To: (Multiple email addresses may be specified by separating them with a comma)
Hope for the prodigal son or daughter in your life. By Joseph Pronechen.
BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN
People who knew St. Augustine probably had similar thoughts.
But his mother — St. Monica, whose feast we celebrate Aug. 27, the day before
her son’s feast — proved the model of persistent prayer for his conversion.
Although she prayed only that her fast-living child would become a Catholic,
her prayers earned a bonus when he became a priest.
God’s Augustinian “extras” always remain possible for moms —
and dads — who take up the Monica mantle. Not all of their offspring come to
their senses, but more than a few do.
Father Wendell, for example, easily relates to Augustine.
Raised in a strong, practicing Catholic family and an altar boy until he could
drive, he went to a Catholic high school where he excelled in sports and was an
honors student. Several hundred people accepted the invitation to his
Popular and successful in virtually every endeavor he
undertook, he did credit God for giving him his gifts and talents. But “I
become arrogant, self-centered and prideful,” he says.
Off to a nominally Catholic college he went — to major in
“I stopped practicing my faith altogether,” he remembers.
After graduation he skied all winter, swam all summer and lived the footloose
All the while his mother, Pat Wendell, constantly prayed for
him and reminded him that he was loved. Like Monica, she kept asking her son to
get his life in order. When he didn’t, she says, she prayed harder.
By age 30, Rick had moved back to Wisconsin. He owned his
own homebuilding company and he had money, cars, clothing and dates. He fell in
love with an acquaintance. He wasn’t practicing his faith, yet he planned a
showy cathedral wedding.
A funny thing happened on the way to the altar.
One day a relatively minor construction accident landed Rick
Wendell in the hospital for some stitches. He had an adverse reaction to an
anesthetic. His heart and breathing stopped and, for two hours, he teetered on
the thin line between life and death.
“I was brain-dead, unresponsive to all coma stimuli,” he
recounts. “My eyes were fixed. They were switching off doing CPR and preparing
to ship me to an organ-harvest center.” All the while his mother pleaded with
“Please give him back to me 100%, or not at all,” Pat
Wendell recalls praying. “That’s when he saw the Lord in heaven and was
reaching for him. He woke up the next day and they could find nothing wrong
The physicians expressed their astonishment.
Shortly after, mother and son went on pilgrimage to
“On that pilgrimage, in a moment of grace, I was shown my
life and my sinfulness — not just what I had done, but the effect of it,” says
Father Wendell. “I had a several-hour lifetime sacramental confession. When the
priest laid his hands on my head for absolution, this penetrating heat came out
of his hands. I experienced a deep sense of forgiveness.”
The next morning, he says, thinking back as though still amazed
by the turn of events, was the feast of Corpus Christi.
Next he had an experience as real to him, he says, as
anything that ever happened in his life: He felt Jesus telling him he wanted
him to become a priest.
“I can relate to Augustine: who said, Lord, make me holy,
but not yet,” says Father Wendell. Despite his human trepidation, he trusted
God and entered the seminary. In 2006 he was ordained by Milwaukee Archbishop
“My mom loved me when I was probably unlikable, let alone
unlovable,” adds Father Wendell. “She kept asking God to love me and be
merciful to me. And he has been. I can proclaim it powerfully from the rooftops
because I’ve experienced it. I never knew I would be this fulfilled and this
Today he believes, as Sts. Augustine and Paul, that “the
only good in me is Christ in me.”
“Isn’t the story really: Prayer changes things?” says Father
Wendell. “If we keep praying for people, especially those we love the most, and
consign them to the will of God, then God can do and use whatever is necessary
to accomplish his will in their life. I needed a Louisville Slugger in the
Incidentally, Pat Wendell never prayed all those years for
her son to become a priest — just a faithful Christian. Still, she affirms: “I
thank the Lord for putting all the pieces in the right places.”
Light of the Liturgy
The prodigal story doesn’t always include an Augustinian
wild phase. Take Father Steve Mattson at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in East
Lansing, Mich., ordained in 2005.
When he was a teen, his devout family left the Catholic
faith for an evangelical-Protestant fellowship. There he became an elder and
thought about Protestant ministry. Fourteen years later his mother, Jan
Mattson, returned to the Catholic Church. She well remembers the first Sunday
back in full communion.
“It was the feast of St. Monica,” she says. “Our priest
spoke of her and I was in tears. Little did we know what God was going to be
doing in Steve’s life.”
Her husband also returned.
Longing for her sons to have the fullness of the faith and
the richness of the Catholic Church again, she prayed and gave them materials.
Steve began reading the Catechism, poring through apologetics books, and took
up his parents’ invitation to Mass.
“The church I belonged to had great ‘production’ values,” he
says. “And here was this priest from Pakistan with a thick accent and a church
with speakers like tin cans. But, with the liturgy, I was drawn to worship in a
way I hadn’t in a decade.”
Soon he went to confession, reconciled with the Church and
had a deep encounter with the mercy of God. Then, before the Blessed Sacrament,
he heard Jesus call him to the priesthood.
“I left my home parish on the feast of St. Monica and
arrived at the seminary on the feast of St. Augustine,” Father Mattson points
out. “It did seem a sign of God’s great love.”
Two of Father Mattson’s brothers also returned to full
communion with the Catholic Church, and the wife of one converted. Today he
uses St. Monica to encourage mothers whose children have wandered from the
faith, especially those who feel they somehow failed.
“There is a great consolation these mothers feel when they
know they have an ally in heaven who is praying with them,” says Father
Mattson. “[When they] commend their sons and daughters to God the Father and
our Blessed Mother, and invoke the intercession of St. Monica, there’s a sense
of peace that comes over them. The anxiety the evil one wants them to have is
“You have to maintain the prayers and not get discouraged,
because the answer is not right around the corner,” counsels Resurrectionist
Father C. Frank Phillips, pastor of St. John Cantius Church in Chicago and
founder of the St. Monica Sodality. He reminds people of the long years
Augustine’s mother prayed for him.
To support people’s hope, he points out that the St. Monica
Sodality (online at Cantius.org) has more than 3,000 members worldwide praying
for each other’s intentions and relatives.
Meanwhile, Jan Mattson shares what she has learned.
“No matter what situation parents see in their children, let
the children know they’re unconditionally loved,” she urges. “Entrust them to
the Lord, pray, then sacrifice. Pray they would be open to truth and God’s
That wise way worked for St. Monica — and countless other
Catholic parents concerned about spiritually adrift children.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.