What constitutes a family? A mom, dad and children? Multi-generational family structure? Single parenthood? Today, even if the household is comprised of two parents, it can be tough. Work schedules often compete with family needs. Parents striving to provide for their families, while remaining present to their children, are working against the clock. Both employer and employee must value family time: meaning that a balance must be reached in agreed importance and financial compensation.

The challenge of single parenting is compounded by the demand that all responsibility will be provided by a single person. Routine tasks and day-today obligations can become overwhelming. Doing it all requires great love.

Many families rely on childcare providers to offer a safe environment for their children. Be it full-time, part-time, afterschool centers, these are the places where children form friendships within a family-like atmosphere. In order for daycare centers to be outstanding places for children to develop socially, providers must be appreciated and compensated.

Today's families experiencing the stress and strain around issues of time, childcare, finances can take great solace in the example of the Holy Family. The family actually started with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy "conceived by the Holy Spirit." There was an extended separation while Mary visited and cared for Elizabeth; a period of homelessness and economic uncertainty in Egypt, a trip back to Nazareth and even a 12-year-old Jesus apparently lost. We can ask the Holy Family for help and intercession as we deal with serious struggles today.

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us each show appreciation and respect for all of those who are raising the next generation–parents, teachers, coaches and others. Let us also be aware and inclusive of those who need our help but are often without a voice. Consider volunteering in your parish, school, local hospital or other organization dealing with children and their needs. Your gifts are needed. Ask for the Lord's guidance as to how you might be able to help in these others by demonstrating mercy and compassion.

Deacon Pete Gummere, M.S., M.A. serves at Corpus Christi Parish. He is a bioethicist and an adjunct faculty member at Pontifical College Josephinum, where he teaches courses in medical morality and moral theology in the Josephinum Diaconate Institute.


“His Mercy Endures Forever” at Troy Family Day Retreat

More than 200 people gathered at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Troy June 25 for the second annual Family Day Retreat organized by local parishioners. The theme, in keeping with the current Holy Year of Mercy, was “His Mercy Endures Forever.”

  • Published in Parish
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