Log in
    

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

Actor Mark Wahlberg praised priesthood in video

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Typically, the Facebook page for the Diocese of Providence Office of Vocations in Rhode Island gets anywhere from three to 40 likes on its posts — most which celebrate seminarians, priests and their ministry.
 
But it took an actor and former member of a boy band to set its Facebook page on fire, not with a song, but with a video praising the priesthood, and one which had been viewed — as of Oct. 6 — 560,000 times and received more than 6,000 likes and upward of 8,000 shares.
 
Actor Mark Wahlberg, a native of Boston, where the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors had its annual conference Sept. 30–Oct.7, made the homemade video shown to those who attended and later posted on the Diocese of Providence vocations office Facebook page.
 
"We, the Catholic faithful, are counting on you to bring us good and holy priests," Wahlberg said in the video. "Enjoy my hometown this week and know that I will pray for you and for your success. Thank you for all that you do and God bless."
 
Some priests from the Boston area, who know Wahlberg, had brought up the idea of asking the actor to attend the conference once the city had been chosen as the location, said Rosemary Sullivan, executive director of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors. But as his schedule got tighter and tighter, he asked if he could do a video instead.
 
Wahlberg was promoting a film in which he stars, "Deepwater Horizon," about the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and how it affected the workers. The film was released the day the conference began.
 
He wasn't given a script for the priesthood video, but spoke from his heart, Sullivan said in a phone interview with Catholic News Service from Boston Oct. 6. Wahlberg spoke about how priests have helped him during difficult moments in his life and also are there for the good times: when he got married, when his children were baptized, when members of his family died and were buried, when he needs God's forgiveness, when he receives the body and blood of Jesus Christ to replenish his faith.
 
In the video, Wahlberg said he wants his children and future generations to have "good priests in their lives, just like I had." And even though he got into trouble in his youth, "I always had a priest to stick by me," he said.
 
When the video was shown in the conference, the reaction was silence, but a good kind of silence, Sullivan said: "He was so deeply sincere and you could feel it when you're watching the video."
 
"My Catholic faith is the anchor that supports everything I do in life," said Wahlberg, adding that he would be praying for the success of the conference and of the vocation directors.
 
What's plain to see is that the actor "spoke as a son of Christ" in his plea to keep the priesthood alive and about a responsibility that doesn't belong to vocation directors alone, Sullivan said.
 
"We all bear that responsibility," she added.
 
And Wahlberg, as a Catholic, took that responsibility seriously in trying to see what he could do to help.
 
"This is an example where you use a gift God has given you," she said, adding that Wahlberg also was present at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015 and emceed an event attended by the pope.
 
It's important to follow his example and, as Wahlberg did, let priests, those who are thinking about the priesthood and vocation directors know what they mean to Catholic communities, Sullivan said.
 
"They need to know how much we love them and support them," she said. "Mark Wahlberg is challenging them, saying 'We need you to help us.'"

[Wahlberg's video can be viewed on the Diocese of Providence Office of Vocations Facebook page.]
 
 
 
  • Published in Nation
Subscribe to this RSS feed
Bishop's Fund Annual Appeal