National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Focus on the Vocation-Friendly Family



August 27-September 2, 2006 Issue | Posted 8/28/06 at 10:00 AM


When Katie Busse called her parents in Stevens Point, Wis., to tell them she’d decided to enter the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration while on a visit to the order’s convent in Atlanta, her mom, Colleen, wasn’t a bit surprised.

“I told her before she left that she’d be giving us a call,” Colleen says, laughing. “And that’s exactly what happened.”

She knew Katie would call because she knew that the example she and her husband, Dan, had set in trying to live a holy Christian marriage impacted Katie’s vocational discernment.

The Busses have taken to heart Pope Benedict XVI’s words on May 7, this year’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations:

“Let us not forget that Christian marriage is a vocation to holiness in the full sense of the word, and that the example of holy parents is the first condition favorable for the flowering of priestly and religious vocations.”

In a day when many look at the Church and make much of a “dwindling supply” of priests and religious, the Holy Father’s point stands as both a sign of contradiction and a game plan: The Church will be rich in such vocations when families respond to the universal call to holiness en masse. And that’s already begun to happen.

Exhibit A: The Busses — and uncounted thousands of domestic churches like theirs.

“The most important point is the striving,” says Colleen. “No matter what difficulties there are in a marriage, you continue striving toward the ideal and God blesses your faithfulness.”

The Busses have worked hard to show their children the parallel between faithfulness in family life and faithfulness in religious life by exposing them to a wide variety of people living their vocations in an exemplary way — priests, religious, single and married.

They’ve also encouraged their children to develop a spirit of service by making volunteerism part of their family’s lifestyle.

“You can’t just say it,” says Colleen. “You have to do it.”

Formation Foundation

Father Nathan Reesman, recently ordained and appointed associate pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Elm Grove, Wis., is positive his parents’ example of holy marriage influenced his own Yes to God’s call.

“My generation is afraid of commitment,” he told the Register. “We don’t like to commit ourselves to anything. My parents have been married for 33 years. No doubt watching them walk faithfully through all different situations in life and still remain committed to each other taught me the value and importance of commitment in any vocation.”

Both of Elm Grove attorney Jerome Shimek’s sons, Joseph and John Paul, have entered the seminary. He and his wife, Anna, did their best to assure that the Catholic faith was woven through all facets of their family’s life.

Such weaving begins, they say, with the way they live their vocation to marriage.

“As a couple, we’ve always prayed the Rosary and gone to daily Mass together and often the kids came along,” says Jerome. “Seeing faith demonstrated by their parents gives cause for the children to see something of value in it.”

“We never pushed priestly or religious vocations on our children,” adds Anna. “But we did make subtle suggestions that they might look into it.”

Joseph Shimek didn’t look into the priesthood until after he’d earned his law degree from the University of Notre Dame. Three months into his first job, he decided it was time to answer the call that had been deep inside of him for years. He credits his parents.

“A strong family background cannot create a vocation, but it can make it easier to recognize and respond to it,” he says. “A priestly vocation only makes sense in the context of faith. My parents helped to make faith real and important for my brother, sister and me.” 

Pope John Paul II made the family-vocations connection in his 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World). He explained how the celibate life presupposes and confirms the dignity of marriage — and vice versa.

“When marriage is not esteemed,” he wrote, “neither can consecrated virginity or celibacy exist; when human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the Creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven loses its meaning.”

Aspiration and Identity

Father Todd Petersen, vocations director for the Diocese of New Ulm, Minn., can attest to this. In working with young men entering the seminary, he’s seen how their parents’ marriage vocations affected their priestly vocations. He says that most of the young men come from homes in which there was a strong Catholic identity — and that upbringing helped the young men to more strongly identify with the Church and her mission.

“Marriage and priesthood or religious life are different sides of the same coin,” says Father Petersen. “A healthy respect for the marriage vocation is the cornerstone for priestly and religious vocations.”

And then there’s the “ask.”

Many priests and religious report that they discovered their vocations because someone they looked up to — a parent, teacher or mentor — came right out and spoke the words: “You know, you might make a good priest or religious. You should think and pray about it.”

Legionary Father Robert DeCesare credits his mother’s decision to send him to a summer program at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H. 

“I did not mind my mother’s decision,” he recalls. “Were it not for her, I might not have found my vocation.”

Father DeCesare adds that his parents “were supportive of my considering the seminary my senior year of college. They wanted me to do God’s will. If God wanted me to be a priest, they were totally in favor of that and were willing to support me every step of the way.”

If today’s “dwindling supply” of priests and religious is to turn into tomorrow’s rushing torrent, it will be thanks to the holiness, prayers and support of families. With God, all things are possible.

Marge Fenelon writes from
Cudahy, Wisconsin.