Becoming a spiritual mother for priests was a natural progression for Sheila Michie.
As a child she learned to love and admire priests during visits with her uncle, a priest at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. When her husband, Charles, worked at the Diocese of Tulsa, Okla., the love and admiration deepened when she saw the challenges priests and seminarians faced.
“Naturally, I began to intercede for them,” Michie says. So when the Tulsa Diocese formally instituted the Spiritual Mothers of Priests program, she was drawn to it like a magnet. On the eve of the Annunciation, at the Cathedral of the Holy Family, Michie was one of 33 women who officially became spiritual mothers for priests before Bishop Edward Slattery.
Bishop Slattery was acting upon the Holy See’s Dec. 8, 2007, document “Adoration, Reparation, Spiritual Motherhood for Priests” by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy, asking all the world’s bishops to promote spiritual motherhood. The Tulsa women went through a short formation given by Father Mark Daniel Kirby, who is in charge of implementing this spiritual motherhood mission in the diocese.
“It’s not joining a club or any kind of movement,” says Father Kirby of spiritual motherhood. For a woman called to the vocation of spiritual motherhood, the calling imposes “a readiness to stand by all priests,” he says, “and in particular for the priest entrusted to her in an offering of adoration, thanksgiving, reparation and supplication.” Same as the four ends of the Mass. Spiritual mothers identify with Our Lady and enter into her mission of spiritual maternity of priests. They follow her example by offering themselves as she offered herself at the foot of the cross.
Spiritual mothers do this in different ways, beginning with the Morning Offering of their day. They attend Eucharistic adoration especially for the priest-son assigned to them. And they pray — everything from the Rosary to prayers for priests composed by Father Kirby.
Each spiritual mother is assigned to one priest in the diocese who requested a spiritual mother. Everything is confidential.
“The bishop assigns a priest to a given woman but doesn’t reveal the name,” explains Father Kirby. “She only knows something about the priest entrusted to her by the bishop. This is the priest she carries in prayer. The bishop gives each woman an envelope with a spiritual portrait or thumbnail sketch of the priest without in any way being able to identify him.”
Neither does the priest know who his spiritual mother is.
These priests are having difficulty in some area. Father X might be wrestling with a bout of discouragement. Father Y might be going through spiritual combat or his prayer life is becoming dry. Father Z might be struggling with some temptation, discouragement or weakness.
“It’s comforting for the priest to know there is a spiritual mother pleading his cause before the Eucharistic face of Jesus and Our Lady,” stresses Father Kirby. If a mother has a child who is weak or gives a little more trouble, she doesn’t reject that child, but instead “she has a special tenderness and gives him special attention. Same for spiritual mothers of priests.”
For Brenda Moyes of Broken Arrow, Okla., it’s all about specificity. “The bishop’s note on our priest-son helps me to pray specifically for improvements that I think the Holy Spirit would like to see in him,” she explains. Her prayers include the Morning Offering, a Rosary for priests with mysteries prepared by Father Kirby from the existing 20 decades to recall the mysteries of Jesus the Eternal High Priest, and special prayers written for Thursdays, the day Our Lord instituted the priesthood.
Immediately attracted to this vocation because being a mother is a major part of her identity, Moyes especially loves the chaplet of reparation because, watching her four granddaughters each day, it’s sometimes hard “to find extra time, but the chaplet is a quick and a beautiful prayer.”
Spiritual motherhood doesn’t take a woman out of ordinary life, says Father Kirby. Most involved are married, with grown children. Yet any woman can be a spiritual mother. The Vatican document states, “This type of motherhood is not only for family mothers, but is just as valid for an unmarried girl, for a widow, or for someone who is ill. It is especially pertinent for missionaries and religious sisters.”
Father Kirby says that St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face was “already conscious of the grace of spiritual motherhood in early adolescence.” Not surprisingly, he has heard from a college student asking if she qualifies for the next formation class. People from all around the country, Canada, and even Europe are hearing of Spiritual Motherhood for Priests via Father Kirby’s Vultus Christi weblog (Vultus.StBlogs.org) and contacting him, eager to pursue this vocation.
“The site really touched my heart,” says Maria Pirrone in Ottawa, Ontario. “It’s the way I’ve been feeling all these years.”
Although it’s difficult to measure spiritual realities, Bishop Slattery told the Register he “can say for sure that, yes, this program of forming spiritual mothers who will pray for their priest-sons is already bearing fruit. How could it not? We know that no prayer goes unheard by our heavenly Father, but when our prayer is in response to such an important spiritual need — such as the Church’s need to have holy priests — and when we consider how the holiness of a priest enriches and enlivens his ministry and results in an increase in the holiness of God’s people, then we can be sure that he will be pleased with the prayers of these women and will grant that they bear much fruit.”
Those words are music to Michie’s ears. “I feel I’m called into a union where I can bear greater fruit in this world and the priest can bear greater fruit,” she says. “The fruit we bear is multiplied because the priests touch so many more lives.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is
based in Trumbull, Connecticut.