“Parents, give thanks to the Lord if He has called one of your children to the consecrated life. It is to be a great honor, as it always has been, that the Lord should look upon a family and choose to invite one of its members to set out on the path of the evangelical counseled? Cherish the desire to give the Lord one of your children so that God’s love can spread in the world What fruit of conjugal love could be more beautiful than this?
“We must remember that if parents do not live the values of the Gospel, the young man or woman will find it very difficult to discern the calling, to understand the need for the sacrifices which must be faced, and to appreciate the beauty of the goal to be achieved. For it is in the family that young people have their first experience of Gospel values and of the love which gives itself to God and to others. They also need to be trained in responsible use of their own freedom, so that they will be prepared to live, as their vocation demands, in accordance with the loftiest spiritual realities.” - Pope John Paul II, Vita Consecrata
Open to Godís Call
God has blessed our family of five children with two Religious vocations. Our oldest child Jason (now Fr. Isaac Spinharney of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal) and our second oldest child Katie(now Sr. John Paul Marie of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal) chose the Religious life.
We are asked often how did two of our children choose the Religious life? What did we do as parents that encouraged them toward this life?
The easy answer is the Holy Spirit. Obviously both children were open to the call of the Holy Spirit. We take no credit for their choices. What we did try to do was make our children aware of Religious vocations and to be open to God’s call.
Sharon and I were married in 1973. We were practicing Catholics…but not as committed as we could be. We grew in our faith slowly. Sharon joined a lay apostolate group (Apostolate for Family Consecration) in 1985. This apostolate centered on Christ, the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph, and focused on the family and raising good Catholic children. For the first time, we got the whole family involved. We realized that, sadly, many of the “Catholic schools” were really not Catholic and that it was our responsibility to teach the kids the faith. We found a good set of books (Faith and Life series) and taught the kids ourselves while they attended public schools. We began to say the family Rosary together (first on Sundays and eventually every night). We attended Sunday Mass as a family and went to confession monthly. We started going to Ohio each summer for a week at Catholic Familyland. This was a weeklong vacation where the kids could meet other Catholic kids and live out the week with the Sacraments and living the Catholic life as it should be lived. We also started adoration at least once a week. We believed our children’s souls were at stake.
When it came time for college, we told the kids they had a choice of selected Catholic schools to attend at least for one year. After that, it was their choice. Of the five children, four went to college and three of them graduated from Franciscan University and one graduated from Benedictine College in Kansas. We felt it was our responsibility to send our kids to a place that at least taught the true teachings of the Church. We have been very thankful ever since.
Today all five children love and live their Catholic faith. Kara is married to Jeremy and they have four daughters. Three of the four granddaughters attend Holy Family Academy. Jessica, our fourth child, teaches at Trinity High School in Eagan and is engaged to a young Catholic man in June of 2011. Jordan is our youngest and just graduated from Benedictine College and has committed two years to serve as a FOCUS Catholic missionary at Belmont Abbey in North Carolina.
Bob and Sharon Spinharney
BROTHERS IN CHRIST
When our son Joseph informed us that he might have a calling to the priesthood, we were excited. This excitement was tempered by a few more “worldly” concerns, and did require a change in mindset. Joseph was a pre-med student who had done very well academically at the University of Minnesota-Morris and seemed posed to be accepted to medical school and follow in his father’s footsteps as a medical doctor. But now he felt called to study theology and to discern whether or not he was being called to a religious vocation. Despite these concerns, we were thrilled and hopefully prepared for the wonderful news. The preparation came by realizing that each of our children was a gift from God and yet they truly belonged to Him and not to us. Each day as we took them to Mass or prayed with them, we asked that God’s will be done, and now that will was manifesting itself in a call to the religious life as a priest of God.
The joy and peace we saw in Joseph’s life reassured us and prepared us even more for the news that Joseph’s younger brother, Peter, also felt a similar calling and planned to follow his brother to the pre-theology program at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and eventually to the St. Paul Seminary. Peter, who is two years younger than Joseph, had just graduated from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota with a business degree, but felt drawn away from the business world and toward a religious vocation. It was wonderful to see both of our sons listening to God’s call and change the course of their lives from very different paths. There at Franciscan University, away from family and friends, they had an opportunity to discern God’s will for their lives.
In addition to changing our mindset as parents about their careers, we also were concerned about their life “without a family,” especially since they had grown up surrounded by so many siblings. Would they be lonely without a spouse and children? Our fears were soon allayed as we witnessed the peace with which they accepted celibacy as a gift and as God’s will for them.
During Peter and Joseph’s years in the seminary, we were often invited as parents to celebrate the Eucharist and various other liturgies with them and their fellow seminarians. Despite being bombarded by constant news about clergy scandals, we were very impressed by the dedication, fortitude, joy, and serenity of all the seminarians, including our sons. Our comfort level and our confidence grew as they proceeded through the steps of seminary preparation on the way to the diaconate and priesthood. Their siblings, grandparents, and many friends supported them, although at times they would have to explain their calling to friends who didn’t understand. The ordination to the diaconate and priesthood were grace-filled, holy, and joyful experiences that we will never forget. We truly felt our sons at peace in their decision to follow Christ as they grew in their love of our Lord and his Blessed Mother Mary. Their peace became our peace as we realized they were doing God’s will.
Fr. Joseph was ordained May 25, 2002, and Fr. Peter was ordained May 29, 2004. Even though they have left the seminary, we still feel like St. Paul Seminary is an extension of our family. We continue to pray for all seminarians and those who prepare them.
Our family has tried to live our Catholic faith on a daily basis. We attended daily Mass with our children, prayed the Rosary, encouraged the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and tried to actively live our faith through our parish and other volunteer activities; beginning with morning Mass and ending the day with family prayers and Dad reading from the Bible. We enjoyed long walks, bike rides, tennis games, and picnics as a family. It was during these times daily we could really listen to each child’s individual needs. We limited our television viewing, and eating dinner together each evening was a must.
Our children have been a huge blessing to us. We have tried to pass on our faith to our children; they have not only received it, but have multiplied it many times over and returned it, to help us grow in our faith as parents. We continue to give our Lord honor, glory, and thanksgiving for having called our sons to His Holy Priesthood. They are holy and joy-filled priests. Just to think that they can now call down Jesus from heaven during the Consecration so that we can be filled with His Body and Blood is truly a gift to all His faithful people and us.
We encourage all parents, whether you have one or ten children, to be open to your child’s decision to discern and pursue a calling to either the priesthood or Religious life. Your hearts, too, will be filled with gratitude.
Please pray daily, as our parishes in the St. Croix Valley do, Archbishop Flynn’s prayer for vocations.
-Gary and Mary Williams
+ O God, we earnestly ask you to bless this archdiocese with many priests, Brothers and Sisters who will love You with their whole strength and gladly spend their entire lives to serve your Church and to make You known and loved.
Bless our families, bless our children. Choose from our homes those needed for your work.
Mary, Queen of the Clergy, pray for us, pray for our priests, Religious, and deacons. Obtain for us many more. Amen.
Mary and Gary Williams have been married for 33 years, live in Stillwater, and have nine children. Two of their sons, Joseph and Peter, have been ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul.