If you ask parents of priests what they did to foster their sons’ vocation to the priesthood, you’re likely to get an uncertain answer. Not many actually know what role they played — apart from simply living out the Catholic faith and doing their best to pass it on to their children.
But ask those same folks how having a priest in the family has affected their lives and there’s very little fumbling for expression.
A few of the answers to the latter question are worth considering in this Year for Priests declared by Pope Benedict XVI — especially as the Church commemorates two of the all-time model priests, St. Augustine on Aug. 28 and St. Gregory the Great on Sept. 3.
“Having a priest in the family has given us the strength to go through some difficult times,” says Shirley Dolan, mother of New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan.
“It gave us the ability to pull through when perhaps we wouldn’t normally have been able to.”
Granted, her priest-son is more prominent than most other priests. Still, in spite of his high visibility and celebrated achievements, she says, his priesthood has given her family the advantage of seeing “the human side” of priests.
“I thank God constantly,” she told the Register.
A little closer to the norm, Legionary of Christ Father Timothy Moran has set a good example of Christian discipleship for his eight siblings. His parents, Jerry and Lucille Moran of Cudahy, Wis., say they feel “very blessed” by their son’s acceptance of his priestly calling.
And they look back fondly on the milestones he passed on the way to his vocation.
“As an Eagle Scout, he’d teach the other boys about Fatima and other things like that,” Jerry, an electrical engineer, remembers.
“At confirmation, he took the name Michael so he could ‘kick butt,’ and he sure did. He became a Marine and served in Iraq, and then became a chemical engineer. After all of that, he decided for the priesthood. When I found out about his decision, I told him to go for it.”
“He has been a big help to the other boys in the family in considering their own vocations,” adds Lucille.
Indeed. Another Moran son, Mark, is on his way to the priesthood in the Carmelite Order. “It’s great to know they’re working not only for their own family,” says Lucille, “but also for the wider family, the Church.”
Zeal Is Catching
Arlene Volkert of Greendale, Wis., is proud of her two priest-sons, Father Jim Volkert and Father Dan Volkert of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Arlene and her husband, Joe, had nine children. Joe is now deceased.
“I’m so thankful that God has blessed me with two sons with vocations to the priesthood,” she told the Register. “Just knowing they’re there is a blessing. It’s made me more religious and is a reminder to keep up my own faith life by receiving the sacraments often.”
Being the mother of priests sometimes also means making sacrifices. She doesn’t see her priest-sons as often as she’d like and realizes that the priesthood is not an easy job. “Yes, there are sorrows,” she says. “But there are a lot more happy times.”
Parents of priests aren’t the only grateful family members. Siblings reap their share of blessings, too.
“Having a priest in the family has allowed me to learn more about the Catholic Church,” Bob Dolan, brother of Archbishop Dolan, explains.
“It has helped me to better understand the importance of helping others, for so often that is the example I’ve seen from my brother. It is also gratifying to see how well a priest is treated and how much he is respected by so many people; so many are sincerely grateful for everything a good priest provides. It has helped me realize that true joy in life is not gained by material possessions, but rather by placing Christ in the middle of your life — a lesson I’ve learned from watching my brother in his life.”
‘A Remarkable Experience’
Families of priests are not immune to the criticisms of the priesthood, and they are aware that such prejudices could affect them also. “The idea that someone would see having a priest in the family as a stigma is so foreign to me,” says Mike Volkert, brother of Fathers Jim and Dan Volkert. “The priesthood is the highest calling. Rather than discourage it, families should encourage that pearl sitting at the kitchen table to open up.”
Gina Loehr, Catholic author and sister of newly ordained Dominican Father Anthony Loehr, agrees. “I have never had a more profound experience of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist as I did when my brother celebrated his first Mass,” she says. “Knowing that one day he was my brother, as usual, and the next he was also an ordained priest was a remarkable experience. It gave me a new insight into the supernatural nature of the priesthood: My brother alone could never consecrate the Eucharist, but through the sacrament of holy orders, he was able to make Christ present.”
This reality, says Loehr, “gives a very concrete, close-to-home example of a young priest for those who doubt the future of the priesthood or think that the Church ought to change her admission standards.”
“We’re very proud to have a priest in the family,” says Frank Formolo of Brookfield, Wis. Frank and his wife, Alice, are parents of Legionary Father Frank (Jr.) Formolo.
“What other vocation can be as valuable to society? If we don’t have priests, we don’t have anything,” he adds.
This father of a father knows more about the priesthood than most dads. He spent four years in the seminary himself. “God showed me that it wasn’t my vocation after all,” he recalls. “Then he gave me a priest-son instead.”
With 11 children and 15 grandchildren, the Formolo family has found that having a priest among them doesn’t just give them access to special graces. It comes in handy, too. When it’s time for baptisms, first Communions and weddings, Father Frank is there to officiate.
“When he was a young boy, I could see that there was something special in him,” says dad Frank. “He told me later that he never wanted to do anything but be a priest.”
Marge Fenelon writes from Cudahy, Wisconsin.